Journal of Alice

Informed consent, harm reduction, risk management and travel

27 November ’18

I can’t remember who it was that once wrote about how their most epic trips were done when they didn’t care about their own safety, and that this is really hard to talk about with people who just think they were a bad-ass. And I have finally been given a term for these types of trips - the “fuck-it list” trips.

My colleagues frequently ask if I have a death wish when they hear about my travels, and they don’t know how to respond when I openly say yes.

But the truth isn’t quite so clear cut. It’s not a death wish, it’s an acceptance of the risks after reviewing them. I’ve gone into my recent trips (including the ones I’ve been unable to write about) knowing what the risks are, and as a result I’ve calmly dealt with being questioned at gun-point, being held under house arrest by the secret service, being put under kurfew, etc.

My travels involve informed consent, risk management, and harm reduction.

Informed consent, risk management and harm reduction means you are prepared for the possible dangers.

Informed consent means you talk openly with the people you are traveling with about the risks, and how you are preparing for them. Some travelers are better than others at this.

Risk management means you know about the risks and have decided to accept or mitigate them.

Harm reduction means you take precautions appropriate to the risks. It means you take radiation detectors to the nuclear exclusion zones, you travel with trusted locals near risky borders, you make friends with heads of military and journalists, you stay with locals rather than international hotels, you know what a landmine looks like.

A lack of informed consent requires improvisation. It means having to practice the same harm reduction without any preparation. I’ve faced military roadblocks, emergency landings, shootings and bomb scares in areas which were supposed to be safe; there’s been multiple crime scenes right outside my house.

What makes travel dangerous is not the dangers themselves, it’s a lack of awareness and a lack of preparation.