Feb. 22, 2011— -- Forgive travelers like Ali Caldicott who see countries in turmoil as irresistible adventures.
Egypt, Somalia, Afghanistan, take your pick. The bigger the upheaval, the more tempting, as far as these adventure travelers are concerned.
"Curiosity, mainly," Caldicott, 33, said matter-of-factly, explaining his risky travel preferences.
Among his destinations, which he has charted in a series of books from some of the world's most difficult locations: Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, the Palestinian territories, parts of Colombia and Myanmar, to name a few.
"I wanted to see and experience for myself places I'd read about and seen on TV … experiences are the true wealth of a fully lived life," he said of encounters that included a run-in with Afghan Taliban who he believed were trying to break into his hotel room.
"It can be very easy to come up with reasons why we can't do things or can't go to certain places, but my attitude has largely been one of why not just go?"
Caldicott navigates a world where travelers are more tempted to run toward the kind of civil unrest that has shaken the Middle East and Africa this month, instead of away from it. But the pursuit of authenticity and an outsize tolerance for risk can become a dangerous mix, hence the need for U.S. State Department travel warnings and an industry's worth of cautionary travel books and blogs.
It's a combination that requires discipline and self-awareness, a well-traveled college president warned.
"When it comes to risk, I believe that various people, because of various things in their lives, have different levels of risk they are willing to engage in," said Roger Casey, president of McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., and a media studies expert who has traveled to 70 countries himself.
"I have to emphasize that people know where the boundaries of risk are for themselves. I think you have to be really careful in these environments when you don't have enough knowledge about the culture itself."
The defining moment for Caldicott is when he's "genuinely uncertain about how or if you will ever come out in one piece on the other side. I had that sensation in all those places," he said of facing the Taliban, in particular, as well as witnessing a violent earthquake in the mountains of Pakistan.
He said he also found his way to Venezuela in 2002 during the attempted overthrow of President Hugo Chavez and to Budapest during a similar uprising.
Meanwhile, the U.K. resident who's currently in Colombia counts Yemen among the countries on his to-explore list; where the government is waging its own battles against protesters.
But even Caldicott has his limits, resisting any urges to set out for Egypt and warning would-be revolution chasers to think twice, if not three times.
"It sounds like some sort of adrenaline entertainment, like when people stop to gawk at car crashes," he said. "But you're bound to stand out as an outsider and your presence might in the end be counterproductive if exploited in the wrong way."
Unlike Caldicott, Joey Tafuro, a recent graduate of the University of South Florida, is relatively new to daring adventure travel, spending his final semesters in college planning his most risky travels so far. So the response from his family and friends when he discussed the plans didn't come as a complete shock.
"Watch out for pirates," one family member told him.
Tafuro, 30, had decided that after graduation he would head to one of Africa's most dangerous countries; Somalia, an area of the world marked by piracy and a strident Islamic insurgency. But he couldn't resist a part of the country that didn't officially exist.
Blogging the Adventures
"I definitely get a greater sense of adventure when I go to places that are not quite on the tourist map yet," said Tafuro, who has settled in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he plans to teach English.
That meant traveling to Somalia's northwest region of Somaliland, an autonomous region that, despite its relative calm amid a deadly war in the south, has yet to be recognized as a country by the international community.
"It seems reckless to the outsider but to people who have experience traveling and an understanding of the region, Somaliland can be a cafe in Paris," Tafuro said of his mid-January visit.
"OK, maybe that's a stretch."
The U.S. State Department would agree.
"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Somalia, including northern Somalia," a statement released in December said. "The Sanaag and Sool Regions in eastern Somaliland, bordering on Puntland (northeastern Somalia), are particularly unsafe due to ongoing border disputes and inter-clan fighting," the State Department reported, reminding travelers that there are no operating embassies in Somalia to assist U.S. citizens.
Armed with the best of intentions, however, Tafuro was not to be denied.
"Somaliland, obviously, has an image problem to overcome so hopefully with more tourists showing up and more importantly, writing about their experience, maybe things will change," he said.
Tafuro also kept an active blog, sending back dispatches from his travels. Under the name "Joey Goes Global," Tafuro sent back text and photo updates to his blog, while also updating other social media sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
"I enjoy sharing my experiences to people who may learn from them, and become inspired to travel or just enjoy a good read," he said. "Facebook, specifically, has given me an opportunity to reach a lot of my friends and family at one time.
"Creating a fan page for the website also gives me a chance to keep track of new readers. I received a lot of 'likes' on my page from Somalilanders. There is a large Somaliland diaspora so they contact me from all over the world."
Blogging also allowed him to share some of the culture of Somalis, or "Somalilanders," with his fans back home, sharing photos of the desert town that was full of vibrancy.
"The most colorful thing about Somaliland, in my opinion, is the dress of the women," said Tafuro, who has his sights set on the jungles of Northern Thailand for his next trip. "Somaliland is very conservative so the women dress in full cover when in public. Unlike in parts of the Middle East, the burkas, or cloaks, in Somaliland are often brightly colored and it really lifts the atmosphere of the country."
Tea and Dialogue in Somalia
Tafuro noted that by no way was Somaliland the traditional idea of a fun American getaway. Alcohol is illegal and the conservative nature of the people kept illegal bootleggers off the streets. "Mostly taking a seat at the tea shops and conversing with locals," he said of activities that took up most of his time.
And true to his nature until the very end, Tafuro departed the Horn of African with stops in Lebanon and a failed attempt to enter Syria because he had no visa.
"I tried," he said. "I was happy with my effort. I would have been disappointed to have left Lebanon without trying just because some people said it would not work."