“Maybe everybody in the whole damn world is scared of each other,” says Slim in John Steinbeck’s 1937 classic Of Mice and Men. I read the book back in high school, and it didn’t mean much to me then. Now, having traveled some, I dwell on this quote quite often. I think a lot of people are scared of each other.
We have enough reasons to be. We live in a world inundated with terror, in an age of endemic terrorist attacks, insurgency and a spate of pandemic diseases—Zika, Ebola, Yellow Fever—that claim lives in all corners of the globe. We’re reluctant to leave the cities of our comfort because we’re perpetually paralyzed by the “what if.” What if someone hijacks the plane? What if someone shoots up the airport? What if we catch something? But what if they don’t, and we don’t? In the interest of being tenacious, it’s our duty to take back our lives, to stop existing and to start living again. Because when we succumb to our fears, our enemies win.
Yes, we’re often at risk when we travel, but the sad truth is we’re not safe here, either.
The US government issues travel alerts and warnings regularly, discouraging Americans from visiting certain countries. For good reason, of course. But here’s the thing: There have been more than 1,300 confirmed cases of Zika on US territory and the gunman of the worst mass shooting in the history of our country was an American citizen. Four US cities—St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit and New Orleans—have placed among the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world, based on their murders per capita. Yes, we’re often at risk when we travel, but the sad truth is we’re not safe here, either. The only choice we have is to live our lives fearlessly, or die anyway wishing we had.
With this in mind, I’ve chosen some of the countries listed with advisories by the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, and I am here to tell you why maybe you should still go to them, advisories be damned.
Go for the rich biodiversity spanning more than 7,000 islands, to ride in a jeepney or to visit with the country’s hospitable locals, who look incredibly young because they smile more than most.
Go for the family parties. Mexicans are typically very conscious of their responsibilities to their immediate families, which are traditionally large, and hosting family gatherings is not uncommon—usually complete with culinary wonders like chorizo and tequila.
Haiti lacks emergency response and medical facilities. Still, hiking in this country, the most mountainous nation in the Caribbean, is worth the risk.
Go for the ancient Mayan ceremonial site Copán, the massive barrier reef popular for scuba divers offshore the Bay Islands or the jungle lands near Guatemala.
Go for the shopping in the reconstructed souks, where name brands line the hallowed halls of the 5,000-year-old trading center in Beirut, a Middle Eastern fashion capital. Or go for the UNESCO World Heritage Site Byblos, recently selected as the Arab Tourism Capital for 2016, known for its medieval ramparts and authentic souks on the cobblestone streets.
In no particular order, you might want to float in the Dead Sea, tour the Old City of Jerusalem, spend a night out in Tel Aviv—the other city that never sleeps—or marvel at the mountain fortress of Masada.
7. El Salvador
The capital city of San Salvador boasts a ton of archaeological history and a vibrant nightlife and art scene, with the dramatic backdrop of volcanoes worth hiking and waves worth catching. Go for the hike or the surf. And pupusa, for real.
Tunis, the capital city, is known for its theaters, cathedrals and palaces. Go for the Arabic and French-Colonial history that dates back to the 6th century, stay for the Roman mosaics and Islamic art.
Definitely pay a visit to the lunar landscape of Cappadocia’s Goreme National Park, where white volcanic ashes coat chimneys, the archaeological site of Troy, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar or the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Go for Cartagena’s colorful colonial architecture. Stick around for the parties at Parque Lleras, the main nightlife district of Medellin. Trust us: There’s only a very small chance you’ll get kidnapped.