“Lions will eat you!” and other useless travel warnings

BY { 75 comments }

When I tell people that I’m heading off on any kind of adventure, I tend to attract grim horror stories from every Tom, Dick, and Harry…

Me: I’m going on a camping trip in the outback!

Tom: I hope you don’t break down in the middle of nowhere. Did you see that movie Wolf Creek? Careful, young lady, there are lots of psychopaths out there.

Me: I’m planning a trip to Africa!

Dick: Africa, huh? I heard a story about a couple who were driving around Africa. Their car broke down in the middle of nowhere and they were found dead in the car, half eaten by lions.

Me: I’m going hiking in Nepal!

Harry: Oh, I hope you weren’t planning to eat any food there. I heard a story about a guy who contracted type six dysentery from contaminated chicken tikka masala, and then he shat himself into a twenty year coma.

Thanks so much!

But please shut up now.

I’m well aware of the dangers of travel. When I pick up a Lonely Planet guide, I skip directly to the Dangers section. I’ve read almost every adventure tragedy book that has ever been written. I Google ‘How many people are killed by animals every year?’ on a regular, somewhat obsessive basis (Saturday nights, a glass of wine, Wikipedia’s death-by-hippo statistics  … oh yeah, now we’re talking).

I know the risks. I’m not ignorant. These warnings are uncalled for.

Picture this:

Friend: Guess what? I just got a new job in the city!

Me: Whoa! Are you crazy? Legionnaires disease travels through office air conditioning systems, hospitalizing between 8,000 and 18,000 people per year. That job may kill you.

Friend:  Guess what? I bought a new car!

Me: I saw a really horrific crash on the news last night. You just bought yourself an overpriced coffin on wheels, my friend.

Friend: Guess what? I’m pregnant!

Me: Oh, god, be careful with that. I know someone who split her perineum when she was giving birth and they sewed her bits up all wrong.

I don’t talk like that, though. Why? It’s socially unacceptable. If I reacted this negatively to everyday topics, then people would assume that I had Aspergers.

Also, I trust that other adults are capable of doing their own research in order to make sensible decisions for their lives. When somebody is floating sky-high in a bubble of inspired bliss, I don’t go shooting at them with missiles of death and fear.

Adventure may be risky, but so is life. It comes with a 100% chance of death.

And while I’m touched that people take time out of their day to offer free safety tips and third-hand horror stories, I don’t understand why morbid warnings are a socially acceptable reaction to talk of travel and adventure.

They could at least butter me up first with, “Wow, that sounds like so much fun!” before shoving their cold, un-lubricated death warning up my rear end.

Have you ever had anything like this happen to you? Why do you think it’s so common for people to dish up grim warnings when it comes to travel and adventure?

Leave a Comment

  • Christine October 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm edit

    AGREED! This is one of the things that really annoys me when people ask me if I’m going to use a money purse or dress differently or anything like that when I travel: there’s no possibility of me getting mugged when I’m at home?! There are risks every day and everywhere, you’ve just got to roll with it.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 20, 2012 at 6:08 am edit

      What? You like to wear something other than zip-off polyester safari pants when you travel? But they’re so stylish, especially when paired with a flesh-coloured gut purse, a Chang beer t-shirt, Velcro Tivas (and socks), and an overstuffed 95L backpack for your two-week Thai holiday.

      Reply
  • Dyanne@TravelnLass October 19, 2012 at 12:29 pm edit

    Actually, I very nearly DID get eaten by an entire pride of lions whilst on a dawn safari walk in Kruger NP one morning – but that’s a whole ‘nuther story (http://www.travelnlass.com/2011/01/random-photo-memory-lions-at-dawn.html)

    But the truth is, you’re absolutely right. I’d much rather take my chances in the African bush, or the wilds of Mongolia (those yaks can be mighty mean letmetellya), than… shoot, I once came THIS close to be creamed by a 16 wheeler as I was pulling into the parking lot of a HOME DEPOT, for goodness sake!

