Is it safe to Travel? The weird and scary from 6 years of full-time travel
The most common question I get on emails is “is (name a country) safe?”
I’m constantly reassuring people that places ARE safe to travel. We’ve spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe, Asia, and even “dangerous countries” like South Africa and Mexico. 6 years of travel and nothing has ever happened. We’ve never been robbed (the closest thing was a girl trying to sneak into Lissette’s purse last year in Sarajevo), never been threatened, never gotten seriously sick*…
* I used to get sick regularly before we started travelling. I think “normal life” is stressful to a lot of people. Since we left Canada in 2014 my health has been a lot better, despite travelling to exotic places all over the world.
We’re careful. We don’t hang out in bars, stay out late at night, or buy drugs. When we eat out, we’re careful about what we eat (if it’s street food for example, we’ll make sure it’s a place frequented by locals and not tourists). We’ve done what some people consider risky activities: I’ve done a lot of hiking, have paraglided, have done ziplines. Lissette has bungeed. So we’re careful, but it hasn’t stopped us from doing things.
Lissette (raised in the South Bronx) has a sixth sense for shady characters. I think much of the reason nothing has happened to us is due to her vigilance. We’re also confident and assertive, we don’t make ourselves easy targets. Having said all that, luck is always a factor. I know some good travellers who’ve been robbed, had accidents, or gotten sick while travelling. There’s always some luck involved.
(I’m knocking on wood as I write these words).
So the worst things that have happened to us?
Here is our “Weird and Scary” from 6 years of travel
We were in Nong Khai (Thailand) when a tropical storm hit. The weather had been cool and clear during our stay in December and January. In mid-February we were woken up by a 4am storm that was the closest thing to a hurricane that we’ve ever experienced. Rain came down horizontally, broken branches slammed against our windows. The tin roof of the building next door was ripped off. It was pretty scary. When the storm abated, it had brought a change in weather. From that point on we had hot, humid temperatures and lots of wildlife: insects, lizards, and all kinds of unidentifiable flying bugs. It was interesting seeing how seasons could change so quickly.
The scariest things are sometimes the things that could have been.
I was taking a 5 week solo trip through Morocco in late 2018. In early December I spent 3 days in the region near Mount Toubkal National Park hiking. It was wonderful.
So it was a shock when, a week later, I heard about 2 young women who had been murdered and beheaded in exactly the spot where I had been. The story as reported on BBC.
If you had told me that something like that could happen in a place as tranquil as Mount Toubkal I would have thought you were crazy. It crosses your mind that it could have been you and that horrible things can happen just about anywhere.
Things usually happen in pairs.
We were on Signal Hill in Cape Town (South Africa) when Lissette took a step (while taking a photograph) and went crashing down a set of concrete stairs, rolling down at least 7 steps. It could have been really bad but she was fine, coming out of it with only severe bruising on the side of one leg.
A few months later the same thing happened in Lisbon, Lissette taking a photo on the sidewalk. She stepped back and went flying through the door of a store (the entrance of which was a step below the level of the sidewalk). Again, she was fine.
And in both cases the camera went flying and was also undamaged.
Considering Lissette’s history of root canals and dental implants we were very lucky. And she’s learned not to move around while taking a photo.
I had my own fall in 2015 that was a close call.
We were in an Airbnb apartment in Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina). The bedroom was a level up from the living room, accessed by a staircase with no railing.
I woke up during the night having to go to the bathroom. Going down the stairs in the dark, I misjudged the last step, falling forward. My shoulder clipped the coffee table which had a top made entirely of glass.
The corner of the table gave me a pretty significant cut. But I was lucky. I had only clipped the table and it wasn’t a deep cut. If it had been just a foot over I would have crashed directly into the table and probably would have broken it and sustained substantial injuries.
I woke up in the middle of the night to loud, thrashing noises. Turn on the light and there’s a big bat in the room flying circles about our heads. It bangs into doors and walls but it keeps going, around and around the room. I open the door to the kitchen. He flies in there. I go in the kitchen and close the bedroom door, but it’s a tiny space and he’s flying just a foot or two above my head. He ends up on the top of the fridge. He’s tired and I can see him eying me. He’s about 3 feet away. I open an outside door and with the help of a broom I direct him towards the door. He flies out unharmed. That was in our apartment in Lviv (Ukraine).
