I lived in Thailand during several military coups. Two or three of those I spent time actually in Bangkok as they happened, while the other I was in Northeast Thailand. Sounds crazy, wild and scary, doesn’t it? A military coup d’etat.
It was funny though, when I was out and about, I wouldn’t see anything happening that would even make me realize there was a coup. I take that back, I ended up going out on Khao San Road with a group of work buddies, and instead of the burning tire images I saw CNN showing, which must have happened for about 5 minutes, I instead saw Thai protesters napping, or Thai Military smiling and taking pictures with tourists in front of tanks. It was far from the warnings and terror being broadcasted around the world.
The United States State Department began issuing travel warnings that would deter many people from traveling to Thailand, but to everyone else already in the country it was different. Sure you maybe didn’t go near those areas if you didn’t have to, but otherwise it was like any other day.
In my own country, I lived on Wall Street during the Anonymous “Occupy Wall Street” events. Yes, like actually walked out my front door and had bank logo’s staring back at me, and the New York Stock Exchange was down the way. The news would broadcast images that would seem overtly frightening and cause tourists to avoid the area. Actually, non-residents weren’t even allowed in the area for security reasons. I recall this, as my roommate who had only recently moved in, hadn’t yet updated his license to the new address. I had to walk some of his mail to the end of the fencing that NYPD was using to protect the area and fortunately, they let him through. Keeping in mind we were still not that far off of 9/11 and it is Wall Street and New York, the images of protest were usually the rowdiest few leading a charge, while the remainder would walk along through the cattle guard fencing, well, like cattle. In reality, it was more of a nuisance dealing with the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests.
I found it interesting, however, that other governments were suggesting not traveling and visiting New York and meanwhile, I was living in the heart of it. Where was I going to go?
I share these stories not to say that all events or protests are not what the media or the government travel warnings shape them up to be, but to help people realize that often these events are also in isolation. When these events would happen, I remember telling my friends and family that were worried about if I was safe in Thailand, “Don’t worry, we’re just relaxing by the pool, then will go to dinner later.” To those that may fear travel for personal safety, please do not, just learn to be aware of your surroundings.
The Rio Olympics and Ryan Lochte’s now global media circus goes to show that for every bad story, there have been so many more positive, valuable, and life-changing stories that never get told. Next time the media reports on major events in foreign cities, take a step back to understand what is happening on the ground beyond the bright, flashing images being broadcast across your TV. When you consider travel to a destination and read a Travel Warning or Alert from the US State Department, do a little more digging to understand the scenario from a broader scale, so you can not only be an educated traveler, but also to give a country the opportunity for your first-hand visit. You might just find things on the ground are much safer than you anticipated.
*Note: This by no means encourages travel to dangerous countries and assumes no liability for those that do choose to travel domestically or internationally. The writing is an opinion I have formed based on my own personal experiences traveling extensively around the world. All individuals must research and assess risk on their own terms and what they feel comfortable with.