10 Travel Risks Worth Taking

by Tim Patterson Sep 8, 2008

Feature photo by Tim Patterson. Photo above by Ben.

“Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”

–Mark Jenkins

Here are ten risks travelers can’t afford not to take:
Pick a destination on a whim.

There are no uninteresting destinations, only incurious travelers. Sure, New Jersey might not be as enthralling as Baja, but there’s nothing wrong about exploring a place that will never be a hot new destination.

For every Cancun and Las Vegas there are 10,000 places that might not be famous, but are fascinating and enjoyable. For some unique ideas, check out 5 Places To Visit Now For Authentic Experiences.

Trust in your ability to earn money on the road.

Wondering if you have enough money in the bank to travel? Relax.

With a little effort, faith and know-how, world travel can be cheap, easy and fun. If you cut up your credit cards and hit the road with no money and no debts, (but maybe a little travel insurance) you’re already financially better off than a lot of Americans.

For practical strategies on how to sustain your travels, check out the articles How To Travel For Free and 25 Ways To Earn Money When You’re Broke On The Road.

Photo by Dane.

Decline anti-malaria medication.

I travel a lot in Southeast Asia, where most travelers take drugs every day to protect themselves from malaria.

Now, I’m no doctor (and nobody at Matador assumes any responsibility if you catch malaria), but let me say this: hundreds of millions of people live in Southeast Asia. The vast majority of them never contract malaria. The only people taking anti-malaria drugs every morning are cautious travelers from rich countries.

Most anti-malaria drugs are expensive and their side effects are potentially nasty. Unless you’re going to travel rough in a part of the world where a deadly strain of malaria is common, like rural areas of West Africa, I don’t think you need to bother with anti-malaria meds.

Trust in the kindness of strangers.

Almost all people I encounter in my travels are good-hearted, hospitable and sincere. I find it tragic when travelers let paranoia get in the way of authentic experience and profound connection with the locals.

Ironically, the travelers who shrink away from strangers the most tend to stay in tourist zones, which is where the highest proportion of scam artists, petty thieves and dodgy characters prey on naïve foreigners.

Get out of the tourist zone, stay in tune with your instincts and trust people who seem sincere.

Photo by Dane.

Challenge your preconceptions.

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

The biggest and potentially most rewarding travel risk you can take is to use the new experience as a lens to reexamine your basic beliefs and assumptions. Travel is an opportunity to gain perspective, not only about the world at large, but also about your life back home.

Ask yourself questions. Reevaluate your lifestyle in light of new experience. Be honest with yourself, and stay open to the possibility that your travels will change you in profound ways.

Try new food.

In this day and age it’s possible to travel around the world and order familiar food from English menus the whole time. Heck, you could travel around the world and eat only at American fast food chains.

Pico Iyer, one of the great contemporary travel writers, is a timid eater who likes to eat at McDonalds when he travels. Mr. Iyer gets a free pass. The rest of us get a great deal of pleasure out of good food, and should never pass up local delicacies while traveling.

Eating local is a good way to keep travel expenses low. Moreover, popular regional dishes usually feature fresh ingredients and are prepared by a cook who knows how to make the food taste great.

Sure, you might get a diarrhea from gobbling up street food, but a few runny poops are a small price to pay for the experience of sampling a global cornucopia of flavors.

Communicate without a common language.

Many travelers are too shy and hesitant to launch into conversation without a common language. In truth, communication is more a matter of smiles than words, and locals will be thrilled by the friendliness of foreigners who attempt to say hello.

Better yet, make the effort to learn a bit of the local language. Check out 7 Steps To Learn A Foreign Language On The Road.

Brush your teeth with the tap water.

Photo by Ben.

Again, I’m no doctor. But if you’re going to stay in one place for a while, your body will have to get used to the local bacteria at some point.

Drinking bottled or treated water is important, but a little tap water when you brush your teeth won’t kill you. In fact, it probably contains a tiny dose of bacteria that will help your insides adjust to their germy new friends.

Maybe my theory about teeth-brushing is preposterous. But I use the tap water wherever I go.

Pursue a travel romance.

Ah, the travel romance…there’s nothing quite like getting swept off your feet in a foreign country. Although it’s important to respect local customs regarding gender roles, dating and intimacy, there’s always the possibility of romance with a fellow traveler.

WorldHum recently ran a great feature on travel romance: 7 Reasons to Have A Foreign Fling.

For advice on where to go to get it on, check out Hostel Sex: A Practical Guide For Backpackers.

Ignore your e-mail for weeks.

You won’t miss it.

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