In light of the terrorist attacks in France, Lebanon and Iraq, the world seems to be an even scarier place to travel. Especially if you’re on your own.
People often message me asking if it’s safe to travel to a particular country. For the most part, safety lies in the personal decisions you make. Getting drunk late at night in a dangerous area of a city with your passport in your pocket may not be the wisest choice. Deliberately stepping into a war zone or dressing inappropriately in conservative countries can also make you a target. But it is also important to remember that you can be pick-pocketed in your home city too. Danger can be everywhere, not necessarily in cities or countries you would expect.
Here are a few pieces of advice on how to decide if a country is safe to visit:
1. Do your research
Before you go, research the particular culture’s customs before you step across their border. Knowing what might be offensive or insulting will help keep you safe. In Asia, feet are considered unclean and you should not direct the soles of your feet at someone else. Short shorts in Brunei with spaghetti strap tank tops are culturally inappropriate. Recognize in advance how your own culture differs from the one you’ll be visiting.
2. Don’t listen to loved ones opinions
I love my parents and close friends, but if they haven’t personally been to the country in question, they’re likely not the best source of information on how safe it is to travel. Family members will always be more sensitive to your travel decisions, but remember why you’re going and what your travel purpose is. Ebola in Western Africa is geographically very far from Southern Africa so when people tell you not to go to Africa, remind them you’ve been researching the situation. Loved ones may dissuade you because they care about you not necessarily because they understand the complexities of another country.
3. Check government travel advisories
Educate yourself from trusted sources. Part of that is reading the advisories your country’s government offers. For Canadians, you can find that here. However, remember to read these advisories in context. The government is legally required to tell you everything bad that has happened in a country. This does not mean it will happen to you or that it is a common occurrence. In perspective, millions of people travel to countries around the world and have no safety issues. It is a very small percentage of people who run into trouble abroad and sometimes that is linked to poor decision making. Be aware and informed but don’t let a government issued statement scare you from visiting a country.
4. Understand media distortion and sensationalism
News releases can be distorted and sensationalized. Although there have been bombings in several countries lately, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel there. In fact, security will be heightened and it’s most likely safer now than it was before. If you really don’t feel like visiting a particular area because you don’t feel safe, then consider exploring a different region of that country. It’s no surprise media plays a strong role in public perception, but it may not always be correct or apply to an entire country.
5. Understand countries can change
Colombia used to be well-known as a dangerous country to visit because of the drug-war between the Colombian government, paramilitary groups and crime syndicates. Although the drug-scene still exists, times have changed and what used to be a country to avoid is now a wonderful place to explore and experience the rich history, culture and food. There remain a few areas to be aware of with increased crime but most of these are off the typical tourist trail. As long as you’re aware of where they are, you should be safe from most dangers.
Be critical of what you read, see and hear about a place and question where the information is coming from, who’s supplying it, and what possible motives might be behind the perspective. Remember, a smart traveler is most often a safe traveler.
Do you have any other safety tips or methods you use when choosing a country to visit? Share them in the comment section below!