Sleepless in Brazil

“You’re going to Brazil? BE CAREFUL!” That’s what everyone told me before my recent two-week trip to this South American country. Safety is always a prime concern when I travel. Recently, there was news of several murders in Rio de Janeiro. I was reminded of how people look at traveling to South America when I watched the movie “Snatched” in a hotel recently. First rule: don’t do stupid things. Think about what you are doing and where you are.


I was not overly concerned on my Brazil trip as my wife and I were being hosted by a couple in their home. They knew what was safe and what was not.

Shortly after we arrived, over our first meal together, we discussed the safety topic. If someone asked me if Dallas is safe, I’d probably say it is. Same with our hosts. But we all know there are parts of Dallas that are not safe. 

You really need to get a little more involved in the community to know the truth about its deficiencies, more deeply involved than the typical tourist gets. Our host had a family member visiting. During our discussion, she said, “It’s a violent place.” This did not jive with what we had been told by our hosts. A day later, a tour guide warned us to steer clear of “favelas,” the poor, visibly rundown sections of town. “They are not safe,” we were warned, even though in Rio de Janeiro, tours are given of the favelas. 

At a party several days later, I struck up a conversation with a 21-year-old Brazilian university student. She had just returned from studying in Spain on the Brazilian equivalent of a semester abroad. She confided she’d rather live there. Why? “Brazil is very dangerous.” People will hijack cars and snatch cell phones from your hand. In her city of three million, she said, one million live well and two million are very poor, and that isn’t very different in other cities. This has to change, she agreed. She is studying architecture and sees affordable housing as a solution.

The next day, an American friend was meeting us in the main park of Salvador de Bahia, the Campo Grande, right outside one of the most luxurious hotels in the city. She was stunned when a bicyclist drove past grabbing her iPhone out of her hand! Filing a police report in a foreign language is time-consuming and nearly impossible unless you have a local who helps you navigate the system.

Financial professionals like to talk about Brazil as part of the BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India and China) of rapidly developing countries. But if you have to worry about security in these places, imagine how it is in most of the developing world!

That is one reason I find comfort in traveling with a host family. One of the best ways to do this is with an organization called Friendship Force International, headquartered in Atlanta, but with a chapter in Dallas. In the U.S., this organization attracts mainly retired folks who have the time for extended travel. In foreign countries, the organization mainly attracts professionals and the upper crust of society, as they have the means to travel.

Friendship Force specializes in one-week, home-hosted stays in foreign and domestic locations. They typically do their traveling to places that have local chapters. The local chapter provides home hosts and in-depth knowledge of the place visited, ensuring an inside view of life in the destination and that you see the real highlights, not the tourist traps.

Traveling with a group is another way to stay safe, but you don’t get the insider’s view, and you are steered clear of contact with locals who are not working with the tour company, vetted to be trustworthy.

When you travel to a developing part of the world, keep safety in mind. Have a backup plan if your phone, computer or passport gets stolen. Explore your options for traveling in a group or join Friendship Force International and enjoy being hosted in a private home.

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1 Comment

  1. I second your endorsement of Friendship Force. I took my first trip 20 years ago and have hosted many times. I am scheduled for 3 more trips in the next year – to Israel, South America and South Africa. I like the combination of being with a group and also with an individual family – seeing how they live, going where they go to shop or play. Making new friends all over the world!
    http://www.friendshipforce.org
    http://www.friendshipforcedallas.org

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