How to check the safety of your next travel destination

Jan 26, 2020

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How do you determine how safe your destination is? Safety can mean different things to different people, from the likelihood of civil unrest or terrorism, to whether you can drink the tap water.

Depending on where you get your news from, a destination could appear to be very safe, or very unsafe. I recently visited Kuwait and found it to be one of the safest places I’d ever visited. On the other hand, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, felt very unsafe and is not somewhere I would return. But rather than just basing your decision on one other person’s experience, how do you determine the safety for yourself?

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For starters, I’d avoid throwing out a broad question on social media. Someone who may not have even visited the place themselves might convince you that you shouldn’t visit because they saw something online.

Related: What happens when you land in a country without entry rights?

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

The best place to start is the Foreign Travel Advice section of the U.K. Government website. There are detailed guides to safety with handy tips for 225 different countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. For example, for Singapore, while it’s considered an extremely safe destination, you might not know that public drunkenness is frowned upon and may result in a much harsher penalty than the U.K. Meanwhile, Jordan is a fairly safe country to visit, but the website warns to go nowhere near the border with neighbouring Syria.

This website definitely errs on the side of caution — it warns there is a risk of terrorism in Iceland, though you certainly may not feel like it when you are there. Don’t let this website scare you from visiting somewhere it deems safe even if it does list lots of caveats to that safety.

There are all sorts of handy travel tips here, and it is updated regularly with things like entry requirements, local currency and U.K. embassy contact information.

Another resource for considering safety is the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisories. This has similar information, though it is designed for U.S. citizens rather than U.K. ones. What is different is how the U.S. website displays information and advises on safety and gives each country a safety warning rating from one to five:

  • Level 1: Exercise normal precaution.
  • Level 2: Exercise increased caution.
  • Level 3: Reconsider travel.
  • Level 4: Do not travel.

Level 1 has been give to countries like Japan and Croatia, with Level 4 to countries like Venezuela and Somalia. The U.K. is lLevel 2. While I would recommend following the U.K. government’s advice over the U.S. government’s if you are a U.K.-based traveller/citizen, you may like how the rating system of the U.S. site allows you to compare the safety of one country to another. Neighbouring countries could have different levels — for example Nicaragua is Level 3 while Costa Rica Level 2.

If there is very specific information you are looking for about a destination, such as whether it is safe to store your luggage in the luggage compartments in a bus in Colombia and the government travel websites don’t have information this specific, you may wish to consult a resource like TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet to see if this question has been asked on a forum before. I often find that not only has my exact question been asked, but numerous experienced travellers in that destination have answered. If it’s just one random answer, I might keep looking but if 10 different people are all giving the same advice, I would feel comfortable to follow it, especially if it was recent.

Related: British Airways resumes flights to Cairo following safety concerns

Colorful building in La Candelaria neighborhood in the historic center of Bogota, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia. (Photo by Jesse Kraft/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Bottom line

All travel comes with some level of risk. These government resources are not a guarantee that your experience will be exactly as they say it will, but they do err on the side of caution, which should be comforting for inexperienced travellers. The more you travel the more risk you may be comfortable accepting — but resources like these will help you make the right decision for you.

Featured photo by Getty Images/Blend Images/Roberto Westbrook

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