For some people, worries about crime and terrorism are enough to rule out travel outside the U.S.
And that’s a shame, says internationally acclaimed travel expert Chris Herrmann, who points out that when it comes to being fearful, many folks are their own worst enemies.
Herrmann knows full well the anxieties that nearly kept him back from an amazing around-the-world backpacking trip he took at age 62.
The fear of traveling alone with the unfamiliarity of unknown destinations can be daunting. Herrmann had suddenly lost his wife of 40 years to cancer. Now without a travel partner, he took off anyway.
His message is: You must as well.
If another travel partner isn’t available to travel, don’t be put off — go anyway. Solo traveling has many advantages, one of which, all solo travelers say, is you are motivated to socialize more and therefore make friends more readily.
Traveling solo means you also need to be extra travel wary. Always avoid being in places where there are no other people, such as empty streets.
If you are in a street surrounded by other people, even if they are locals, there’s a greater possibility of someone coming to your assistance if needed. A more secure option is to buddy up with a fellow traveler you’ve met before you go out.
Herrmann says most stories where danger was encountered were due to one or a combination of three factors: sex, alcohol, and drugs. Used unwisely, you risk putting yourself under the control of others and therefore dramatically increasing your risk of danger.
The benefit of being at the more mature stage of life is the need for partying is not as great as that of our younger counterparts.
The advantage of travel, no matter the country, is the many interesting and delightful people you meet. But it’s those few “bad apples” you need to be on your guard for. It’s about being street wise; don’t always be a trusting soul.
It’s a sad thing to do, but when out in the streets in some countries with high levels of known scams, avoid eye contact with passersby, minimizing the opportunity for those looking to take advantage of easy targets.
If a stranger is overly friendly, be wary and avoid them. “Friendly” scammers will typically use a simple greeting to build rapport. The next step is to “help” you with inside information, which is typically a setup for a scam.
Engaging with locals offers great cultural insight, but choose whom you engage with, use your instincts, and take your time to build trust.
All cities have trouble spots. Our home cities have areas we know and avoid due to their higher risk. When in an unfamiliar city, ask at your accommodation where and when it is safe to go.
Herrmann recalls an example after he had checked into a hotel in Cali, Colombia.
“After traveling all morning I was keen for an afternoon walk up to a lookout. I was told to wait until the morning. The reason, they explained, was not only would it be cooler, but there will be police presence along the trail.
“Next morning proved that, with hundreds of other walkers and joggers … and police presence. And it felt very safe.”
It’s common to feel anxious and fearful in unfamiliar surrounds. But by being street smart, using your intuition, and seeking local knowledge, you will appreciate overseas travel was only dangerous until you got there.
Chris Herrmann is the author of The Youthful Art of Midlife Travel, a speaker, and a travel coach. For a full list of safe travel tips and advice, sign up for Youthful Midlife Travel Club at youthfulmidlifetravel.com.