    Besides, as I’ve often said – if I go out in a rickety prop plane that crashes into the Costa Rica jungle – at least that’s got more class than… cashing it in as the 16,96-first traffic fatality on an American highway on my way to my self-defense lesson. ;)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 20, 2012 at 6:14 am edit

      Dyanne—your photo of the lions is incredible!

      Yes, getting killed in a car crash enroute to self-defence lessons would really be a wasted opportunity to go out in style. I hope I can one day see your obituary listed, “Fortunately, Dyanne was killed by Mongolian yaks, as per her wishes.” Hopefully not for another 30 years, though. You’ve got a lot more living to do, and you’re an incredible inspiration.

      Reply
  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad October 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm edit

    It does seem true that when you talk about travel others feel they have a free-pass to say whatever they want. I rarely go anywhere dangerous so I never hear horror stories, but I do received unsolicited pieces of advice such as, “Oh wow, so you’re like… not looking for a job then?” or, “You should really get serious about your career.” It’s really annoying to be judged like that.

    Reply
  • Carmel October 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm edit

    Of course. Any time I say we’re going to Asia first, I eventually get a “oh great” response, but I’m first met by the look of horror of all the bad things that will happen and diseases we’ll catch. And then when people remember that we’re traveling, they only seem to remember that we’re going to Europe, which is less than half of our travels. I guess assuming we’re only going to Europe (which everyone knows is safer than Asia…duh) seems less scary.

    Reply
  • Jo October 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm edit

    haha you made me laugh.
    I recently told one of my friends I was going to Vietnam. You won’t believe what she said to me! ‘Be careful. I heard they kidnap people there’ – I really didn’t know if she actually meant it! I think these kind of stuff come up when people don’t know much about travelling or the country you are going to.

    Reply
  • Dan Martin October 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm edit

    I get this a lot. That said I’m usually looking to break out the cotton wool bubble of modern society when I travel-and I’m usually successful. The dangers and differences of other cultures and countries is what it’s all about.

    Reply
  • Liv October 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm edit

    I think it is just a way for the less adventurous to shield themselves from jealousy. Making trips away sound fraught with danger makes staying home more appealing I suppose!

    Reply
  • Cristina October 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm edit

    That is so familiar to me!
    When I went to Romania to study wolves for 3 months my mother had all the family over for dinner. It felt like JC’s last supper.
    “Say goodbye to Cristina now, she is going to be eaten by wolves”

    Reply
  • Monica October 19, 2012 at 2:58 pm edit

    “Lions will eat you….” but not Tigers…..Go for your trip and enjoy it…..

    Reply
  • Ayngelina October 19, 2012 at 3:08 pm edit

    I am constantly asked if I am worried about getting raped in Latin America – I don’t know how people somehow equated the two but it is a very common question.

    Reply
  • Tatiana October 19, 2012 at 3:09 pm edit

    I’m under the impression that people project their own fears [for why they won't do something] onto you. So if you’re a woman who intends on traveling alone, other women will be super quick to tell you the dangers of traveling (or living alone) and might suggest against it or just instill this overarching fear into you.

    The same with everything else – people are addicted to fear, and are addicted to things that may happen (even if the statistics of it happening are really small) while simultaneously inflaming the situations that do happen to make them seem like they happen all the time.

    Certainly doesn’t help that we have an intense fear culture where education and information is normally dismissed – if acknowledged at all. Additionally, especially in the US where few Americans travel (at least it would seem) people are freaked out by places they’ve never been to and encourage others to have their same feelings and ideas.

    People spread fear when it’s all they know, and people stay where they’re comfortable because that’s what they know.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 20, 2012 at 6:30 am edit

      Tatiana, you might like a book called The Science of Fear. It delves into a lot of what you’re saying here. One interesting point made in the book was: People are more inclined to think something is dangerous if they’ve heard/seen something happen, i.e, earthquake insurance policies sell like crazy after an earthquake has just struck, even though statistically, that’s the least likely time for another one to occur. But because the horror is fresh on the mind, the perception of fear is high, while the actual danger is low. We fear a lot of situations unreasonably because of what we see or hear, and we don’t fear the ones that are genuinely threatening, like an asteroid hitting earth.

