How to be safe while traveling abroad
These days some Americans do not want to travel to other countries because of safety concerns. Yes, the world became more violent, and it makes sense to learn how to be safe while traveling abroad and be careful in choosing your travel destination.
Before planning your next trip, please check with the U.S. Department of State for the latest updates on international travel.
According to the Ipsos Mori survey for 2017, the most dangerous countries for traveling are Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Darfur, Somalia, South Sudan, and some regions of Mali. The safest countries to travel are Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland, and Slovenia. (Check for the latest updates).
If you faithfully follow the advice of this survey, you can presume that it’s safe to travel only to these seven European countries. But what about the most popular destinations in Europe, such as Italy, France, Spain, Germany? What about the rest of the world?
You will be able to have a safe trip to most of the countries, but you should exclude the most dangerous areas from your itineraries. With all the changes in the world, it is a good idea to find out as much as possible about the country that you want to visit.
How the world has changed
(some of our personal experiences)
Since our childhood, we were fascinated by Egyptian culture. We read a lot about this ancient civilization. We visited the Pushkin Art Museum in Moscow many times. This museum has a vast collection of Egyptian artifacts including mummies.
In 2011, we bought a group tour to Egypt. We chose to go there in March, the best time to visit this country– it’s not too hot yet. The itinerary included two days in the resort on the Red Sea, traveling to pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza, cruise on Nile river, sightseeing in Luxor. I couldn’t wait.
Remember the Arab Spring? It started in December 2010 in Tunisia, and by the time we had to leave for Egypt, the unrest spread to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain. All travel companies canceled their tours to this region.
Fortunately, we got a refund. Since we already planned to travel during the spring break, we had to go somewhere, and we chose… Arkansas! Arkansas is not Egypt, but we were safe!
From our friends in Moscow, we heard that the trips to Egypt resumed, at least for tourists from Russia. However, they only go to the resorts on the Red Sea for R & R and avoid the cities which are still dangerous. Because of the safety reasons, we delayed our plans to go to Egypt. But we hope to go there soon.
Rio de Janeiro is notorious for its street crime. All travel guidebooks mention this unfortunate fact. These books caution tourists to avoid favelas (Portuguese for slum), to be careful walking on the streets and the beaches.
Before leaving for Brazil, I read several guidebooks. I also read the novel “City of God” about life in the Rio de Janeiro favela. This book scared me a lot: two or three shootings on each page!
Our second trip to Brazil included four days in Rio. We stayed at a beautiful waterfront hotel – Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort. On one side of the hotel was a public beach, on another, right across the road – favela.
Our hotel was well protected on all sides by fences, walls, and guards. A high wall separated the property from the public beach. The movable wooden staircase allowed the guests to go down to the water during the daytime. At night, the guards raised the staircase, turning the Sheraton into a fortress.
On the third day in Rio, we had a choice: to go on the optional tour by bus or to spend the day “at leisure.” We decided to explore Rio’s famous beaches on our own. To get from our hotel to the first beach (Leblon), we had to walk on the narrow, deserted sidewalk.
We made sure that besides taking a bottle of water and a few Brazilian reals, we did not have anything else on us. We dressed casually (as we do during our travels): old sneakers, hats, T-shirts, no jewelry or video cameras.
We were a little uncomfortable walking by ourselves on this stretch of the road (half a mile from the hotel to Leblon beach). As soon as we reached Leblon, we relaxed. We walked all the way to the end of Copacabana (12-mile round trip). During that long day “at leisure,” walking on beautiful Rio beaches, looking at the locals and tourists having “fun in the sun,” we felt perfectly safe.
Alexander worked in India for two years. At that time (the early seventies) India had just (!) 600 million people. He went to all Indian states, worked in big cities and remote villages. He told me that it was safe in India at that time.
Recently, when we traveled to India with a group, that country was different. It grew to 1.3 billion people. With such a dense population, you should expect more poverty, more begging, more petty crime, like pickpocketing.
However, after our recent trip to India, we think that it is still safe to go there. Alexander even dreams of renting a car with a driver and traveling in India independently.
We visited Mexico several times. In 1992, we spent a whole month there, traveling from place to place by car. It was a memorable trip. We felt safe.
Nowadays, we hear and read many stories about mass killings of people by drug cartels. Violence is rampant because of organized crime and drug trafficking. One Mexican family that I know warned me about the situation in Mexico these days. This family lives in Florida and has relatives in Mexico City. When they go to this city with their 10-year-old son, mom holds him by hand whenever they leave grandma’s house. She is afraid that her son can be kidnapped.
When we were on a Caribbean cruise, one of the stops was Isla Margarita in Venezuela. I read many times about tourists attacked by robbers in that country, and about the advice not to carry a video camera or wear expensive jewelry.
Some passengers went on the optional tour to the nearest town. When they returned to the ship in the evening, we saw a man with a bandaged hand. He said that when he stepped away from his group to videotape the old buildings, two robbers attacked him, trying to steal his video camera. He fought back. One of the robbers wounded his hand with a knife and took off with the camera.
During our trip to Thailand, we talked to a woman from our group, Pam. Pam was a widow, in her seventies. She visited many countries, even those considered to be dangerous. Pam was fearless. Usually, she traveled with a group, but sometimes she went abroad on her own.
Pam told us about her recent trip to see the Mass Games in North Korea. As a US citizen, she couldn’t go to North Korea directly from the United States. Her travel agent helped her to join the group tour which started in China. From China, they flew to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
As a foreigner, Pam got the best place in the stands to observe the parade. She liked this event and the whole itinerary very much. She said that even if the trip was expensive, it was worth every penny.
When we returned home, we watched several documentaries about North Korea and their Mass Games. We agreed that it is something worth watching. However, we decided that our lives and our safety are worth much more.
Exercise caution when you travel abroad!
If you find out that the situation in a country of your choice has changed for the worse, it is better to adjust your traveling plans and plan a safer itinerary.
In every part of the world take care of your belongings, especially in crowded areas. Do not walk alone at night, especially if you are a woman. Do not drive on the deserted roads in the middle of the night. Rent cars only from reputable travel agents. Use common sense. Listen to your intuition.
If you take the time to research the country of your choice, and if you learn how to be safe while traveling abroad, you can go anywhere in the world without fear.