This is not a political blog, and it’s going to stay that way. But I did read a sentence from a blogger offering up a visitor’s guide to DC for the Glenn Beck rally. And in it, it said “Do not use the Green line or the Yellow line. These rules are even more important at night. There is of course nothing wrong with many other areas; but you don’t know where you are, so you should not explore them.”

What I found amusing by that statement is how the blogger painted whole areas as unsafe and implied that people shouldn’t stray off the beaten path because it could be dangerous. Now, I’m not saying that there’s no unsafe areas in the world. But with some common sense and education, exploring new areas doesn’t have to be a scary activity. Contrary to popular belief, bogeymen do not lurk around every corner ready to pounce on the hapless traveller who goes a subway stop too far.

Whenever I’m looking at a new place to travel to, I like to do some research online in several travel forums. My favorites are Flyertalk and Lonely Planet. Flyertalk is more focused on frequent flier programs, but has subforums devoted to various parts of the world that have some useful information. Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forums are less organized but contain more threads, especially on more obscure topics. Another resource that I discovered recently is Wikitravel. It’s set up just like Wikipedia, except all the 20,000+ entries are for various destinations around the world. Most of the entries have information on everything from safety to transportation to what to do, eat and stay. It’s become my starting point when I’m doing travel research.

If I’m going out of the country, the US Dept. of State is my first stop for travel safety information. They have info sheets for every country in the world and offer a place to sign up for travel alert e-mails if conditions change. If you are a US citizen, you can register with the embassy in that country so they have your information in case of an emergency. Even if you’re not a US citizen, the information is still quite useful and through.

As for getting out and exploring, I usually rely on maps and signposts to get around a town. After all the research, I usually have a good idea what to look out for.

And sometimes I don’t bother with research at all. When I went to Boston for a long weekend a couple of years ago, I hopped a train to Providence, RI and just walked around for a while. No guide, no map beyond the one I snagged from the local convention center, no itinerary at all beyond what time I needed to be back on the train. I didn’t know where I was much of the time, but I didn’t let a silly fact like that keep me from exploring. I survived just fine and saw everything from Italian-Americans opening shops in the Italian district to learning more about Providence history through the riverwalk that runs through the city.

So just because you don’t know where you are doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore. You just might find something you never expected to find.