Americans’ fears of foreign countries unfounded; US travel still risky

Illustration by Chris Sanford

“If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you. I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you. I will find you, and I will kill you.”

These words, spoken by Liam Neeson’s character Bryan Mills in the cinematic masterpiece “Taken,” were some of the most memorable and terrifying ones uttered throughout the entire movie.

In the movie, Mills’ daughter, Kim, who is studying abroad in Europe, is kidnapped by an Albanian gang of sex traffickers who attempt to prostitute her for their own economic benefit. Mills, a retired CIA agent, sets out to retrieve his abducted daughter and make the ‘nappers pay.

The plot is enticing and action-packed, but it seemed to strike a nerve with U.S. citizens across the country: is this nightmarish scene really what happens to Americans who dare venture to foreign lands? We don’t all have ex-CIA agents as fathers to call in for back-up.

While it is important to ensure one’s safety, especially when far from home, I feel much of the fear surrounding the “Taken” and “Taken 2” hype is undue anxiety. In my opinion, this is an almost textbook case of xenophobia, the intense and typically irrational fear of foreigners.

Usually xenophobia manifests in citizens of a country when a foreigner crosses into “their” territory, but it can also apply to a newcomer’s view of unfamiliar surroundings. Xenophobia is sometimes used as a term synonymous with “racism,” but I believe that’s taking it too far in this scenario; it’s understandable that traveling to a foreign country where even communication might be a struggle could make one nervous. However, I do think that this “fear” can translate into the anxiety that many people feel when it comes to their safety, especially where issues of human trafficking are concerned.

Accurate statistics on sex trafficking (especially of the international variety) are difficult to unearth due to the industry’s black-market nature and the escapees’ general refusal to report the crime in fear of retribution. However, according to an April 2012 Huffington Post article, an estimated 2.4 million people around the world are currently being trafficked for both sex and labor against their will. While alarming, it is important to note that according to the FBI, as many as 293,000 of those victims are being trafficked right here in the good ol’ USA. Are we any less safe on foreign soil than we are in our own backyards?

While I can’t answer that question with absolute certainty, I maintain that many of the tactics we use to ensure our safety in our hometowns are most likely just as effective elsewhere in the world. The U.S. Department of Travel provides tips on its website,, how to avoid becoming a victim of crime or violence while traveling in a foreign country. For example, the website advises travelers to “[a]void handbags, fanny packs and outside pockets that are easy targets for thieves.” This trick is likely not new to those used to lugging around valuables on a daily basis, and according to the Department of Travel, it’s not any less effective when you leave the country.

The same goes for other common-sense safety mechanisms, especially when it comes to the social scene. Accepting drinks from random people when you’re out on the town is probably not a smart move. Or, referring back to “Taken,” it’s a good idea not to tell people when and where you’ll be alone — the mistake Kim’s friend makes that allows their attackers to ambush them. As educated college students, we (hopefully) wouldn’t dream of doing these things while here in Manhattan, so why let those standards fly out the window elsewhere?

For those who are still leery, the Department of Travel also offers a “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” through which students can document their travels in the case of an emergency. Consular officers in U.S. embassies around the world can use the information to contact you or your loved ones and other Americans to ensure that they have the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding potential dangers in the destination country. This way, you can not only plan around potentially dangerous situations, but should you ever fall victim to crimes while abroad, you can guarantee there will be someone to keep tabs on you.

While I understand why Americans get so nervous about leaving the country, I must maintain that one’s level of security is virtually the same in the U.S. as it is anywhere else. With a little common sense and some pre-trip planning, you can be almost certain to have a safe and memorable experience during your time abroad.

Kaitlyn Dewell is a junior in journalism and digital media. Please send comments to