Are you concerned about security when planning your next trip? Don’t worry. With preparation and caution, every country can be easily traveled trouble-free.
Nothing is more exciting than visiting a place you have not seen before – especially if it is located way off the beaten path.
Even though not all places are equally accessible to everyone, I can assure you that you can visit any country worldwide without a problem with the proper organization. True, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Mali are dangerous places for travelers to explore. However, you can easily avoid any danger once you research, be cautious about the surroundings, and understand the entire situation of the country you are planning to visit.
I’m not here to tell you where to go or where not to. Also, I don’t want to downplay any danger you might face when traveling. In this article, I want to give you some tips in understanding better what makes a place dangerous and how to make safer choices while traveling to countries you consider dangerous.
Understand the dangers of each country
It’s not the same to travel to North Korea or to Venezuela. Although both countries are considered at the highest level of risk by the US. State Department, these two destinations set completely different challenges to foreigners planning a trip.
The risks of criminality, political stability, minority oppression, and even terrorism differ in every country. At the same time, each one of these issues creates different kinds of questions and answers for a traveler.
Before going to a country you consider dangerous, understand its political situation and find out what makes this country dangerous for an outsider. Is it high criminality, censorship, or terrorism? Ask what would be the worst-case scenario, and once you understand the kind of danger you might be facing there, you will be able to make better decisions on how to avoid an unpleasant situation while visiting this country.
See the whole picture
Danger is easier to inform when it is blamed on a single country. Mexico is considered by many news outlets as one of the most dangerous places in the world, while at the same time this one of the most visited places in the world.
Countries are vast, and in my experience traveling around the world, danger can even change from neighborhood to neighborhood in a single city.
Inform yourself beforehand about the entire situation of the country and read about which regions are easily accessible and which ones are not. The website Wikitravel has excellent guidelines for safety in most places worldwide, and social media forums are great sources of information for finding out what current dangers you should be aware of during your visit.
I traveled to Somalia in 2019, a country that is considered one of the top 10 most dangerous countries worldwide. However, once I did my homework, I found out that the northern independent region of the country, Somaliland, is considered even safer than most African countries. To my surprise, Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, was as comfortable and safe as many South American cities.
Find out about your situation as an outsider
Traveling to a dangerous country is not equal for everyone. You might face different kinds of treatment in certain places depending on your race, nationality, and beliefs. For example, a US citizen will face more danger in North Korea than a German citizen due to the diplomatic relationships between their countries. At the same time, a white person faces a higher risk of wrongful detention in some parts of Africa, while a Muslim or black person can face a certain degree of danger in some areas of the United States and Europe.
Before you travel to any country (no matter if it’s generally considered dangerous or not), find out your situation as a foreigner in this country. Inform yourself with locals about their perception of your country, race, and beliefs, and try to avoid confrontation in case you disagree. But don’t worry, no matter where you go, you will probably be welcomed with open arms and curiosity. Still, there are always some bad apples that can make your experience uncomfortable.
I used to joke that I feel safer walking in darkness in South America with a foreigner than walking alone as a Colombian. Unfortunately, this joke was just the reality of how danger affects each person differently.
Research, research, research
Reading news, asking locals on online platforms, and keeping constant updates on the situation. Some countries require a continuous update of what is going on. Places like Russia, Iran, and certain regions of Africa can become unstable in a matter of days.
Furthermore, with COVID blocking entire countries and political tensions rising between the west and the east, you must know what difficulties might happen at an unexpected moment.
Last Spring, I traveled to DRC and found out right after crossing the border that a UN helicopter was shot down by a rebel group less than 50km from our location. Furthermore, we heard rumors (which got confirmed by news outlets a few days later) that there was an Ebola outbreak just a few kilometers away from the city we visited.
This set up our alarms immediately, and we were able to discuss with our guide what additional security measures we should take and which options we have in case more instability comes unexpectantly in the next few days.
If you need to go on a tour, go with the best
Not all countries require a tour operator to join you, but in those you do, make sure you select the best operator you can find. When traveling in dangerous countries, you need to find a guide who understands how the risk differs for a local than for a foreigner. Also, finding someone who values the client’s security more than money is crucial.
While traveling in Niger, I found several local operators offering cheap overland tours outside the capital Niamey. However, once I got in touch with a more reputable company, they informed me about the high risk of this decision and how they would not even support it.
Choosing the right guide is also essential for simply having a trouble-free experience. This year I visited Mali with Marlon Read, one of the best drivers/fixers in West Africa. Choosing him as our travel expert increased our spending budget, but his decisions made our trip way more comfortable.
His experience in the region was noticeable from the first day. He knew the border officers from the Burkina-Mali border personally (which made crossing one of the most volatile border crossings worldwide an easy ride), and wherever we went, he was constantly informed about potential instability due to our proximity to terrorism groups.
Learn the unspoken rules of the city
Can you walk alone at night? Is it safe to call a cab from the street? Most uncomfortable situations happen due to our lack of knowledge of a destination. I’m not telling you to be scared and spend the whole time at your hotel, but simply be informed about the dangers you might find when moving independently.
Basic rules about petty crime, places you shouldn’t go to at certain times, and basic rules you won’t find in a guidebook are key to avoiding uncomfortable situations.
For example, when traveling to my hometown, Bogota, I avoid taking the phone out on the streets and never wear a watch. Additionally, I carry different bills in different pockets and avoid confrontation by helping with food or coins to aggressive homeless who approach me and ask me for money. These were things I didn’t learn in a blog. I got these tricks from friends and family who have lived in this city their whole life. Guess what? Neither my parents nor I have been mugged in Bogota.
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