Don't panic April 03 2002

Is it really unsafe for Americans to travel abroad?


Despite repeated threats and periodic attacks on Americans by terrorists and various political organizations, it is still safe to travel abroad. The world's most dangerous places to visit aren't exactly big tourist destinations. After all, when's the last time you heard the words "Kyrgyz Republic" and "vacation" in the same sentence, or received a "Genocide's a bummer. Try rafting in summer" postcard from friends vacationing in Rwanda? You're far more likely to get hurt commuting to work or bathing than you are on any vacation — even more so if you actually commute to work in your bathtub.

To help you avoid the most dangerous spots during the upcoming travel season, the U.S. State Department posts travel warnings on its website, www.state.gov. Like the documents that the government publishes on "homeland" security, the State Department's travel warnings mix vague bureaucrat-speak ("remain vigilant," "exercise caution") with painfully obvious warnings to refrain from gay sex in Saudi Arabia or drug smuggling in Morocco.

The most intriguing State Department tip that I found was under the heading of "Crisis Preparedness." Among the government's recommendations in the event of a disaster or terrorist attack: stay healthy by walking for exercise because "walking is one of the safest and most enjoyable forms of exercise for many people." So, if there's an earthquake or an angry mob firebombing the American Embassy where you're staying, don't hide in your hotel until the police restore calm. Go for a walk. It's healthy!

Inviting us to court danger in such a way suggests that the State Department has finally caught on to Americans' increased interest in dangerous, so-called "extreme" recreational activities. If you're into bungee-jumping, mountain-climbing, skydiving and kayaking, you're not about to be scared off by some little civil war. If the governments of the world's most dangerous countries had some American marketing savvy, they'd embrace their so-called dangers and turn them into selling points. For instance:

Afghanistan: Eighteenth-century rustic charm meets 21st-century geopolitics. Never mind al-Qaeda. How about al fresco! With hardly a building intact, every restaurant in the country has ample outdoor seating. And our 7 million unexploded land mines are a sportsman's delight. Anyone for a game of Ultimate Hopscotch?

Sudan: When Arab and African cultures meet, the result is explosive action. Just a hop, skip and a camel ride from Egypt, Sudan is Africa's biggest country. And for you, that means BIG fun. Our friendly people put the "civil" in civil war. We don't need guns. We wage war by withholding food from millions of people in the southern half of our country. Can you say food fight? Forget dieting and exercise. A month in Sudan will have you tanned and trim just in time for summer. Suddenly, vacations are more exciting. Or should we say, Sudan-ly?

Colombia: Long for the good old days of the Cold War? Try a taste of it in your own back yard. Colombia is home to the hemisphere's oldest civil war — and it's a classic. Our Marxist rebels control huge swaths of territory and kidnap tourists every day, so make sure you've got some ransom money handy and a good long book to read. And when you've had your fill of rebels, put on some sneakers and try dodging bullets in the world's most murder-ravaged cities. Leave the hard science to our cocaine labs, and just remember this one simple formula: Guns + Sun = Fun.??

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