Midnight. I had finally sat down in my business class seat on an Ethiopian Airlines flight headed to Japan. It was my last few minutes in Africa before arriving in a another completely different world. I had just spent more than two months backpacking with my wife through Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. As usual, we packed as many adventures as we could into those 60+ days. We had lions circle our vehicle, witnessed wild elephants bathing in mud, experienced the great wildebeest migration, hiked into the rainforest to find a family of mountain gorillas, watched chimpanzees ponder life, rafted class-5 rapids on the Nile, and stood in front of a lava lake as it shot hot magma into the air at Erta Ale Volcano in Northern Ethiopia.
I got a lot of things while I was in Africa. I got to see exotic animals. I got to see lava-spewing volcanoes. I got to see unique cultures and tribes. I also got souvenirs such as wood-carved masks, handmade bowls, coffee pots, and fresh coffee beans.
But I didn’t get ebola.
It is surprising how many people warned me about going to “Africa” as if Africa is one small country. It’s actually a massive continent that could easily fit the United States, China, India, and many other countries inside of it.
Ebola is a horrible disease that is basically confined to a very small corner on the west side of Africa. The three main countries affected are Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. If you look on a map, this is a small sliver of Africa. Imagine ebola breaking out on a small island off of Florida and everyone telling you to stay out of the United States. Same thing.
Some people told me I was crazy to go there. Some people said they wouldn’t step foot on the continent. Some people begged us to stay. I really couldn’t believe it, especially when it came from other travellers who should know better.
But this is what the media does. It turns what could be self-thinking-people into media-infused-sheep, blindly following anything they hear.
We met a number of small safari companies in Tanzania suffering from this mis-informed culture. It’s a real shame considering tanzania is more than 3000 miles from the affected area. London is actually closer and there have been more reports of ebola in the U.S.A than in all three countries I visited.
But this article isn’t really about Africa or ebola. If you want to go to Africa, go. Now is a good time because there are less tourists. This is about thinking for yourself and not blindly following the herd.
If the media can trick MILLIONS of people into not visiting Africa, what else can they do? It’s not just the media either. It might be friends, family, or your Facebook feed. Same same but different.
What are others making you believe that isn’t true? What’s holding you back that shouldn’t be?
There’s no scientific antidote that I know of for fixing this problem but here are some steps to help.
1. Realize that Not Everything you Hear is True
Shocking, I know. You would think that the media would actually educate the public but they don’t. Some people have an agenda and the media’s agenda is to sell commercials. They need a captive audience and fear sells better. They want you glued to the TV to watch the ads. That’s it. Your friends probably watched this same news source and now regurgitate untrue information. Then there’s Facebook.
2. Turn Statements into Questions!
James Altucher has a great piece of advice that fits well with this topic. When you’re about to make a statement (internally or externally), add a question mark at the end of it. Instead of thinking “Africa is dangerous because of ebola”, you should think “Africa is dangerous because of ebola?”. See! Changes everything. Now it’s a question and not a statement. Suddenly, you’re provoked to think and do some research.
3. Reach out
One of the best things about the Internet is the ability to find information but you need to find a quality source. If the subject is tourism in Africa, why not find real travel publications/forums/blogs and ask people. Better yet, ask people who have been to Africa or who are there right now. Try to think of the one person you know who wouldn’t blindly accept media information. Google can work as well but you must be careful of the sources.
This is true for everything. Not just a trip to Africa.
I’ve seen this happen for so many things that I can’t help but wonder about the spoiled opportunities. There were some people in the past who asked me how I travel so much. There is a lot that goes into it but I mentioned that I use points to pay for most of my flights. They scoffed at the idea and mentioned some of the supposed negative aspects of frequent flyer miles like credit cards and blackout dates. Meanwhile, I am traveling around the world in business class for next to nothing and they are sitting at home. Why not listen to someone who is doing it?
But whatever you do, don’t go to Africa! They have lions!