Travel risks: Why travellers shouldn't always listen to advice

"Are you taking a gun?"

It probably shouldn't be a surprise that the question came from a Texan. What should be a surprise, though, is that it was asked of me. I don't even own a gun. I've never owned a gun. I barely know how to fire one. So no, on my next holiday I would not be taking a gun.

Still, that was a serious question, and it was a variation on a theme. Not all my friends asked if I was packing firearms, but plenty wondered if I would try to buy a gun when I got to Africa, or if I had some other means of self-defence at my disposal. You don't just go driving around that continent without a way to kill things.

This was a few years ago, when my partner Jess and I were in the planning stages of an epic, month-long road-trip safari through South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, and we were still trying to figure out where we could go, and what we could do. Could we just drive anywhere? Could we camp anywhere? Would wild animals attack us? What are the roads like in southern Africa? What if we got lost? Was this trip in any way safe?

My friend Rox is Texan, and so is her dad. When he heard about our plans he thought they sounded pretty dangerous, which is why he asked, quite reasonably in his opinion, if we'd be taking a gun.

I assured him we would not be packing heat. But you can't help but hear a question like that and worry if your holiday plans really are crazy. Pretty much everyone we'd talked to thought our trip sounded fairly dangerous. We didn't know what we were doing, and we would almost definitely get robbed or eaten by lions.

But this, I eventually figured out, is just what happens. When you plan a trip that is a little out of the ordinary, when you decide to do things that sound dodgy, or crazy, or even a little weird, people will tell you to not do it.

It's happened to me numerous times. Last year Jess and I were heading to Vietnam, and we'd decided to hire a scooter in Ho Chi Minh City and spend a week riding around the Mekong Delta. Trust me: very few people think that's a sound, intelligent plan. Most of my friends and family questioned the wisdom of riding a small motorbike through one of the busiest, craziest countries in the world.

But the thing with that Vietnam trip, as well as the African 4WD trip and many other holidays like it, is that you shouldn't always listen to well-meaning words of caution from family and friends. Travel – successful, amazing, unforgettable travel – is all about risk, and some people are willing to accept more than others. One person's crazy is another person's adventure.

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Fear of the unknown

Sometimes the naysayers don't actually know what they're talking about. And even when they do, it's important to remember that with great risk comes great reward. If you take chances with your travel plans, if you decide to do things that sound a little scary to everyone else and maybe even to you, then I would say you're on the right track for an amazing trip.

Those two journeys through Africa and Vietnam turned out to be the two of the absolute best holidays I've ever been on. They were life changers, packed with experiences I'll never forget, some scary, some beautiful, and pretty much all fun.

I was swayed, for a while, by the opinions of family and friends. I questioned whether it really was a good idea to drive myself around southern Africa without much experience, or a gun. I was super-nervous about jumping on a scooter in Vietnam.

But I shouldn't have been. People are simply wary of things they don't know. If you announce you're planning to, say, travel solo around the Middle East, or quit your job to backpack through Central America, or ride a motorbike in Argentina, or travel overland through West Africa, some people you know will inevitably tell you you're mad.

But their idea of reasonable risk is different to yours. You know what you enjoy and what you don't. And it's up to you to make your own call on that.

The trick is to do plenty of research, to find out what's really possible, find out what's really safe and reasonable, and then weigh up the risks and make your own decisions.

And, I would advise, don't take a gun.

Have you ever gone on a holiday that other people thought was risky? Have you been talked out of some of your crazier ideas? Or gone through with them?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

​See also: How a mistake got me banned from the US for life

See also: 9 destinations you should avoid in 2018

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