I’ve written two posts now that deal in one way or another with travel to “dangerous” countries: A Quick Word on the Perceived Danger of Foreign Countries and Addressing Concerns Regarding Travel to Mexico.
I wrote both those posts through the lens of the typical American traveler who has certainly read the headlines, and had numerous friends, family members, and coworkers tell them not to go to X country.
You really should not be afraid to see more of the world. The media likes to focus on negative stories (they get the most emotional reactions) and even the American government-issued warnings, by virtually all accounts, tend to err very far on the side of caution.
Having said that, you do absolutely need to be informed. In my Essential Travel Gear post, the #1 piece of equipment I mention is Your Brain. Also, since at least 15 percent of my readers come from outside the US, you may not have heard the same warnings that we hear all the time.
There are a lot of countries out there that do have national homicide rates far higher than ours. You can find a list of those countries here. As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, Kristen and I completed a three-week tour of Guatemala (#16), Belize (#7), and Mexico (#19), and had zero problems. Having said that, we also did extensive research on where not to go within those countries. For example, we did not loiter in Zone 1 of Guatemala City at night, we did not wander around south of the river in Belize City, and I did not go out of my way to go to Tepito in Mexico City or any high danger states like Tamaulipas.
Think about your own hometown. Chances are, there’s a part of town that, for one reason or another, most people avoid unless absolutely necessary. If that’s true of a city, it’s very true of an entire country. There are small areas here and there with outsized violence. Knowing that it’s only small hotspots here and there should ease your conscience about going there in the first place; to be truly safe, you should know where those hotspots are.
The US Department of State and the US Passport Service both issue travel warnings. For my international readers, your government has similar pages with information specifically aimed at their own citizens. However, don’t allow yourself to be scared by these very general warnings. Really look into the warnings and see if they list where specifically is a bad area to be.
For better information, I’m a big fan of getting on message boards and forums with people who have recently been to where you want to go. TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet are two of the best forums for asking fellow travelers about safety in foreign countries. On Facebook, I would also recommend following the Solo Travel Society page. They’re a great resource for quickly crowd-sourcing tips and warnings from street level.
Please, do your research. That’s all I ask. As always, be safe out there!