      Reply
  • Kelly Dunning October 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm edit

    This is hilarious and probably one of the best blog posts I have read on this topic.
    I know exactly what you mean, Lee and I have gotten all sorts of warnings to be “careful” about all of the bad things that will happen to us, especially before we went to Southeast Asia. What’s funny is that they usually come from people who have never traveled before or never been to the destinations we are going to.
    I think people are scared of what they don’t know. Travel is a strange and scary idea for a lot of people and they know almost nothing about the other country they are warning you about. Unfortunately, the only things that they do know are probably from scary news reports about something horrible and dangerous happening there because that is the only sort of thing which makes it onto the news. That might be why their perception is so skewed as to believe that other countries are so dangerous.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 20, 2012 at 6:31 am edit

      “What’s funny is that they usually come from people who have never traveled before or never been to the destinations we are going to.” – I think that pretty much sums it up. I’ve never had someone say to me, “Oh, I sailed across the Pacific Ocean and I can tell you it was so dangerous. I don’t recommend you do that.”

      Reply
  • Natalie Sisson October 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm edit

    Oh god this had me pissing my pants. I absolutely love this and am going to start coming back to people with rebuttals about how dangerous 9-5 life can be to those who don’t get my adventures.

    Reply
  • Bethany ~ twoOregonians October 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm edit

    “Adventure may be risky, but so is life. It comes with a 100% chance of death.”

    I love this. Of course every single day is a risk – no matter who you are, where you are. I’m so grateful for the voices who speak affirmation and excitement into my life over hesitation and fear.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 20, 2012 at 6:38 am edit

      I’m grateful for those people too. I’m lucky because my closest friends and my family are very supportive. My mum is the most amazing of all. She has never said to me, “Torre, that’s too dangerous!” even when I told her I was planning to sail back to Australia on a boat with a man she’d never met.

      Reply
  • Kelly October 19, 2012 at 4:20 pm edit

    Do you really know someone who split her perineum while giving birth? Cuz that really actually does terrify me.

    …And that’s how Torre DeRoche convinced me to never have children.

    Reply
  • Angie Away October 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm edit

    Well said, Torre! I had the same conversations when I decided to leave on my trip. So many folks are scared of going outside their comfort zones… even though it’s usually just as dangerous inside the zone as outside. Thanks for making me laugh!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 20, 2012 at 6:44 am edit

      When I lived in Melbourne, Australia, the house next door was robbed, the house behind me was robbed, the house behind me caught on fire, which almost blew into our house, and a car on the street outside our house burst into spontaneous flames.

      There isn’t nearly as much drama here in Thailand (though I do have to watch out for falling coconuts).

      Reply
  • Shayna @ Adventurous Soul October 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm edit

    Hilarious!

    When I told my grandparents I was going to Brazil, the first thing out of their mouths was “You know Brazil is the world leader in deaths from lightning strikes, right?”

    …having lived here for nearly 4 years, I can say that lightning strikes are the least of my worries. And statistically, isn’t driving one of the most dangerous activities people do – wherever in the world they are?

    Reply
  • George Huffman October 19, 2012 at 6:48 pm edit

    Why? Because they need to justify their own cowardice.

    Reply
  • Boo October 19, 2012 at 9:35 pm edit

    Torre I sympathise entirely – I wrote a whole piece about the sort of lame ‘advice’ people give to solo women travellers in particular: http://www.thevine.com.au/life/travel/travelling-with-breasts/
    R u planning on going to Africa? Then just triple the lameness of the advice. I for one would b excited for you and a little jealous. Go torre!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 20, 2012 at 6:50 am edit

      “Despite coping rather well on my own for years (and rocking the beige khakis styled for men with elephantiasis of the nuts), I’ve found that the general attitude is still that all ladies should be protected from their own sauciness by staying at home forever and swallowing the key to their own chastity belt.” – Ha!

