There’s a flip side to every change in the world, and that’s no different when it comes to the travel experience. As more and more people travel a problem has begun to rear its ugly head: more and more people are traveling. That means that we are seeing any number of stupid and downright idiotic actions being undertaken around the world, from scrawling your name on the Colosseum to deciding to rescue a baby bison because it was “too cold.” (Both events actually happened) Oddly enough, many people are actually dying from their lack of situational awareness, so I thought I’d offer up a brief primer on how you too can easily avoid certain death on your next jaunt around the world.
It’s official! More people in 2015 died while taking selfies than from shark attacks. I’m not sure what this means for the human race, but I’m fairly certain the end of days is near. Being aware of your surroundings when you travel is incredibly important, even just from a general safety point of view. Now though, we have to expand this definition to include the literal landscape on which you are standing. A few months ago a man died at Machu Picchu while trying to get the “perfect” shot; another died at the Taj Mahal after tumbling down a flight of stairs mid-selfie. A statistic I’d actually love to see are injuries caused to others from selfie-sticks. When I was in China a few months ago I felt as if I had inadvertently entered into a Medieval jousting tournament, that’s how pronounced the selfie-stick phenomenon is globally. I’ve of course seen them everywhere I go; it seems everyone has an extendable rod to take those not-at-all spontaneous or casual pics of themselves. Believe it or not, I don’t have an issue with selfie-sticks in theory. I understand why some people like them, particularly if you’re traveling as a couple and want pictures together. That’s fine, I get it, continue with that. What bothers me is the complete lack of self-awareness on the part of some travelers who use them all the time for every photo they capture. Most of us have the appendages necessary to use a phone without an aluminum rod for assistance. Use them. Do not instead wave around your tech-laden weapon wherever you go, a cudgel as damaging as any lance or spear ever created. It’s rude, it’s obnoxious and you look ridiculous. Selfies are fine but: 1) look down and around and make sure you aren’t about to literally fall off a cliff and 2) do not use your selfie-stick to poke your fellow tourists.
Don’t Poke the Animals
Speaking of poking…do NOT bother wildlife anywhere at anytime. Ever. First of all, I’m much more concerned about the animals than I am the people for the simple reason that people should know better. A number of animals have died just this year around the world from tourists trying to snap their photo. It’s horrible and a sad reflection on us frankly. When we travel we have a responsibility. We are voyeurs, in a new place to see and observe but never touch or interfere. Think of it like the Prime Directive in Star Trek, our first rule of thumb should be to not interfere and to do no harm. Instead, we’re trying to manipulate the world around us to conform with a view of the world we want to portray in Instagram photos. Animals are dying because some idiots want to impress people they’ve never met in places they’ve never been and I’m tired of it. But people are dying too, including one gentleman who tried to take a selfie with a massive walrus. The walrus decided to have some fun and drug him into the water to splash around. You guessed it, the man died. So, and this really should go without saying, STOP BOTHERING ANIMALS.
Don’t Chase Pokémon Onto Train Tracks
These points are all starting to follow a common thread, which is a complete and total lack of awareness. This inability to focus literally on things in front of you is also usually due to my favorite gadget, the phone. I get it, I’ve been that guy who nearly got run over by a Mack truck too, but that doesn’t forgive the behavior. While I’m not a Pokémon Go kind of guy, I have witnessed players around the world and one trend seems to be consistent – they get totally absorbed into the game. People have already been killed as a result of playing Pokémon Go and I know that number will only increase. So, just as with my selfie advice, look up once in a while, don’t get run over by trucks and don’t fall off ledges trying to capture your next character.
Don’t Go to War Zones
This is just my personal opinion here, but I have never understood why people travel to war zones. Scratch that, I do understand why and I think it’s totally irresponsible. The world is a very large place with any number of destinations to see and explore. There are so many, that one does not have to travel to dangerous places and yet they do. They do it for the cache, to brag, to say they’re a better traveler and any number of other, idiotic and intensely selfish reasons. Most of the time these dangerous places won’t affect the traveler, until they do. It has happened and it will happen again in the future, and the result is either governments going to tremendous lengths to mount rescue operations or the individual’s death. Don’t be that person. Don’t be that person to travel to Afghanistan just because you heard they had some nice hiking trails. Do you know where else has nice hiking trails? Every other country in the world – go visit them. Travel is about common sense and respect and placing yourself in harm’s way just to take a few photos demonstrates a profound lack of both qualities.
Don’t Be An Idiot
Someone once said, “If idiots could fly, the sky would be like an airport.” While slightly obnoxious, it’s also kind of true. But that doesn’t mean you have to be counted in their ranks. I get asked every day about travel tips and how to better see the world. One of the most important things I tell people is to be cautious but not scared. Be trusting but not naïve. It’s a fine line, but it’s one any good traveler needs to walk in order to be successful. Luckily, it’s something we all have to learn and comes only as a result of traveling itself. So go out there, see the world but do so mindfully and with just a slight modicum of self-awareness. Always know where you are, what and who are around you and whether or not you’re in danger of falling of a nearby cliff. We as people are not inherently dumb, we learn to be less self-aware over time, so revert to those basic instincts and I’m sure you’ll (hopefully) survive your next vacation.