Australians take about 6 million trips overseas each year, during which about 30,000 Australians need the assistance of an Australian consular or overseas mission, says the Australian Government travel advisory, Smartraveller.
When I hear stats like this, I wonder, ‘who are these people?’ Are they mostly those who travel to extreme destinations; places of high conflict and high crime? Are they people who ignored the travel warnings? Or those who lacked common travel sense? Or, perhaps most terrifying of all, are they people who took common sense precautions but found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time?
I am guessing they are probably all of these people.
When it comes to weighing up personal security advice for international travel, there are many approaches. Some take government advice like gospel, while others reject it as an over-dramatised anti-liability statement. Many seem to look at the public representation of a place: does it sounds safe? Have I heard about much violence there? What did my friend think when visiting?
Regardless of the tact, it is worth considering there is a danger in the perceived threat of a country: does it match the actual risk? Or is it a hyped view caused by media saturation and public opinion?
Let’s look at Norway. Only days after a monstrous attack that killed unsuspecting citizens, the nation is in mourning, the world news is covering it from every angle and it is hard for words like ‘gunman’, ‘murder’, ‘bomb’ and ‘terrorism’ not to stick in your head. But is it safe to travel there?
Australian Government travel advice for Norway simply states, “We advise you to be alert to your own security in Norway”. The security level remains on the lowest level, and while reference is made to the shootings and bombing on 22 July, there is no indication that further threat is expected.
Similarly, the U.S. Department of State travel website has not listed Norway with their 34 travel warnings or with the five listed short-term alerts. Rather, it says, “Norway remains largely free of terrorist incidents” and, “Norway still has a relatively low level of crime in comparison to the United States and Western European countries with large populations”.
But for contrasting information, consult any mainstream news publication or online forums like Twitter for impressions of fear, sadness, anger and violence – the more human side of last week. Tonight there are reports of a bomb scare and evacuation in an Oslo train station, as well as speculation over increasing unrest as the far right responds to the attacks. These accounts do not conjure impressions of a traveller-friendly zone.
In the end, I have no answers. While I do sway towards the expert advice of government agencies entrusted to provide travel alerts, I also wonder if a reportedly safe Norway would be an enjoyable travel adventure right now.
For some stimulating insight to perceived threat vs. actual threat, check out this TED talk from internationally recognised security technologist, Bruce Schneier .