Personal Safety Around the World

Many people are concerned with personal safety when travelling around the world. Being away from the security of your home or home country it’s natural to feel vulnerable at first, so to a degree it’s understandable. Regardless of what country you will visit, it will soon become clear to you that people are very friendly and they are mostly willing to help in exchange for nothing. It is rare to find hostile locals. The best thing you can do is to use common sense. The thing is that common sense is not common at all!
I have a nice and true tale to tell here. Back in the ’90s my father was travelling in Western China with a group of friends. They all had an argument with the Chinese van driver, who insisted in showing them what he wanted them to see, totally ignoring their wishes… typical of the Chinese regime. So one day they ventured on foot on their own in the middle of nowhere, just admiring the natural beauty of a particular corner of the desert.
Suddenly at a distance and braking the surreal silence that usually surrounds deserts, my father saw a group of about 20 people on horses wearing robes and guns, manically galloping towards them. They looked as if they just came out of a “Lawrence of Arabia” movie scene. Once they reached them, they surrounded them and kept trotting around them in a circle for a few seconds until they stopped. Their personal safety was more than at risk here. They looked intimidating to say the least and they probably didn’t have the best intentions. They sat on their horses staring at the group of defenceless tourists and the two groups stared at each other without saying a word and just waiting for someone in charge to make a decision on what to do.
All of a sudden, before the group leader ordered to slit the tourists’ throats, my father took out of his chest pocket a packet Marlboro cigarettes (the most appreciated cigarettes in any third world country) and offered them a smoke. Suddenly as for magic, the atmosphere changed dramatically and everyone turned friendly and welcoming. That was a situation that could have turned very nasty, given the battle-like attitude with which they arrived, but with a positive attitude everything ended with a nice shake of hands and personal safety was no longer an issue.
Does it matter what passport you carry? Yes, unfortunately it does. As a rule of thumb, keep your documents out of sight, unless asked to produce them and always use a passport wallet; it will hide your nationality to the curious who don’t necessarily need to know where you are from… even though your appearance and body language might give it away. I have been to certain places (not necessarily war zones) where local inhabitants told me – without being asked – that they wouldn’t have been please if I was from a certain country. Unfortunately citizens of certain countries have a harder time around the world, due to their country’s international attitude, but this should not make people stay at home. The important thing is to always show a positive attitude and a big smile; chances are you will get the same back. Positive attitude (just like negative attitude) is very contagious and mostly you will find that whatever you give you will get back. I am lucky enough to have two passports, as I have dual nationality (Italian and British). So depending on the country I am visiting, I can choose which passport to use. For instance when visiting India, because of historical reasons, I will not use my British passport, if anything not to be charged for a visa, which as an Italian I would not need. This is perfectly legal and unless asked, I will not say that I am a British citizen at all.
In every country in the world, regardless how small and insignificant it is, people feel they are the most important around and that their ways are the best. They mostly think that your country is wrong and your culture needs some fixing up. Let them, this is only human nature. You are just about the same, if you haven’t traveled enough.
Should you carry a weapon? The answer is and will always be NO! I’ve met a few people in the past that travelled with a concealed gun. Many countries around the world made it illegal to carry a firearm and by all means, you as a traveller should respect local rules; if anything else, to stay out of trouble. Your rules do not apply in a foreign country. A gun is hardly useful anyway. When you carry a gun you better be prepared to use it, or you might get shot when pulling it out. My advice is simply “don’t”. A person (regardless if they are tourists) discovered with a gun, is in for some serious trouble in most countries. For example in the United Kingdom there is a 5 years prison sentence, regardless if you used it or not. Just the act of carrying a gun is illegal. Actually in the UK it is illegal to carry even a stunt gun or a pepper spray, because they could be used as offensive weapons. The reason behind this is that if everyone is prohibited to carry weapons, then there is a lesser chance of anyone using them. In the UK even the Police do not usually carry firearms, that’s why they are so serious about any other people carrying them. This is the way they like it and you as a tourist MUST respect this.
This has nothing to do with freedom, I feel very safe knowing that most people out there do not have a gun, while when travelling in countries like the USA I feel extremely vulnerable knowing that anyone around me could be carrying a lethal weapon, including not so exemplary citizens. When I lived in the USA as a student, twice I had witnessed young students pulling out a gun in a student’s environment. This doesn’t make me feel safe at all. In the city of Kennesaw, Georgia, United States it is illegal to go around without a gun. The law states that every citizen must own a gun… if you are found without one, you will get a fine. This peculiar attitude is unusual pretty much anywhere else in the world. When visiting a foreign country you must remember first of all that you are visiting somebody else’s home and like it or not you must respect their rules, religion, habits and culture. You will find that by doing so life will be much more pleasant. Remember that YOU are going to their home, they didn’t come to you… and if they did, you would expect them to respect your culture, so do the same.