Same apartment. We had an upstairs neighbour with mental issues. Whenever we see her she would yell at me from across the street in Ukrainian. One day I ran into her in the hallway and she’s waving her fist at me like she’s going to punch me. We find out later from the owner that she was brutally raped as a child and developed some kind of psychotic disorder.
Angry German Woman
I was flying through Frankfurt, transiting to Montreal. Going through security in Frankfurt I was pulled aside, asked to wait for a bag check. I was waiting off to the side (it took a long time), waiting along with some other people, when an older woman comes right up to me, her finger wagging. “It’s your fault!” she says loudly. People turn to look at us.
I’m dumbfounded. “What’s my fault?”
“This” she says, pointing at the security guards 10 feet away. “YOU are a liberal. I can tell. You people did this. Look around you! I don’t recognize this continent anymore!”.
I realized what she was talking about. The security staff was all ethnic, all either black or Arab. Still, what did I have to do with that? “I’m sorry lady, what do you mean I’m a liberal? What does a liberal look like? I’m not even European”.
She walks off, but not before repeating “you look like a liberal” (italics on liberal, which by the way she said it, was a really dirty word in her dictionary).
What is it with Crazy/Angry women singling me out?
French police and his “bonjour”
My plane arrived in Charles de Gaulle late. I’m connecting to Croatian Airlines – it’s taking off in 45 minutes and I know that Terminal 2 is at least 20 minutes away.
So I’m in a rush.
Thankfully immigration goes quickly.
I bust out of immigration with my bags and look for the exit. I’m rushing, seeing a friendly looking customs officer, smiling at him while asking “is this the way to Terminal 2?”
He looks at me: “You have not asked the magic word” (in French. The whole conversation is in French).
I know full well what he’s going to say so I just say it as it is: “sorry, I have a plane taking off in 45 minutes and I’m in a rush. I just wanted to know if this is the way”.
Him being an asshole “In this country it is polite to say Bonjour”.
Me “Sorry, I’m in a rush, I wasn’t looking for a relationship”
I rush past, hearing him muttering behind me…
Fighting over Hummus
We were at the Hummus Bar restaurant in Budapest. It had all started with the older man at the table next to us asking me what I was eating.
He had the Hungarian version of the menu in his hand. But I saw the word ‘Shawarma’ there.
Me, pointing on menu: ‘Right there, Shawarma’. And I repeated the accompaniments that I had chosen to go with the meat.
He thanked us.
We were eating when the food arrived at the table next to us. The older man and the younger man he was sitting with (I presumed his son) were quiet, then suddenly talking with voices raised as they studied their plates. The older man turned to me.
Older man: ‘My plate doesn’t look the same as yours’. He pointed at what looked like a stuffed pita.
I looked at his plate, looked at the menu. ‘Yes, it is not the same. Maybe they made a mistake?’
Son and older man talk more, voices rising.
The son now spoke to us for the first time.
Son, pointing at me. ‘You told my father Shawarma. You pointed at this’, poking his finger at the menu. He angrily flipped it over ‘This is what you have. You have the Shawarma plate, he ordered the shawarma pita!’
Me, a bit taken aback ‘Yes, well, I mentioned Shawarma’.
Son: ‘But it is your fault, you pointed at this’ (jabbing his finger at the menu again) ‘when you should have pointed at this’ (angrily stabbing the menu).
I had screwed up but I had only tried to be helpful. Me: ‘Well, sorry, I don’t read Hungarian’.
The son murmured under his breath. An uneasy silence hung over everything.
Thankfully we were finishing up and went inside to pay our bill.
And I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut if ever anyone comes up to me asking what I’m eating.
We’ve had other things: I’ve been bitten by bedbugs, I’ve gotten into verbal altercations in Morocco and even had to push an aggressive teenager out of my way, we had a couple of kids throwing rocks in our direction in Turkey, I had a Chinese guy vomit right next to me on the bus, we had some bad Airbnb experiences that required some harsh words, we’ve had to deal with aggressive dogs and large Tokay lizards in Thailand. In South Africa we had the worst Uber drivers: one didn’t know how to drive and stalled on the highway. Another kept falling asleep when stopping at red lights. But the stories that I described are our most memorable scary and weird memories…
I think, over 6 years, anyone will agree that most of the above is all pretty minor stuff.
So do I think travel is safe? Yes, for sure*.
*This was all pre-covid. What will the future hold? Some thoughts on that here.
So what are your Scary and Weird Memories from travel?
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