Is Travel Safe?
If I had listened to every person who has dissuaded me from travelling to less popular destinations, I would have missed many priceless experiences. I have now formed criteria to determine which sources of information are more important when making decisions. When researching, obtain the most recent information possible as the situation can change quickly. This will help you decide if a destination is safe or dangerous.
Countries may be perceived as dangerous even though the incident being reported in the media or in a government advisory only affects a small portion of the country. Many people wrong extrapolate an isolated and limited problem in a country and apply it to the entire nation and even the whole region. Research further to determine the safe areas.
The five categories below are ranked on a score out of ten.
Local residents (10) – Easily the best source. I have never experienced a case where local people will provide you with incorrect information if a matter involves your personal safety. Within a country, always ask on safety conditions to any area you intend to visit, and if these replies include significant warnings about safety, consider changing your itinerary. Information prior to a trip can be obtained from blogs, forums, social media or travel websites.
Fellow travellers (8) – These provide another valuable source of information, and again such reports can be found on blogs, forums, social media or travel websites. Be aware that the situations can and do change, so take note of the date of any advice. People you personally known who have travelled to such area are probably your best source of information amongst fellow travellers.
Government advisories (4) – All governments are overly cautious in the advice they give, but these advisories provide a good overview of trends and incidents within a country. However, governments tend to raise travel warning levels quickly and keep them raised for longer when problems hit areas such as Africa and Middle East, yet raise them slowly and reduce them quickly when similar problems occur in Western countries. The least alarmist and most balanced of these advisories is usually from the United Kingdom
Media (2) – The media love to portray dramatic events for it attracts viewers. Thus 99.9% of the time a destination has no problems, but when that 0.1% does occur, it is splashed across our newspapers and television sets. The most negativity is usually focused in such areas as Middle East, Africa and Central America. It is possible to find more balanced reporting, but it can be difficult to source.
Family and Friends (1) – Unless a family or friend has personally travelled to the destination in question (thus falling into the Fellow Travellers category) or personally knows a person who has, then ignore their advice. Unfortunately, it is usually the people who have no immediate experience of a destination who voice the biggest concerns.
Another possible source of information are airline companies. If they are not flying to a destination then you can safely assume it is a place to avoid. However, airlines make such decisions based on whether it is safe for the plane to arrive and depart the airport, and that their staff can be safely housed in a hotel, and not on the actual travelling conditions within the country. Thus, one should not only rely on airlines to guide you in your decision.
Sometimes health concerns can provide an unwanted obstacle to your travels. Take the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa as an example. The problem with such outbreaks is that you cannot see the microscopic virus that is going to cause your trouble. I do think extra cautions are advisable when travelling to such areas and it may be best to avoid the effected region entirely.
Finally, it is best to avoid some countries in the period either side of elections (I would suggest three-four weeks both before and after). Keep informed as to when these are held and gauge the situation accordingly.