Frequent travelers may hear this question a lot – What was the least safe country you have been to? Especially those who travel alone. What makes a country dangerous for a tourist? Surely some countries are portrayed as least safe countries, even violent against foreign visitors. In most cases they are not safe for their citizens either. As Tom Perko mentioned at his TED talk, the people are mostly friendly everywhere, but it’s the media that creates these images. Also there are rumors, that neighboring countries create about each other which in fact are not true at all. There are, however, real stories, when people end up in unpleasant situations and feel threatened.
Here is my own story:
For me, the least safe situation happened in Israel. And not just because of all the shotguns they were wearing around – that part was actually a bit comforting. The real reason was the constant thought of missiles flying around that could hit you any time. I know it doesn’t happen a lot, but the danger is always there. One funny moment – we were taking a bus back from Jerusalem to Eilat (southernmost point) and it was getting dark. I was sheepish, but i could swear i saw a tank by the road.. Maybe it was just my imagination though. On the way back, at the airport, I was questioned for about 30 minutes, all my bags were checked and they even wanted to inspect my camera for the pictures. One woman from our group had her passport stolen, so she didn’t have a proper document, just a paper from police. I heard she was questioned for 3 hours, including all kind of inspections (no comments). Even though Israel (and Eilat in particular) are wonderful destinations, their security level is crazy and a bit too much for an average traveler!
Brazil is considered one of the dangerous ones, especially the not-so-touristy parts of the cities. Due to high poverty and low living standards, the crime is a serious problem there. As a common advice, it is recommended not to go alone walking in the dark, wearing expensive clothes or having jewelry/electronics and money with you. Speaking in foreign language may also attract unnecessary attention.
Paris (France) has high crime rates, especially the areas away from tourist zones. You can, however, get robbed pretty much anywhere – even in a restaurant. Police seems to be unable to help a lot of times, not to mention they have hard time understanding English. Many people have an image of Paris being a “love capital of the World”, but the real picture is somewhat different. While it is a stunning, beautiful city in itself, the reality of street life may change your mind for worse.
During my latest travels in the USA, there was a scary moment, when me and a friend were walking on a dark street at night and a car stopped right next to us. Having heard so many horror stories, I really felt uneasy and tried to quicken our pace. Luckily they were only asking for a lighter. I have heard, however, enough stories with gun being pointed at people for no reason, road rages and danger of walking in unsafe neighborhood. What a shame for a country as powerful and wealthy as US to have such crime problems.
Surprisingly, Germany is climbing the ladder of unsafe destinations, particularly after recent events of mass rape in Cologne. I have spent 3 years in Germany during my studies and never have I felt threatened or unsafe. I have moved around Berlin by bike at 2 am and no problem what so ever. So the reason might be increasing immigration of young, poorly educated males who do not understand western life and standards.
Obviously there are more countries, some of which are at the state of (civil) war. Going to places like that involves a risk, no matter where you go. The map shows the most dangerous countries of the world (Relevant for 2016):
Although most large cities are generally safe, there are some tips to make it even more stress free.
- Travel light. Try to use just hand luggage – it will save you money on ticket (most airlines allow to take carry on for free). Bringing less personal items with you minimizes the risk of being spotted as a target. It is also more convenient to move around with a smaller bag – taking a bus, metro or even taxi.
- Avoid a lot of cash. Most big cities in developed countries are happy to accept credit card as a method of payment. Having too much cash attracts attention and your wallet may (depending on the currency) increase in size a lot. Try bringing just enough to get by. If necessary, you can always get some more from the ATM.
- Store you documents well. If possible, make some copies or take a picture of your passport with your smartphone. It is also a good idea to label your luggage with your name and address and use luggage locks.
- Download offline maps to navigate in case you get lost. One of the good ones is NavMii – it’s free and allows you to download the map of the area/city and even store addresses. Saving the address of the hotel may save you a lot of trouble.
- Beware of strangers, especially if traveling alone. Do not discuss your travel planes, invite them over to hotel room and don’t go with them if invited somewhere. When going out, avoid excessive drinking. Always be in control!
- Be careful with publishing your travel plans on Facebook, as some robberies are taking place when hosts are away.
- Do your homework – research about your destination. Make plans, where it is OK to go. Stay away from the not-so-great areas. Avoid walking alone at nights. If lost, pretend you know where you are going and stay on busy streets with traffic.
- Investing in travel insurance may be worth it, especially if you are traveling to developing countries. I recommend getting travel insurance, as well as accident cover.
- Try to look as a local as much as possible – that way you won’t be an obvious target. Try to blend in, wear local clothes if possible.
- Let your friends and family know where you are going. Checking in regularly will keep them from worrying and in case of emergency helps them find you sooner.
Share your scary travel memories in comments! What are your personal travel safety tips?