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How to take a vacation -- and live to tell about it


A reader called recently to express concern about her daughter, who was about to depart on a trip to China.

"Is she in any danger?" the woman asked.

No answer to that question is guaranteed correct. But I replied, "If she prepares well, takes precautions and doesn't stray out alone, she probably will be safer than on the streets of many American cities at night."

Truth is, the degree of risk usually is affected more by how we approach a journey than where we go. But it's also evident that we live in an era when many seek to stretch the limits of any travel experience.

We thrive on adventure, and we are fascinated by uncharted territories. Then, too, many business travelers have little choice but to follow their jobs to destinations where war or terrorism or disease is a way of life.

Among hundreds of new travel-related publications, one of the most valuable -- and entertaining -- is the 1,000-page "Fielding's Guide to the World's Most Dangerous Places" (Fielding Worldwide, $19.95), co-authored by former professional adventurer Robert Young Pelton and war correspondent Coskun Aral.

It's billed as a "guide to high adventure, forbidden lands, nasty things, psychologically questionable activities and all those lowdown, dirty places you're dying to visit."

Atlanta, for instance.

Atlanta? "1996 Olympians beware: This Southern city has the dubious distinction of possessing the highest crime rate in North America," write Mr. Pelton and Mr. Aral, who rank Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis, Tampa, Fla., and Little Rock, Ark., in that order, as the five most dangerous U.S. cities. (Irvine, Calif., is judged safest.)

Suffice it to say, this is not a routine travel book. But "does the world really need another guide to Disneyland?" asks Mr. Pelton, whose past endeavors include running forbidden rivers in Indonesia in leaky canoes, breaking U.S. citizens out of jail in Colombia and hitchhiking through then-war-torn Central America.

Don't be misled. The authors' objective isn't so much to tell us where not to travel as how to avoid or combat danger.

Whether writing about war zones in Bosnia-Herzegovina, scam artists in Nigeria, air safety in Colombia, sleeping sickness in Africa or ballooning in France, the authors supply knowledge with a rich mixture of practical tips, on-site reporting and humor.

Mr. Pelton and Mr. Aral aren't shy about stepping on toes. We are warned about bandits on trains between Vienna, Austria, and Budapest, Hungary; the "ancient sport and fine art" of kidnapping in Venezuela; petty thievery on the beaches of Italy, Spain and France; skinheads in Germany; and mosquitoes that kill 1 million people each year in Africa.

In the United States, the authors say, "Our inner cities make south Lebanon look like a Mormon suburb."

And in Mali, the authors urge, "Don't go out on your camel after dark."

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