I’m lucky enough not to have had any particularly ‘scary’ moments on my travels thus far. Being a man perhaps makes travel safer and certainly increases the perception of feeling safe. With countries like Somalia still on my list of places to visit, I may one day rue this post as a painful reminder of misplaced confidence in the virtues of humanity. But on the whole, I’m usually struck by how safe many of the world’s allegedly dangerous travel destinations feel when you visit.
When I told people I was going to visit North Korea and Iraq, eyebrows were raised. People questioned why I was optionally choosing to leave the safety of home for potential danger abroad. Perhaps rightly. But many people – the media in particular – have no reason to exercise nuance when passing judgement on places they’ve never been. North Korea is perhaps the scariest dictatorship in the world. But so long as you do not step out of line, it is a safe country. Crime rates are believed to be fairly low, perhaps due to the extreme punishments dished out to those that commit them.
Similarly, many parts of Iraq are safe to visit. It’s a huge country, of almost 40 million people. Iraqi Kurdistan, with its oil money and Western backing, is one of the safer places in the Middle East. I visited when the US withdrew support for the Kurds in Syria in October 2019. Despite the unrest this unleashed just a few hundred kilometres away, in Iraqi Kurdistan life went on as normal. But usually people hear the word ‘Iraq’ and assume every inch of the country must be consumed with violence and unrest. Even in the scariest countries, there will always be certain areas where it’s safe. Or, at the minimum, where it’s less risky to visit.
Statistics On Your Side
Statistically, the chances of getting caught up in some form of unrest, or even a terrorist attack, are fairly low in most countries. For example, there were 765 terrorist attack deaths in Iraq in 2018, the third highest number in the world. Although these figures may seem high, they’re less so when you consider the country’s large population. In any case, ‘safe’ destinations like India and the Philippines were not far behind, with 671 and 350 deaths respectively in 2018.
There have been two terrorist attacks in London Bridge in recent years, a short walk from where I live. While tragic, if I apply the logic of the eyebrow raisers, I should not leave my front door, as London is too dangerous to visit. 1.35 million people are killed on the roads globally each year, yet you still get in a car without thinking twice. India accounts for a staggering 135,000 of these deaths annually. This means that, statistically speaking, travelling in India is far more likely to end badly than in North Korea. And yet, people are free to go on their ‘woo-woo’ spiritual quests to Indian silent meditation retreats without their sanity being questioned (at least from a personal safety perspective).
Most People Don’t Have A Choice
For billions of people, the option not to visit scary places doesn’t exist. Most people are born, live, and die in countries that many in the West would suggest are far too dangerous to visit. The vast majority of people in these countries lead peaceful lives.
Perhaps it’s reasonable to believe that the rest of the world is one giant failed state. Particularly if you live in a rich country like the United States, where the president articulately described many of the world’s nations as “shithole countries”. There were over 14,500 murders with firearms in 2017 in the US, which to me doesn’t seem like the definition of safe. The population of the US and Europe combined only represents around 10% of the world’s population. It’s absurd in the extreme to believe that your head is likely to be chopped off if you dare to step foot into the land occupied by the remaining 90%.
I’m not suggesting you abandon all reason and go on a boozy ‘lads’ holiday to Mauritania. You have to make appropriate safety considerations. Do your own research and prepare methodically. However, just because you’ve heard the name of a country in the news, don’t immediately assume the worst. And, perhaps most importantly, don’t temp fate by writing articles like this if you still plan to visit some of the world’s more dangerous countries.