One of the most frequently asked questions my husband and I get after learning we took a career break and traveled around the world for a year is:
Did anything bad happen to you? Did you feel unsafe?
The answer is no, thankfully nothing bad happened to us and we felt safe almost everywhere we went. Some places we had our guard up more than others (e.g. Morocco and Turkey), but we employed our common sense and trusted our guts, so we were fine. We were not in any truly dangerous situations, just some that made us more uncomfortable than others because it was unfamiliar to us (e.g. aggressive touters).
If you watch or read the news we are conditioned to think the world is a scary and dangerous place. And it is…but not all of it. I tell people that, statistically speaking, Chicago is WAY more dangerous than any place we traveled to during that year or at any other time.
I don’t let the horrific number of shootings stop me from leaving my apartment in Chicago. Bad things can happen all over the city, but you inherently evaluate risks and what areas to avoid that have higher risks of danger. I’m not hanging out in Englewood, that’s for sure.
The same holds true outside your hometown – evaluate what level of risk you are comfortable with when determining where to travel.
Risk tolerance is very much a personal decision; it’s not something I as a travel advisor can tell you a definitive answer to. I can only share my personal feelings and if I would go somewhere or not. The important thing is to make an informed, fact-based decision.
I’ve outlined how to evaluate that level of risk and how to keep safe while traveling below.
Determining If a Place is Safe To Travel To
Before you book your flight somewhere, I recommend checking out a few different resources to evaluate if you’re comfortable with the risk levels in the country you’re interested in traveling to.
US State Department’s International Travel Page
The State Department’s Travel Website to is a great resource to quickly see what travel alerts or warnings are present in that country, along with other important information like if you need a visa, certain vaccinations, etc. The US Department of State recently simplified the travel advisory levels as shown here to make things super easy to understand the level of risk in that country.
Travel Advisory Levels
Aside from safety, be sure to check out the Health section of the page to see if you need proof of vaccinations to enter the country or if there are diseases you should be aware of, like Zika.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
You can get more health details for individual countries on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Traveler’s Health page. It’s contains extensive details on vaccinations you may need, medications you may want, health notices for that country, and tips for staying healthy while traveling.
Another great resource to determine risks is SafeAround. I love their graphics, which make it super simple to see what the highest levels of risk are for in a certain country or city. Below is their assessment on Italy.
Before You Travel
Once you determine you are ok with the level of risk and want to travel to some place, there are a few resources you should check out to prepare yourself for the trip.
Enroll in STEP
A government program that is relatively unknown is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This is a wonderful free resource where you register your trip and receive push notifications of any travel alerts while you are traveling.
In case of an emergency, the closest US Embassy or Consulate has your contact information and can provide important safety and security information, or support during a crisis.
It adds another layer of security to your travels, so I highly recommend enrolling, especially if you are traveling to any country that has a US State Department advisory level above Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions.
As I mentioned in my article about the importance of purchasing travel insurance, it’s especially if you are going somewhere with a high risk of terrorism or natural disasters (e.g. going on a cruise in the Caribbean during hurricane season!).
Look up Cultural Differences
Being aware of cultural differences can help you avoid unwanted situations. For example, if the dress is conservative in the country you’re going to, then don’t pack short shorts and miniskirts.
Always leave your travel itinerary with someone not traveling with you that includes where you’ll be staying, especially if you will not have cell phone service abroad.
There are more good people than bad people in this world.
Life is too short to live in fear.
Trust your gut and make educated decisions about what is comfortable for you, but remember that the truly transformative experiences are always a little outside your comfort zone.
What other resources do you use for researching the safety of a country when you travel? Have you had any bad experiences while traveling that you want to share to help others avoid the same situation? Comment below!