Lost luggage, broken hotel reservations, unforeseen expenses -- traveling comes with a unique set of worries. Why add undue concern about personal safety to the list? Some popular places to visit have reputations for crime, unsafe roads, ominous terrorist threats and deadly animal attacks that could cause anxiety, only some of which is justified. Here's the real deal on a few of those dangerous vacations, plus a few tips on how to stay safe while traveling.
[See a photo recap of the Most Dangerous Vacations]
Less than 20 miles from El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juárez may seem like a tempting and alarmingly cheap day trip to Mexico. But its tourist attractions are few and its reputation for drug-related crimes, kidnapping, robbery and sexual assault is a clear deterrent for anyone looking to trek south of the border. Juárez makes appearances on Wonders World's list of the Top 5 Most Dangerous Cities in the World, it's mentioned in AOL Travel's list of most dangerous honeymoons, and it places sixth on Urban Titan's ranking of the 10 Most Dangerous Cities in the World. The U.S. Department of State reports that three times as many people have been murdered there than in any other Mexican city; in 2009, more than half of the deaths in Mexico, which were reported to the U.S. Embassy, took place in either Juárez or Tijuana.
How to Stay Safe: The U.S. State Department urges caution when traveling anywhere in Mexico; particularly around the border towns, but also in major metropolitan areas and the resort areas. Women should especially be aware of their surroundings and travel in groups. In addition, "travelers should avoid any overt displays of wealth such as showing money, wearing flashy jewelry, driving expensive automobiles, etc," and should stick to using ATMs in commercial establishments rather than a kiosk on the street.
Also Consider: Try the new side of Mexico, literally. Santa Fe, NM is a great walker's town with excellent art galleries, and plenty of old-world charm. And it has a relatively low crime rate.
With outstanding museums and iconic monuments, Washington, D.C. is a sightseer's dream. But the city also has confounding multi-lane traffic circles, darkly lit tunnels and rubbernecking interstates. According to AllState, it's one of the most dangerous places in the United States to drive. Every year, the insurance company uses accident claims data to rank America's largest cities by its safest drivers. The 2010 study reports that you're 95.5 percent more likely to have a fender bender in our nation's capital than in most large cities. This could also partially explain why the traffic is so awful -- D.C. often places on the market research company INRIX's list of most congested areas.
How to Stay Safe: Washington, D.C. is both pedestrian friendly and mass-transit connected, so you can ditch your car entirely. Explore the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian Museums and other attractions along the National Mall on foot. Take the Metro's Blue, Orange or Yellow lines to visit Northern Virginia sites like Arlington Cemetery or Mount Vernon, or hop on the Red Line and head to Bethesda, Md. for a little shopping and dining.
Also Consider: If you're looking for a big city with a lower collision rate, you might be surprised by your best alternative. According to AllState's study, New York City actually has some of the safest motorists for a place with a population of one million-plus. And unlike other safe-driver big cities like Phoenix or San Diego, the Big Apple has many great sites within walking distance of each other, plus an efficient mass transit system.
It's the home of some dramatic stone architecture and delicious Basque country cuisine, but Pamplona's San Fermín Festival has long overshadowed its other tourist draws. This July event is a folk festival honoring the northeast Spanish city's patron saint. Popular activities include the chupinazo, a literal rocket launch to begin the festival; and the procession, where people parade through the streets of Old Pamplona behind a statue of Fermín. But it's the running of the bulls (or encierro) that receives the most attention. For eight days of San Fermín, crowds gather to run alongside six stampeding bulls and six steers from an Old Pamplona corral to the bullring about a half-mile away. Of the approximately 3,500 revelers to participate each year, the Council of Pamplona estimates as many as 300 are injured. Fourteen people have died from injuries sustained during the Running of the Bulls; the last death-by-goring was in 2009, when 27-year-old Daniel Jimeno Romero from Alcalá de Henares, Spain was killed by a bull that, after being separated from the herd, ran directly into the crowd of runners.
