For the first time ever, we’ve cancelled an upcoming trip due to concerns for our safety. The decision wasn’t easy. Or cheap. Or unanimous.
We booked a trip to Sao Paolo and Brasilia many months ago. At the time, we chose these destinations because they sounded exotic … and because friends from Brazil encouraged the choice. (You’ll note we didn’t consider Rio. Why? Our friends said, “Oh, no. Not Rio. It’s not really safe.”)
As time for our trip drew near, I started my research on things to do in Sao Paolo and Brasilia. Along the way, I began coming across disturbing stories from other travelers.
Many of the stories were garden-variety tales of caution. Don’t wear flashy jewelry. Don’t show off your iPhone in public. Don’t go down dark streets. Watch out for pick pockets. We’ve seen similar warnings for cities in countries from Cambodia to Ecuador — and, by following this advice, we’ve visited those places without incident.
But one woman’s husband was robbed and killed while stopping in Sao Paolo to take photos. A web site for government workers recommended not carrying laptops at all because spotters at airports would radio nearby bandits, who would wait for your taxi to get stuck in traffic, then pull up with rifles and demand your computer. Another government site advised not speaking English in public, as this was the primary way thieves spotted potential victims.
A travel site written by Americans living in Brazil suggested leaving all your electronics and even your wedding rings at home, but being sure to carry some money with you every day because “when you get mugged — and, as a tourist, you will get mugged — you want to have something to give the mugger, who will simply not believe that gringos aren’t carrying money.”
The more I searched, the more these stories piled up. Ultimately, I found myself dreading the trip, which made me less and less inclined to search for places to go or things to do. When I first shared my concerns with Clyde, he still wanted to go, but we agreed that, for this trip, we should do less striking out on our own and make better use of tour guides and groups.
Oh, and we were also going to leave our rings at home.
Oh, and we were also shopping for cheap phones we didn’t mind having stolen — which meant I wouldn’t be snapping iPhone photos along the way.
Oh, and we also might not take laptops, and just use the hotel computers to keep in touch.
And so, as a result, I felt less and less interested in visiting Brazil. For me, in the end, this had less to do with concerns around safety (though I had them) than it did with how all these strategies began to conflict with the reasons I travel.
I travel to be immersed in a culture: to explore the cuisine, to walk the streets, to interact with the people, and, yes, to relax. But, increasingly, it seemed that going to Brazil would mean insulating ourselves completely from our destination. It meant leaving behind everything we usually use to make memories and share stories from the trip. And, worse, instead of a week relaxing, it mean a week of constant vigilance, always looking over our shoulders … and waiting for that inevitable moment when someone flashes a gun or knife or broken bottle and says, “Hand me your money.”
Despite all these concerns, Clyde was still ready to board our flights and head to Sao Paolo. That said: while I might occasionally overplay concerns, Clyde consistently underplays them. In the end — very reluctantly — he agreed we should consider alternatives.
We’ll lose about $600 in “airline change fees,” plus money we invested in expensive Brazilian visas. And that’s a shame — but, again, I couldn’t see forcing myself to go on a trip I had lost enthusiasm for just to avoid a financial loss.
And so: without ever going to Brazil, we’ve learned a difficult and expensive lesson. Going forward, I’m going to want to do a lot more research before we commit to destinations we know very little about.
Do you think we did the right thing? Have you ever cancelled a vacation due to concerns about safety?