“It’s Really Not That Dangerous Out There”

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  02.06.06 | 1:15 PM ET

imageThe San Francisco Chronicle’s John Flinn enjoys perusing the travel-gadget catalogs loaded with items to keep you safe: shirts with secret pockets, siren alarms for your hotel room, germ-fighting airline seat covers. “These catalogs are fun to peruse (and even more fun to make fun of),” he writes in Sunday’s paper, “but I worry about two things: that they foster paranoia in novice travelers, and that they perpetuate the notion that safety and security comes mainly from buying—and lugging along—the right gadgets. Experienced travelers know this, but to those of you just getting started: It’s really not that dangerous out there.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Of course, the world can be dangerous. Almost every day we hear of another calamity affecting travelers: a hotel fire, a ferry sinking, a deadly storm. Travelers should take precautions. As Flinn rightly points out, car and bus accidents are a real threat in much of the world, and choosing vehicles with seat belts, whenever possible, reduces risks. Obviously, you shouldn’t run around with your wallet poking out of your pocket, or walk dangerous streets by yourself at night. Some places should be avoided altogether. The point is to be smart and cautious but not paranoid.

I happen to be a fan of the cheesy souvenirs sold after travelers have completed vaguely harrowing experiences, like hiking the Grand Canyon or (admittedly more dangerous) enduring a hurricane. These shirts, too, can hype dangers real or imagined and suggest a world more dangerous than it really is.

I flew to Fiji’s capital, Suva, just after a coup back in 2000 to report a story. At the airport on the way out, an Australian journalist asked an employee of a souvenir shop, “Have any coup T-shirts?”

The Fijian clerk slowly brought his index finger to his lips: “Shhh.”

He disappeared into a back room, then returned a moment later with a small stack of cotton Ts.

“I’m not supposed to have these,” the clerk whispered.

He unfolded a shirt, carefully ensuring that the design faced away from the door. The front featured a masked gunman pointing an AK-47 skyward. It stated, “I SURVIVED REBEL COUP IN FIJI, MAY 19, 2000.”

Masked gunmen had led the coup, but I never saw one during my stay. I didn’t care.

“I’ll take two,” I said.

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