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How Do I Decide Whether To Go Somewhere

February 07, 2011

Every now and then I am asked to go to places that are….um…questionable when it comes to safety and security. Or they are just countries I know nothing about. Some of those places I end up going to, others I have to decline the request. Thankfully my management understands that while I love traveling, there are some places that are too dangerous, and they trust my judgement. But even if I do decide to stay home for a good reason, I usually regret missing out on an adventure later on.

So how do I decide? Well, it all starts with a visit to two different websites:

  1. US State Department Travel Advisories – Choose the country in question from the drop down and read what they have to say. Now I realise that you have to read these carefully and not assume its all true. There is danger everywhere, even where I live in Amsterdam. If there is a single citizen killed in that country, there is risk of overemphasizing the risk here. But when they are full of doom and gloom, I have to pay attention.
  2. UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Travel Advice – This is pretty much the same information from a British perspective. Since I carry both a US and UK passport, I like to check both sites.

Sometimes one site says its a place to avoid, and the other says its fine. Other times they both agree. I use the info I find there to help me come up with a good decision.

One of the next steps that I take is to find out what airlines fly to the region. This is usually done with a search on Google for “What airlines fly to [city name here]”. If I see well known airlines listed, then I feel better. So I start looking to see how much the airfares cost. Again, all of these things add to my list of information to make a good decision.

After all those steps, I’ll search Flickr for photos of the region, as well as info from Google Maps. I’ll put a public query out on Twitter. All helping me understand the place.

I had to go through this process just today to decide whether or not to go to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. I am still not decided, but its not looking good. The sites up top had nothing good to say. In fact they warned of violent crimes and kidnappings where the weapon of choice is a machete. Having grown up in Miami, I know what a machete is and the damage that can be done with one. Twitter responses warned that its pretty dangerous. So I am pretty sure I won’t go, but I am still looking for more info to help me decide.

Another recent questionable place included Aksay, Kazakhstan. Both US State and UK FCO said to be alert but that they were mostly safe. A family friend said the capital was fine and could be fun since a friend of his lived there. Flickr didn’t make it look too nice, but I wasn’t going to let that dissuade me. It wasn’t until I got to the airline choices that I got worried. Getting to the capital, Astana, would be fine. But the flights to Aksay were only on airlines banned from European travel due to lack of safety records. Travel by train was measured in number of days. It was the travel options that made me think twice and eventually decline the invitation. I still think it was a good decision, though I do regret not going….would have been a great adventure.

There are plenty of other countries I go to that are questionable and I have had a great time in most of them. I think no matter where I go, there is a chance of coming to an untimely end. But I try to avoid throwing myself into really bad situations and the information I gather from resources like these help me find and avoid those bad situations.

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