      Yes, planning for Africa, but not immediately. There are too many places to see, and Asia is next up on our list.

      Reply
  • Sarah Somewhere October 19, 2012 at 10:53 pm edit

    Ha! Love this, especially the job/car/childbirth stuff! “Do you know you can DIE of boredom?!” But no, we don’t say that, we ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and buy the expensive bridesmaids dresses and shit for their kids. Okay, maybe I should shut up now :)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 20, 2012 at 6:57 am edit

      Ha ha. I’m lucky, because the people who I buy bridesmaid dresses and presents for are also the people who enable me. My friends and family have always been supportive.

      For some reason, I attract a lot of negative commentary from complete strangers. Like, I’ll end up in a conversation with someone who is standing in front of me at the bank while I’m there to exchange money for travel to Asia, and the next thing I know, they’re giving me a concise history of everything horrifying that has ever happened in Asia.

      Like: “Hello, nice to meet you, let me shit in your handbag.”

      Reply
  • wishy October 19, 2012 at 11:15 pm edit

    Stay away from Somerville, it’d dangerous! An old lady got knocked over and killed by a goat there a few years back!

    Reply
  • Pernilla October 19, 2012 at 11:28 pm edit

    You’re spot on in this post! And as a solo female traveller I’ve had countless warning of all sorts from complete strangers. People telling me how dangerous the world is and how I shouldn’t put so much trust in people. But as you said, life comes with a 100 % chance of death, so I figure I’ll spend the time I do have living my life to the fullest, rather than stay at home, afraid of all the things that could happen…

    Reply
  • Greta October 20, 2012 at 1:17 am edit

    I reckon the last words of the guy on youtube who got eaten by lions while taking their photo were “YOLO”. Great way to go though, dust to dust and all that stuff.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 20, 2012 at 7:00 am edit

      You get eaten by a lion and you can be sure that your children, your children’s children, and your children’s children’s children will have interesting dinner conversation for the duration of their lives.

      Reply
  • Lauren October 20, 2012 at 1:21 am edit

    Oooh, yes! I remember some friends of mine telling me that I shouldn’t go to Southeast Asia, and if I did I’d have to make sure not to talk to ANYBODY. If you talk to people you don’t know in SE Asia, you end up in an alleyway with a missing kidney. Seriously.

    I was TERRIFIED of Thailand for so long…

    Reply
  • Hannah October 20, 2012 at 9:38 am edit

    I wish I didn’t know how you feel with this one, but I TOTALLY do. I got stuff like that all the time before we left for India, especially when I told people I was driving 3,500km across the country in a rickshaw. Or maybe that one actually is dangerous… I guess we’ll find out soon!

    Reply
  • Toni October 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm edit

    This is SO true Torre! When I told one of my closest friend’s that I was backpacking through Africa for six weeks solo the FIRST thing she said to me (with the most serious face I’ve ever seen) was: “You’re going to die”. Yeah. Thanks!

    Reply
  • janet October 20, 2012 at 2:44 pm edit

    funny reality check!! haha.. socially unacceptable one way but not the other. hmmm.. something wrong with that picture. Also, I think it’s funny that a lot of people seem to reference movies for reality. It seems like “have you seen the movie…” is a common naysay phrase when people go out and travel. Like Taken, etc.

    Reply
  • Patricia Sands October 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm edit

    Adventure may be risky, but so is life. It comes with a 100% chance of death.
    SAY NO MORE and pack those bags!

    Reply
  • Gennifer October 21, 2012 at 2:42 am edit

    Yes! When I went to Thailand a couple of years ago, everyone kept telling me I’d probably end up being a sex slave! I think it’s fear of the unknown that causes people to do that. They get scared thinking about traveling to distant lands and they want to share that fear for whatever reason.

