Kevin O’Faircheallaigh is 28 and in 2009 decided to abandon all domestic commitments and to have one last big adventure before the impending doom of 30. With that in mind, he and his partner packed an ambitiously small backpack each and headed out to spend a year exploring Asia and Europe, with a brief sojourn into North Africa.
Nestled in amongst my daily emails advertising increased sexual potency was the latest travel advisory warning for one of the countries on our itinerary. This time it was for Morocco, but the familiar dance that accompanies these arrivals was the same.
Before I expose my own, I must say I’m convinced everyone has their own travel neuroses. My partner’s is cleanliness. Back home, local holidays require our own pillows for sleeping and towels to be placed on any furniture before sitting. She’s convinced filthy people use the furniture in holiday units, and when I remark that I’m happy to sit on them unprotected, she says that merely strengthens her point.
Being overseas has made things tougher for her but she has adapted. If I see her laying down a sarong, followed by a sheet, followed by a sleeping bag on top of the hotel provided linen, I know we’re staying. If however, I hear the words ‘Oh. My. God.’ on the initial bathroom inspection, it’s time to collect my things.
My hangups are far more primitive. Quite simply, I’m convinced someone is going to try to kill me while I’m traveling. It’s a peculiar mix of narcissism (assuming that people have any idea who I am) and paranoia (assuming that knowing who I am, they’ll want to kill me).
Most people when opening a travel guide flick to things to do in a country, or the visa requirements for getting in. Not me. First stop is crime and safety, or dangers and annoyances. The three main things I want to know are what’s the likelihood of me dying, how am I most likely to die if I do, and who’s likely to do the killing.
One of the dangers and annoyances I read before we left was for Vietnam, and it proclaimed “if you’re going to die in Vietnam, it’s going to be under the wheels of something on the roads”. This was exactly what I wanted to know. Of course, it immediately sent me into a state of absolute terror.
I was saved by a work colleague who informed me that just by traveling with a partner, I cut my risk of dying overseas by 50%. This was great news, as not only did I feel safer, but I finally had the value of my relationship expressed in meaningful statistical form. Now every time I see a lone traveler I can’t help but think ‘Dead man walking’.
So these travel advisory warnings always send me into a bit of a spin. The one for Morocco basically said that there is almost definitely going to be a terrorist attack, it’s almost definitely targeting me specifically, and I’m being reckless by even contemplating entering the country.
The kicker is that Morocco isn’t on the list of countries you should not visit, nor on the list that you should avoid unnecessary travel to. Presumably if you’re going to any of those countries you get an email that just says ‘You’re fucked’.
That’s not what bothers me though. What really gets me is the advice they give you on protecting yourself when you’re in these countries. It’s not specific locations to avoid, camouflage techniques or even diagrams of some kung fu death grip maneuvers. It’s two simple words. “Stay alert”.
WHAT? Really? Am I expected to believe that everyone who has died horribly overseas is a victim of being a wee bit tired? This advice is like telling people not to walk through Fallujah wearing a Bush/Cheney 04 t-shirt. Two hundred words describing the many ways I can die in this country, followed by two useless ones on how to avoid it. I’m desperately in need of some new positive statistics.
So it seems I’ll have to stick to my usual plan of being as quiet and polite as I can, and hailing a cab to cross the street. That and avoiding solo travelers as much as is humanly possible, lest I become an innocent bystander to their death magnetism.