Most trips can be summed up – very roughly – as follows: buy a ticket, pack your bags, land in The Place, and head off to explore. And usually it’s all well and good, as it should be.
Unfortunately, the world went and got itself complicated, and there are some countries dealing with issues that don’t make themselves very amenable to simple plans like that; issues like political crackdowns or civil unrest. As this blog is posted, Vietnam has jailed critics of its government; Cambodia has shuttered their main English newspaper and arrested the leader of the opposition political party, and Myanmar’s population of Rohingya are fleeing terrible abuse and oppression. The landscape is constantly shifting.
This presents an interesting conundrum to Joe (or Jane) Traveler: should I go, or should I give this one a miss? It’s a complicated question that depends on a lot of things, and to make the best decision, you need accurate and informed information. The biggest and most important thing is this: are YOU comfortable with going?
Some travelers have a higher tolerance for things like coups and censorship and the like, while others see abuses or human rights issues and can’t stomach spending money in a place that allows that sort of thing to happen. It’s a personal decision with no wrong answer.
But if the issue is not that cut and dry for you, there are a few other things you should consider no matter what you decide to do.
A travel warning isn’t automatically a red light
Most embassies put out travel warnings for their citizens to follow if they’re traveling to certain areas. For examples here are the advisory pages of the UK, the USA, Canada, and Australia. Often travel advisories only cover a certain area, or highlight that tourists are likely to remain unaffected. Other times the warning was for an event that has long since subsided, or even issued by an overly-cautious government while other countries give the green light. So, check first…
…especially your travel insurance!
Because you are a smart and responsible adult, you, of course, have travel insurance. But as with most insurance policies, it’s imperative that you read the fine print. Some travel warnings affect – or even void – your coverage, as can events on the ground. Is it really an act of God if you willfully walked into an uprising? Get that magnifying glass out.
Will your visit be a net positive for the areas you visit?
Often, it’s the regular people that suffer when political or civil unrest breaks out. But there’s nothing that spreads joy through a community faster than tourists interested in learning about its history, culture, people… and spending a bit of money, of course. If you’ve decided to visit one of these areas, you must also consider if your money is really going to the locals or the local government; they are sometimes two very different things. Again, no wrong answer, but one should get the lay of the land first.
You can be part of the solution
The benefits of traveling to countries with, er… issues, is twofold. First, you become an ambassador of sorts when you return home, spreading tales of your adventures and giving people a look at what it’s like on the ground. Second, you bring news of the outside world to places where it’s not easy to get. Your visit alone can inspire locals to learn about things they may not be too familiar with.
Above all, visiting countries that are dealing with problems lets the powers that be – both inside and outside the country – know that the rest of us haven’t forgotten. In a world where knowledge travels faster than ever, the adage that knowledge is power has never been more true.
If you have any questions about an upcoming trip to Southeast Asia or would like a clearer picture beyond the international media headlines, contact us!