    Reply
  • Melissa - The Mellyboo Project October 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm edit

    Amen, sister! I am so sick and tired of people just stereotyping places and attempting to burst your bubble (even if it is unintentional).

    When I was headed to Cape Town my dad who had recently watched a tv special on the gang wars of South Africa said “OMG why would you go there?! You’re gonna get raped and murdered by gang members.”

    SERIOUSLY?!

    That’s the crap I deal with…

    Reply
  • Ekua October 21, 2012 at 10:20 pm edit

    The worst comments I get are when I’m going to Latin America. Everyone has a story of something that happened in a completely different country from where I’m going. “Oh you’re going to Bolivia? My cousin got robbed in El Salvador. BE CAREFUL.”

    Seriously, people??? Travel warnings often reveal a lot of ignorance about the world and unfortunately the ones who would benefit the most from exposure to the world are the ones who take travel warnings so seriously.

    One place I have to constantly defend is (southern) Mexico, but now my response is, “Let’s talk about Chicago (or Oakland or another US city with a rep for crime)” and that helps people put things into perspective.

    Reply
  • Ali October 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm edit

    So many people (non-travelers) thought I was crazy for going to SE Asia last year. My parents were concerned that I was going to Cambodia and Vietnam. I didn’t ask why, didn’t want to know, but I can only imagine they were remembering the horrible things that happened in those countries decades ago. Even the fact that I often travel solo means people think I’m going to get kidnapped, murdered, or sold into slavery. I wish people realized travel isn’t actually that scary.

    Reply
  • Kyle FitzPatrick October 23, 2012 at 10:19 pm edit

    Hah! Awesome!

    Reply
  • Colleen October 24, 2012 at 12:48 am edit

    Preach it, sista… I’ve had this happen regularly for the past few months as I’ve planned and set out on my journey…. warnings of human trafficking, every possible scam, and mysterious tourist deaths. Folks also like to warn me about cultural differences that make them queasy (I’ve heard the Chinese spit everywhere and their children poop in the streets) and a multitude of reasons why they’d never go where I’m going. And then they tell me they’re jealous and I’m so lucky. GAH!

    Reply
  • Layla October 24, 2012 at 1:05 am edit

    I really like the car one. I’m more scared in a car on the highway than I am when I’m traveling (granted I haven’t gone to many scary places, and I’m also a little oblivious to the specifics of infectuous diseases and so on).

    Assuming similar amounts of risk:
    If I die surrounded by stunning nature, living life to the fullest, then that would be sad and suck because I would be missing out on the rest of my life.
    If I die in a car on the way to work, that would be sad and suck, but be even worse because I wasn’t even doing anything I liked.

    Reply
  • Amy October 25, 2012 at 8:49 am edit

    This happens to me all the time! I started only telling certain people that I hitchhiked in Europe….. there was always that ‘type’ that would tell me how dangerous it is and that I shouldn’t be doing it….. So I stopped telling them.

    When someone does warn me of the dangers with their third-hand stories, I just point out that only the bad stories are going to be passed on. Yes, you’ll hear about the hitchhiker that was robbed…. but you won’t hear about all the people that hitchhike every day with no problem….. Only the scariest, most absurd and dramatic stories are going to be passed on.

    Reply
  • Susan @ Travel Junkette October 25, 2012 at 3:41 pm edit

    Yes, Torre! I LOVE this. I’m going to share it on my blog and with all friends/family! I get way more scared driving on the highway than traveling anywhere, and everybody thinks I’m crazy.

    Reply
  • Agness (@Agnesstramp) October 26, 2012 at 4:14 pm edit

    Absolutely agree. Most of my friends ask me these silly questions and I don’t really know how to react: laugh, shout? Last time I had a cold and my mom was like “It’s malaria. I knew it. I knew it. Get back home or your will die”. I recovered after 2 days and it was NOT malaria :-)

    Reply
  • Annie October 31, 2012 at 6:46 pm edit

    I was recently warned that terrorists are kidnapping Americans and I should be more careful traveling in ‘such a dangerous time’. To be fair though, I think I get more positive than negative. And I’m just so excited to be able to travel that most of the negative can’t pass anyway :)

    Reply
  • DEK November 7, 2012 at 11:15 pm edit

    I don’t mind encouraging the impression that what I am going to do is more dangerous than it really is. These people were living vicariously through my adventures and I felt I owed them as much adventure as possible.

