I have been getting a lot of questions lately about whether it is safe to travel right now. I am pretty sure these questions are coming after a string of attacks in England over the last two months, as well as a few more in France, Sweden, and Berlin in the last year. These are legitimate questions, as many of these attacks seem to be occurring in popular tourist destinations and these are not exactly locations one would *expect* to hear about violence as they are not in a state of war and they are all developed countries.
WARNING: I’m probably going to scare you first. Don’t worry, we’ll bring it back around and make it something you can digest.
I will say upfront. I straddle the line of people who are very security-minded and on the other side, people who are adventurous and want to see the world. I am a travel professional. I have the travel bug. I love to travel! However, I spent years working in military intelligence, analyzing insurgencies, criminals, and terrorist organizations and preparing to fight them if necessary to protect our nation. From that experience, I developed a bit of “healthy paranoia” and I had access to information that the average American does not. Therefore, I am also very pragmatic about what I consider “safe”. Compared to many of my fellow travel professionals who some would consider unaffected (and, in some cases, naïve) by security concerns, I am much more vigilant and protective. Now that I have told you where I stand on security concerns, I believe you can trust that I am giving a very informed opinion.
First, the “bad stuff”.
I’ll admit, too, there are places I personally will not go at this point in time. North Korea tops the list! I don’t think I need to explain that. Just in case you are wondering though, as a rule, I stay away from countries that are currently at war (unless I go with the Army – hence my year spent in Afghanistan in 2006-07), countries that are considered failed or “fragile” states (South Sudan, Somalia), and countries that are hostile towards Americans (Pakistan, Yemen, Honduras).
I also struggle with whether or not to go to certain places. For example, I’d love to go to
Turkey, Russia, and Egypt but for one reason or another, I hesitate. As a former intelligence officer with a Top Secret Security Clearance, I am at risk for being targeted in a place like Russia and Turkey. For that reason, I may not even be able to get a tourist visa to go to Russia if I wanted to. A place like Egypt, rich with history and a bucket list destination for an art history buff like myself is a place I want to go, but I am deferring to a *hopeful* later time when extremist organizations are not so prevalent. I really want to go to Turkey and more often than not, I consider it heavily, but I tend to remind myself there are other places I want to go that have a better safety record, so I put off Turkey for the time being.
There are other reasons a person may decide not to travel to a destination or to at least wait to go there. I mentioned my former career as an intelligence officer as one reason. If a family is trying to get pregnant, they may avoid areas with a known risk of Zika. As a woman traveling alone there are certain destinations that Travel + Leisure suggest avoid traveling to, such as the more obvious places like Iran to the less obvious places like my favorite national park, Glacier National Park. Why? Grizzly bears! That’s actually a good point. It’s not always about fear of terrorism. This article even goes so far as to say, as a solo traveler stay away from Orlando, “the happiest place on earth”, so you don’t feel depressed being around all the happy families and couples. Touché, T+L.
Other reasons to consider postponing a trip to a certain destination may include:
Not all these factors may apply to you or may not be enough to dissuade you from visiting. There is certainly an argument for visiting these places just for the reasons not to. For example, I personally have a hard time with the notion of visiting Saudi Arabia for its poor record on women’s and girls’ rights and many have argued the morality of visiting a relatively wealthy country with high income inequality and poor human rights records such as China. There is an argument that providing tourism dollars to a country helps the poor and can lead to an eventual middle class, which leads to greater human rights records in the long run. Essentially, by staying away, we do more harm than good.
Enough of the bad, here’s the “good stuff”.
Despite the laundry list of reasons I may have inadvertently given you not travel, there are many more to continue to travel!
#1) There are over 190 countries in the world. Most of them are not included in any of the “bad” lists. Conde Nast recently provided a list of the 10 Safest Countries in the World to travel.
- New Zealand
- Czech Republic
#2) If you have felt mostly safe in the United States your whole life, you’ll probably feel safe in about 72 other countries that rank higher on the safety index than the United States, such as: Singapore, Georgia, Malta, Spain, Belgium, Italy, and Chile. *Ironically, America ranks higher than China when it comes to income inequality, too.
#3) Understand that you are soooooo UNLIKELY to be harmed in a terrorist attack abroad. Barring the not-so-smart trips to war-torn regions like Syria, the likelihood of you being involved in a terrorist attack is just really, really low. Wendy Perrin has a great article on this. As a matter of fact, Americans are more likely to win a lottery jackpot than be killed by a foreign terrorist.
#4) There are many ways to travel smart, limiting your risk for harm.
- Avoid dangerous destinations – for US Citizens, check out the State Department’s Alerts and Warnings page, where they issue “warnings” against traveling to specific places and “alerts” for places you should put extra thought into before traveling to. Also, enroll in the State Departments Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to be prepared in the event of an emergency during your travels.
- For specific concerns such as LGBT friendly destinations or racially tolerant destinations, do your research on these topics before booking a trip
- Avoid peak seasons, large crowds, and stay alert. This comes from my military background. Large crowds, especially of important religious or cultural significance, are a more desirable target for terrorist attacks. However, law enforcement is aware of this and is typically much more vigilant during these times, which is why it relatively seldom that an attack successfully occurs. I can tell you from my experience; however, that is not because the “bad guys” don’t try – usually these attacks are thwarted before the public even knows about it. Always remember to report suspicious activity and if you feel uncomfortable, trust your instinct and get out of there.
- Purchase travel insurance, preferably with a “cancel for any reason” policy, so that if anything happens before or during your time at the destination you are covered for cancellation, trip interruption, medical expenses, or other expenses.
- When in doubt, travel with a buddy. Don’t go to a place alone if your instincts tell you not to. Either enlist a buddy to join you, or travel with a group of other solo travelers. There are great companies out there that cater specifically to solo travelers.
#5) Get the advice of a travel professional (of course, my favorite piece of advice). But, seriously, this is a topic I’m very comfortable saying I am an expert in, probably more so than many of my fellow travel professionals can say. I bring not only travel expertise, but also a background in security.
I will help you find a place to travel that works for your comfort level and needs. Whether you have special considerations like me (restriction from travel to countries that may target former Intel officers), or want to feel safe and accepted being exactly who you are where you go, or maybe you haven’t traveled a lot in general and just want to be extra safe, I am happy to help.
There is so much of the world to see and I am here to help you find the right places for you! If you want to know more about what places are safe for you to travel to, please start a conversation with me by filling out our trip planning form.
In the meantime….
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