ANOTHER VIEW: Why one death should not put us off travelling

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Like almost any woman travelling alone, Johanne Masheder, tragically murdered while backpacking in Thailand, would have been aware what can happen to the unaccompanied on the road. Stories of misadventure abroad receive such massive media coverage that it is unlikely to have escaped any woman's notice that she may attract the unwanted attentions of evil- doers whenever and wherever she wanders abroad.

Unfortunately, rather than using these tragedies to put across information on safe travel, the tabloids spill out more xenophobia, attached to a subtext blaming the naivety of the victims.

"Why Do Young Girls Risk Their Lives On the Back Pack Trail?" screamed the Mail, blaming travel agents and programmes like my own Rough Guide for implying that "travel to the furthermost reaches of the world were as sanitised and secure as a walking tour of the Lakes". Well I'm sure Celine Figard's family are now all too aware just how safe a woman traveller in Britain can be.

The tabloids love to give the impression that being alone, abroad and female is tantamount to committing suicide - that you'll be lucky to get back to the "safety" of British soil with body and backpack intact - to make it home at all, in fact. The truth is completely the opposite: a woman has to be very unlucky to encounter anything more dangerous than a bout of diarrhoea and the odd unwelcome advance from a hopeful male.

In this era of cheap mass transit the experience of travelling to exotic locations has been democratised, and millions of women are grabbing these new opportunities and challenging the idea that it's a man's world. In the process they're broadening their horizons and enriching their lives. It is reactionary in the extreme to suggest that because of what's happened to the unfortunate few, the many should deny themselves the excitement of encounters with other cultures.

It seems obvious to say that if all the local women are covered from head to toe then sporting bare legs is like walking down Oxford Street topless. It's usually safer to take a companion. It's surely asking for trouble to go anywhere with a man you've never met before. Yet some travellers do seem to believe that strapping on a backpack puts them above local customs and mores, immune to danger.

As ever, knowledge is power. It is crucial to read up on the place you're intending to visit. And we surely deserve better advice from travel agents. While some are keen to share their expertise, others are more concerned with parting travellers from their cash than steering them away from trouble.

It is sad that this should happen in Thailand, one of the safest places on the backpackers' trade routes. The Thais are rightly proud of their reputation for hospitality. That is unlikely to assuage the grief of one family trying to come to terms with their loss. But the intrepid traveller should be shaken and not deterred by the tragedy that befell Johanne Masheder.

The writer is presenter of the BBC's 'Rough Guide' series.

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