With 195 recognized countries, 57,308,738 square miles of land surface area, roughly 6,500 languages, and a whopping 7.3 billion people, the earth is such a vast and diverse place that most struggle to explore even a fraction of its surface. Leaving aside Earth’s immensity for the moment, let us take a moment to examine countries, the sovereign nations that neatly fill our continents and islands. Each possessing its own set of customs, languages, distinctive cuisine, international opinions, patriotic banners, and proud inhabitants, every country has something different to offer the open mind.
When I first considered if there were any place in the world I would out rightly refuse to visit, I immediately thought of all of the countries that are deemed as dangerous or politically unstable, including Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan, Afghanistan, or Syria. With ongoing civil or international conflicts ensuing within their borders, these nations aren’t often on the lists for “100 Places You Must See Before You Die” for fear that your visit there may actually result in death. Indeed, the very idea of such war-stricken terrain can leave citizens abroad terrified. For those whose health, well-being, and comfort are the highest of priorities when traveling, these nations are permanently stripped from potential itineraries.
But what if we were to accept the mortal risk of travelling to such nations and carry on? To internalize the presence of threats and pursue a greater understanding of international conflict regardless? What if we strove to open our minds to the vast injustice, sorrow, and suffering that war causes wherever it occurs? Wouldn’t we then have a more educated citizenry, one that was more aware of the devastating implications of ignorance and violence? In this way, I find it difficult to rule out nations submerged in large-scale conflict from my personal itinerary.
War-stricken nations aside, what of those that have simply received bad press? Countries that tourists actively avoid because they are presented as crime-ridden, violent, drug-infested, impoverished, unwelcoming, or polluted by the international press?
I remember discussing an impending trip to Mexico with some of my friends a week before I went. Upon first hearing of my international endeavors, they were enthralled by the destination.
“Wow, that sounds amazing! Have a great time!” they gushed.
But as we continued conversing, I started to get the feeling that their initial excitement had turned into concern.
“Don’t stay out too late,” one said with a playful jab.
“Don’t take anything from strangers,” another added.
“Don’t hang around dark alley ways.”
And while I’m aware that their advise was tempered with humor and intentionally overbearing concern, I couldn’t help but see a grain of truth in it. People view Mexico as being a profoundly dangerous place.
Upon uttering “Mexico”, many are inundated with images of kidnapping, carjacking, highway robbery, drug-trafficking, poverty, and pollution. Why is this? The availability heuristic.
The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that uses immediate examples that come to a person’s mind when considering a certain subject. For instance, in spite of the low probability of airplane crashes or disappearances, the incident with Malaysia Airlines inspires tremendous unease from frequent travelers. It doesn’t matter how there are 102,465 flights per day and how they all reach their destinations safely and on time. No, we must fixate on the disasters, the mishaps, the catastrophes that could happen to us.
Similarly, people often view Mexico as an unpleasant destination because of our receipt of frightening stories in which tourists are the victims of violence, gangs, abuse, abduction and various other criminal activities. In all of our anxiety and stagnant fear, we forget that millions of individuals cross the Mexican border every day without an incident. But no. We must stubbornly insist on looking at the worst case scenarios, thereby removing yet another country from our rapidly shrinking itinerary.
Returning to the original question on which place I’d never visit, I’d like to make it a state of mind that I strive to avoid: Fearful ignorance. I don’t want to cringe, and dread, and evade ideas, places, and people I don’t understand. Frankly, I don’t believe I have the right to form such negative opinions without a legitimate basis. For now, I’d like to think that my potential itinerary is limitless, that there is no destination I’d forgo for fear of repercussion.