I won’t lie that I was a bit nervous before going to Rio. My friends who’d been there had warned me, “Don’t carry anything of value on your person. You WILL be robbed.” How’s that for a warm welcome to a country! On my first day of sightseeing, I heeded their advice and emptied my pockets of everything but about $20 in cash and an ID. I even left my camera at home! And you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. It turns out I have one of those faces that can pass for a local in any number of countries. As long as I keep my mouth shut and walk purposefully, I can pretty much blend in. But I do wonder if all those precautions were really necessary. I mean, touring a ridiculously beautiful city like Rio de Janeiro without a camera? I’d rather be robbed!

On my second day in town, throwing caution to the wind, I pack a full day pack and head to Sugarloaf Mountain, one of Rio’s most iconic sights. Named for its resemblance to the shape of concentrated, refined loaf sugar, the “Pao de Acucar” is a 1300-foot peak of granite and quarz rising above the mouth of Guanabara Bay. There are three things that make Sugarloaf a Wow place for me: 1) It’s absolutely beautiful 2) You get there by a ropeway gondola 3) There’s a restaurant at the top serving “feijoada,” Brazil’s national dishes. I have to tell you, you’re having a great day if you’re sitting in an eatery atop Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, taking in the view of Ipanema Beach and Copacabana, eating a delicious meal of blacks beans, meat, rice, oranges and collard greens, topped with “farofa,” made from manioc flour. Considering the whole day costs me less than $20, I’d call that a “steal.”

(As a traveler, it’s tempting to only visit so-called “safe” countries, like Japan, Switzerland or Sweden. But is anywhere really safe. Bad things happen in developed countries as much as in developing nations. And great things happen in the third world as well. I’d say, use the same street smarts you access when walking around your hometown and you’ll probably be fine. Use caution in the rough neighborhoods…don’t carry your wallet in your front pocket…dress more-or-less like a local…and go wherever your fancy leads you. Fear is something we have to pay attention to, but we can’t let it hold us back either. Trust the strategies that have kept you safe so far, then take the leap!)