How to Stay Safe: You can safely view the bulls running from many points in Old Pamplona. On the street level you'll find crowds gathered at the outer barrier fences, but there are also upper balconies available to rent for approximately 20 to 30 euros a day. If you do run, note that the Council of Pamplona lists the lane leading to the bullring and the end of the Santo Domingo stretch as the most dangerous sections. Keep in mind that you're more likely to be injured by the rushing crowds than the running bulls, so stay alongside (not in front of) the animals to avoid a trampling -- this will keep you out of the path of most runners. If you do fall, stay down, curl up and cover your head with your hands. Above all else, make sure to participate in the encierro sober.
Also Consider: You'll be little more than winded if you participate in the mock Running of the Bulls held in New Orleans' French Quarter each summer. There, the Big Easy Rollergirls derby team stand in for the bulls and are armed with wiffle ball bats, ready to attack.
Australia has many one-of-a-kind creatures: the platypus, the kangaroo and the koala, to name a few. But one of its most deadly animals -- the box jellyfish-- earns Darwin, the Northern Territory a slot on several travel lists for the deadliest beaches. This 10-foot beast likes to swim in scenic river mouths and shallow coastal waters, and its potentially deadly venom has toxins that attack the heart, nervous system and skin cells. According to the National Geographic, the stings are "so overwhelmingly painful, human victims have been known to go into shock and drown or die of heart failure before even reaching shore." If you're visiting the area for its burgeoning pub culture and rich parkland, note that AOL Travel says box jellyfish are responsible for more deaths by Australian wildlife than snakes, sharks and saltwater crocodiles. And speaking of saltwater crocs, these scary creatures are also fond of the shallow water of Australia's Northern Territory.
How to Stay Safe: Surf Life Saving Northern Territory, a volunteer organization that trains lifeguards, says June through September is the safest season for swimming. During that time of year you should stick to popular shores like Casuarina, Mindil or Nightcliff beach, and only swim in between the red and yellow flags of those waters. Lonely Planet says most Darwin beaches have vinegar stations, but just in case, bring your own stash -- it will help sooth a sting. Also look out for crocodile signs; GuidePicker.com says accessible billabongs and rivers will post a warning if they've been spotted nearby.
Also Consider: Blooms of jellyfish swim in all oceans. But if you stick to the United States' Mid-Atlantic waters of Myrtle Beach, SC., Ocean City, Md., or the Outer Banks, NC., you'll be far from the waters favored by the box jellyfish. You should keep in mind those waters do see Scyphozoan jellyfish, but these creatures have venom that's rarely fatal. Crocodiles prefer the freshwaters of rivers and lakes, so the chance of finding them at any coastal beach is slight.
On Oct. 3, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert concerning potential terrorist attacks in Europe, causing mild panic for U.S. citizens with upcoming trips to the continent. The alert's cryptic language says, "U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure." AOL News calls the State Department's alert "geographically vague," but other news organizations say France is one of the European countries most at risk. In recent weeks the French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has told many press outlets of received intelligence for planned terror activity in France. And while there is no imminent proof of danger, security has been boosted at many of the country's popular tourist sites, particularly in Paris. The Eiffel Tower has been evacuated twice after anonymous threats phoned into the police. Paris and other French cities have also seen several weeks of political unrest in the form of strikes. Workers, students and others have taken to the streets to oppose pending legislation that will raise the retirement age to 62. The rioting crowds have resulted in clogged public transportation lines and canceled flights.
How to Stay Safe: Although the alert currently expires in January 2011, the Associated Press reports that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg has said it will stay in effect as long as it's needed. Steinberg goes on to advise Europe travelers to be attentive, particularly on public transportation and in busy tourist areas, and to register their travel plans with the State Department. You could also hold off on that trip to Paris and/or other major European travel destinations at this time.
Also Consider: Montreal is a great place to find a Euro-vibe without having to hop across the pond. Stroll down the cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montréal, admire the Gothic Revival architecture of the Notre-Dame Basilica and hear the French-speaking Quebecois -- you'll have to remind yourself that you aren't on a Parisian getaway.
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