    And nothing they said bothered me because I knew more about what I was doing than they did.

    A couple of times I was talking to people who knew more than I did. The US Consul in one country then experiencing difficulties told me that the guerillas might not be shooting at me in particular, “but one stray bullet can ruin your whole day.”

    But who wants to die at home, choked on an asparagus? If a lion eats you, it is for a good cause.

    Reply
  • Lauren @ All Things Go November 13, 2012 at 9:13 am edit

    I hate being shot down from my bubble of inspired bliss, and it happens ALL the time! It’s infuriating! I think people who don’t have the travel bug just think “ABROAD! DANGER! DANGER! AARGGHHHH THE BIG BAD WORLD!”. They have no concept of what travel is actually like. (Plus of course, humans are programmed to assign more weight to bad things than good).

    Reply
  • TammyOnTheMove November 22, 2012 at 7:38 am edit

    LOL, you made my day. This is soo true. When we told parents and friends that we were leaving London to live in Cambodia they came with all kinds of negative reasons why we shouldn’t: ‘But you will have to live in tents!’ (ahem no, they do have skyscrapers in Phnom Penh you know!)”; ‘But with your fair skin you will get skin cancer’ (ever heard of suncream?), and my favourite Ýou will get kidnapped by terrorists’ (Sigh!). My replies were always quite blunt to show them how ridiculous they were being and afterwards they realized how little they know about the world outside of their little bubble…

    Reply
  • Hannah February 17, 2013 at 12:23 pm edit

    I am coming to the end of a job soon, and bought a one way ticket to Bangkok without much thought. Being a natural worrier, I of course had the usual small heart attack as soon as I received the flight confirmation, but then I descended into a vitamin D anticipating Happy Dance. Until I told people about it. Yeesh. And they have thoroughly rained on my parade. Actually, they have mugged, beaten, raped and killed my parade, and then planted drugs on it like in Bridget Jones. And been reminded Colin Firth won’t be there to help. So not only have they ruined a perfectly good Colin Firth fantasy (fear not, I have plenty more) they have made me begin to dread something I was incredibly excited about. Of course discouraging remarks like that would never stop me from going, but they’ve really shit all over my happy anticipation, and turned this experience into something I will have to endure, and if I’m lucky, triumph over and emerge alive and victorious. Cut to two days later, and I’m googling single female traveller horror stories, different ways to disguise a laptop from thieving eyes, and what to do it you get stabbed in a beach hut. Anyway, I remembered this blog post, and thought it deserved another read given my current circumstances, and it’s truly done the job. So bravo, Torre! I feel better already! In all seriousness, it really is a pleasure to read your blog. From one fearful adventurer to another, it is a huge hilarious comfort. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to watch Pride & Prejudice.

    Reply
  • @travmudskippers February 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm edit

    Great read! Before my latest trip to Southeast Asia, the news in Canada reported that two sisters from Montreal had been found dead in their hotel room in Ko Phi Phi. From the warnings and reactions I got before my trip, you’d think I’m lucky to have made out of Thailand alive! I wonder how many accidental deaths, overdoses or violent crimes happened in Montreal while I was away? I find the naysayers are often either too afraid to venture far from their front door or believe I should put this silly wanderlust behind me and grow up already.

    Reply
  • Sof April 30, 2013 at 7:44 pm edit

    I know this is an older blog, but just love reading your stories!! I lived on a ferro-cement ship for several years and when I tried to explain it to my family the reply was ‘ A ship made of cement… does it float?? How are you going to cross the Pacific without sinkng? ‘ HAHHAHAHAHHAHAA.. sometimes the only reply is to laugh!

    Reply