5 Common Pitfalls When Traveling Overseas

Pitfall #1:  Using dated or overly anecdotal information to assess your destination.

The world is a dynamic place.  When planning travel to a particular location it’s important to use current information. Beiruttoday – while it has its security issues, some fairly significant – is not theBeirutof 1983 when the city was carved up by warring militias.  At one timeAbidjan,Cote D’Ivoirewas considered the Paris of Africa but that is no longer the case. Caracas,Venezuelais much more dangerous today than it was even a few years ago.

Pitfall #2:  Being too trusting of strangers.

Many travelers are much too accepting of approaches by strangers.  While developing friendships with people in different countries is one of the great advantages of foreign travel it must be done judiciously and sensibly.  When a stranger approaches you unfortunately there is sometimes an ulterior motive at work.

Pitfall #3:  Being too trusting of local contacts

In addition to strangers, even local contacts should be treated with a degree of caution.  Occasionally local contacts and partners will have a separate and hidden agenda.  This doesn’t mean that you should be rude to your local contacts or be excessively paranoid about them.  It does mean that you should not follow them blindly or believe everything they say.

Pitfall #4:  Believing your individual rights go with you when you travel overseas

For many of us living in western democracies we have come to accept our individual freedoms and rights as immutable and inalienable and as something that goes with us when we travel.  This is a dangerous misconception.  When you are in another country you are subject to the laws of that country which may be very, very different from your own.

Pitfall #5:  Having too much confidence that your Embassy can assist you or solve all your problems.

The Embassy or Consulate is usually very limited in what they can do for you if you run afoul of local authorities.  Typically this is confined to visiting you to check on your welfare and perhaps recommending or arranging for local legal representation.


4 Responses to 5 Common Pitfalls When Traveling Overseas

  1. Maria says:

    I think 4 and 5 are particularly easy to assume when it’s really not the case.
    Also, I would add to number one that it’s useful (for Americans) to not just look at US State Department warnings for travel to countries but also the British, Canadian, and Australian counterparts in order to get various points of view.

    • You’re exactly right Maria. Its important to use a variety of sources when researching your destination and to also understand that the US State Department info – while useful (1) represents the position of the USG and may be influenced by foreign policy concerns, etc. (2) is directed to a very wide audience and may or may not apply to your situation. Thanks for your comment!

  2. DejahThoris says:

    I would add to the list, getting into the habit of reading the English version of whatever major “foreign city/region, as far ahead as time permits. Not only that,but checking the CIA world Factbook just to get a general overview of the country, as well as reading expat forums. Although, I have found expat forums can get a little off-topic with respect to honest appraisal of what would be considered legit concerns to an FNG. The local English rags don’t have to prove they aren’t racist or pinky-swear that America sucks, compared to the paradise of their chosen expat residence.
    I have found http://www.thepaperboy.com to be an excellent global resource for online newspapers.
    I also have a fondness for reading books on the history and culture of the place that I plan to visit. This may not be an option if you are given short notice on your itinerary.
    I have also learned from experience (and the Army) that you should always coordinate with your travel companions what our meetup points would be, should we get separated, discuss how we would handle any unpleasant confrontation, and what our options are should it escalate. We do this even when going into a US city that is new to us. Of course, it helps that my husband and I are both prior service, with the need to develop a personalized Op Order for any place that it too far to hike back to familiar ground.

    Of course, this all leads back to your post on situational awareness, but gathering intel prior to putting boots on the ground, makes it that much easier to adjust for Murphy’s Laws.

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