Is It Safe to Travel in Other Countries?

Should anyone even think about traveling to Egypt? Isn’t it the Middle East? Isn’t it dangerous? Those were usually the first questions I got when I decided to travel to Egypt.

I was talking to one woman about going to Egypt with us. She is experienced in international travel. Her daughter lives in Germany. But when she read what the State Department said about traveling to Egypt, she was a bit concerned. The State Department gave Egypt a level 3 warning: reconsider travel. Why? Because of Covid (at the time) and terrorism. Then, I looked at Germany. I realized that it was on the same level due to terrorism and Covid. I was rather shocked by that because almost everybody would consider Germany a safe place to visit. You can find all sorts of dire warnings about most countries.

So, is Egypt safe to visit?

When we began to enter Old Cairo, we were stopped by police armed with machine guns. This was the first of many encounters with these ubiquitous well-armed policemen. There were also policemen in plain clothes who talked with them. Later, I found out that they were the tourism police. The policing was not limited to armed guards. We drove to Alexandria, Egypt from the east side of Cairo. At 120 kilometers from Cairo, they got a call from the tourism police. They automatically call at that point. The cars used for tourism have trackers in them that indicate where they are. Some may not like this level of security, but Egypt is watching over the tourists. They want them there.

Still, we were a little nervous after entering the Old City. I think it is good to exercise caution. After having traveled two days to get to Egypt, we were tired, and the experience of Old Cairo was a bit overwhelming. We got checked into our hotel, and we sat outside. Our guide said, “Do you want to go for a walk?” We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know how safe Egypt was. All we knew was what we had read in reviews of Egypt’s safety, including the ominous warnings from the State Department. So, we were cautious. We walked around and were greeted by many people. Our guide said to us, “No one is going to harm you in Egypt.” We arrived safely back at our hotel without incident.

After spending a few days in Egypt, we realized that we did not need to have this high level of caution. We needed to exercise wisdom and not get ourselves into difficult situations, but we realized it was safe to walk around, especially in tourist areas. Egyptians were ready to help, and we adjusted. From all we could see, what our guide had told us was fundamentally correct, “No one is going to harm you in Egypt.”

But what about other countries?

Each new country presented its own safety concerns. We had to explore each place and get a sense of it ourselves once we got there.

My second international trip was to Mexico. We went to Cancún, and then I went on to Guadalajara to visit friends I had made during the summer in Tennessee. Traveling alone to Mexico sounds a bit scary to a lot of Americans, especially outside tourist areas. I was going to travel alone from Cancun to Guadalajara, and my wife would return one day earlier from Cancun directly to the United States.

When I arrived in Guadalajara, I realized very quickly that I was not in Cancun. In Cancun, you are likely to meet Americans and plenty of people who speak English. I don’t think I had ever felt more white than at that moment. Everyone I saw was brown. There were no whites in the airport. I stood out. Fortunately, my friend was going to come pick me up, and so I would not be alone for very long. Then, my friend called me. He was not able to come pick me up. “Just take an Uber,” he said. “It’s much safer.” I was not really happy with that. It was my first time being alone in a city in Latin America. But what choice did I have?

I called an Uber. I do speak Spanish, but it was a bit difficult to understand the call of my Uber driver. I wasn’t sure where to meet him. Eventually, I found him. I got in the car, and we started to talk. It was actually really fun to talk to him. That’s what I found consistently with Uber drivers in the U.S. and elsewhere. They are good sources of information and, mostly, good people to talk to. They like to talk, or they wouldn’t be doing Uber. They would be doing something else. I traveled safely around Guadalajara the whole week, often on my own, and I felt very secure.

But what about Bogota, Colombia? My daughter had visited there and had decided to go to school there. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about it. I received warnings from people about it. After much study, two things were clear: Do not have your cell phone out because people may snatch it, and do not be out at night, especially alone.

Our plane arrived at 11:00 p.m., and we had to go across town to our Airbnb. In addition, we had to get the key at a different place than where we were staying. This meant that we would either have to trust the Uber driver or get out of the car at night and then wait for another Uber. But, wait, weren’t we supposed to not be out at night? In regards to crime, the Colombians say to “no dar papaya.” This means literally that you should not give papaya, a fruit. It means, don’t do things that attract the attention of criminals. Standing outside late at night with our luggage in a place we did not know seemed like giving a lot of papaya.

Fortunately, a friend of ours came to the airport, picked us up, and took us to our Airbnb. The whole exchange of keys and being out at night seemed not to be a problem at all. We didn’t see anyone around, and the whole area seemed very quiet. However, I still was a bit unsure, especially after we went through two locked gates and a locked door to get into the house where our Airbnb was.

The next morning, we opened the large window of our Airbnb and looked out. There, we saw innumerable people walking around. Almost all of them had their cell phones in their hands and were doing what anyone here would do with their cell phones. They paid no attention at all to what was around them. So much for that. Granted, we were in one of the nicer parts of the city, but everywhere we traveled in the north of Bogota seemed relatively safe.

We walked to our destinations with extreme caution the first couple of days, but we realized we didn’t need to be on the sort of high alert that we thought was necessary. The zona or suburb where we stayed was really nice and not much different than a nice area of a city in the United States.

One thing I have discovered is that every country seems a bit scary when you don’t know it. This includes the United States. One Mongolian student told me that he expected the United States to be kind of like the video game Grand Theft Auto. My daughter told me that she had many conversations with Colombians who were scared to visit New York City because it was so dangerous. A Serbian man wondered if it would be safe for him to drive across the United States in a rented car. “Of course!” I told him. “And people will help you.” I can understand why they feel that way. I read an article on whether or not it was safe to travel to Knoxville, TN. This city is about a half hour from where I live. I have driven Uber in all parts of this city at all hours of the day and night. There were a couple of times I felt a bit uncomfortable, but I was never even scared. It seems to me to be a relatively safe city. Yet reading the review, you would think that the level of security in Bogota and Knoxville is about the same. Maybe they are. Maybe they are both relatively safe. Maybe you just have to use ordinary precautions in both places.

When we returned to Old Cairo after many days of traveling Egypt, we felt completely comfortable as we walked around there during the day. We realized that Egypt was a very safe place and most countries can be visited safely with awareness and a little wisdom.

One time, I was driving a group of Iranians to a wedding. I had a talk with a young man who sat next to me in the front seat. I asked him, “What would it be like for a normal white American middle-aged man to visit Iran?”

He responded, “You would be absolutely fine, and you would be welcomed. You would love it.”

“Do you realize that if I told people here that I was going to Iran, they would think I was totally crazy?”

“Oh, yes. I totally understand. Europeans visit all the time. It is very safe for tourists.”

That’s what I have found in most places. You have to use some common sense, but most countries want tourists. It’s safe to visit other countries. In fact, it’s often safer to visit other countries than to stay in the United States!

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