Risky tourist activities: The things you shouldn't do overseas

Getting out of your comfort zone is fine. You travel to try new things, to push the boundaries, to see what you like, to discover what you can get away with.

But then there are times on the road when you take things too far. It's easy to be encouraged by the anonymity of travel, by the feeling of invincibility you get from being in someone else's country where the normal rules don't apply.

And so you take risks, jumping into things you wouldn't normally dream of doing at home, things that seemed like a reasonably good idea at the time but which, on reflection, sound incredibly stupid. It happens to all of us. These are some of mine…

Taken motorbike taxis

Most of these rides have been in Cambodia and Vietnam, and they're all pretty crazy, when you think about it. I mean – riding around on a scooter with a complete stranger in charge, not wearing a helmet, weaving through crazy traffic in countries with average medical facilities. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, motorbike taxi rides are a lot of fun.

Gone tubing in Laos

You're never taught this at school, because it should really go without saying: alcohol, water and high-wire acrobatics shouldn't go together. So the last thing you'd want to do in a country with very basic medical facilities is drink a huge amount of booze while swinging from ropes into a river of questionable depth and cleanliness. But that's what I've done in Vang Vieng, Laos – three times. And somehow survived to tell the tale, despite at one point slipping off a swing and plunging seven or eight metres into knee-deep water. Again, the major downside to tubing was that it was great fun.

Gone into the DRC without a visa or passport

This wasn't my idea. I was on an overland truck tour, and our guide decided that the best place to see the mountain gorillas was in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fine. Except, he also decided that as visas were expensive and difficult to come by, we'd just bribe a Congolese border guard to enter the country, and leave our passports with him as assurance that we were coming back. And so a gang of about 10 of us headed into war-torn DRC one day with no visa, no passport, no identification, and no way of telling anyone where we were. The fact that it all went according to plan and we got back into Uganda that night is a minor miracle. Not something I'll be doing again in a hurry.

Hung out with "friends" in Jaipur

The guys really did seem friendly at first. They wanted to take me out for lunch. They wanted to show me some of their city. But finally I twigged that these three Indian men were not quite as legit as they would have me believe. Something was going on here. No one wants to hang out with a strange tourist four days in a row. But, having figured out I was the target in some sort of scam, I still hung out with my new buddies day after day, more out of curiosity than anything else. Eventually it was revealed that I was expected to smuggle jewellery into England. I didn't do it, and no one was hurt – but is hanging out with Indian scammers really a good idea?

Wandered the dark streets of Mexico City

Thanks to what I thought was a mistake by Lonely Planet (listing the wrong opening days), but was actually a mistake by me (misreading the opening days), I once ended up wandering a very dark, very intimidating suburb of Mexico City on my own while I was hunting for live "lucha libre" wrestling. There was no wrestling on that night – in fact there were just a lot of shady characters hanging out on street corners, watching me closely as I shuffled by. The lesson: don't get your days mixed up. And don't go out alone at night in Mexico City.

Bush-camped in Botswana

It's a few weeks after the DRC incident on that same overland trip in Africa. Our guide has come up with another great idea: rather than spend the night in a fenced-off, patrolled campsite, we'll "bush camp" in the middle of the Botswana savannah. Great. So we've pulled off the side of the highway, set up tents and are in the middle of preparing dinner when a ranger in a Landrover arrives and yells at us to move on because we're camped in the middle of an elephant highway. "At about midnight," the guy says, "you'll all be trampled if you stay here." We decided to move.


What are the riskiest things you've ever done overseas?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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