Omni Traveller

Budget Backpack Travel in Europe

How to Do Research to Find If a Country is Safe to Visit

What to know if a country is safe to visit? Then you must do some solid research. After all, everyone would usually agree that it’s a different story to visit a country with substantial civil unrest than it is to visit a peaceful country in Scandinavia, isn’t it? But yet again, economic demonstrations are possible anywhere. So, if you think there is info you should know, do research. Basically, there are four (4) resources you should tap:

    • Knowledgeable travellers you meeting on the road,
    • Knowledgeable travel bloggers,
    • Selected government websites, and
    • Google or Bing to research the country, city, and neighbourhoods


Trusting Your Fellow Travellers

Knowledgeable travellers are far and away your best resource for determining the relative safety of a country you’re on-the-fence about. In fact, there are few better ways to find new, unexpected, and safe places to travel then through your fellow backpackers. However, not just any backpacker, but those who have been there before and who can point you in the right direction through personal experience and not misinformation or unfounded hunches.

The best travellers you can ask are the travellers you already know. But don’t worry if you don’t already know any jet-setters. There are a couple ways you can approach the task of tracking-down trusted travellers.

  1. You can go online and look for travel-related forums. In general you’re going to want to look for forums catering to your general backpacker demographic, people a lot like you will provide the most accurate reflection of your own bias, risk-tolerance, and material means when picking a destination. In other words: don’t go on a travel board for wealthy twenty-somethings if you’re a broke retiree. Anywhere can seem perfectly safe if you have enough money to throw around.
  2. You can go online and look for travel bloggers. There are a lot of travel bloggers by backpackers on the Net these days, but there aren’t a lot of great travel bloggers. You need to be careful here. Be picky about whom you follow. Look for someone with a lot of experience as nomadic travellers that seem savvy and intelligent that have a grounded approach, and who shares values you hold. When reading writing by both travel bloggers and forum-goers make sure their reports are up-to-date. Countries that were safe a year or two ago aren’t necessarily safe today, and vice-verso. When in doubt, shoot the blogger an email and you might get a personalized recommendation.
  3. You can meet other travellers on the road and ask for recommendations. This is your best option for a couple of reasons, most importantly because meeting people in person gives you the ability to develop an actual relationship with them and a clear picture about who they are as a person. Taking recommendations in person ensures the people you talk about are actual travellers and not keyboard-jockeys, and sharing a drink will set off any red flags related to their temperament and the legitimacy of their suggestions better than spending nights reading someone’s blog posts ever will.

Overall, I actually endorse these recommendations in reverse order. The thing is that Forum Posts are the least helpful due to the anonymity involved and potential for fakers and people don’t know what they are talking about. Well-established Travel Bloggers, meaning young guys that travel a lot but are outside the tourist industry, can provide a great resource for getting you started on your trip. But they aren’t always available for one-on-one communication. But Experienced Fellow Travellers are right there and you can get a good feeling about can provide the best advice and will point you to your most memorable destinations.

If you don’t know any travellers and want to take advantage of their perspectives don’t worry- just pick somewhere you know to be safe and then meet travellers there. For example, if you’re looking to check out Russia or Eastern Europe you can start out in Krakow in Poland to get the lay of the land and make a few connections before charting out the rest of your trip.


Know Thyself

If there’s one rule about receiving destination referrals you need to keep in mind, it’s to only take referrals from people you like, you trust, and who share similar sensibilities to you. What’s safe to one person might be a nightmare to another person.

For example, an old friend of mine is a total adventure-punk. He rides boxcars, sleeps on abandoned rooftops, and generally looks and smells like he spends his free time exploring sewers. Great guy, love him. He’s a big fan of Mexico and has spent plenty of time along the admittedly-dangerous border… something he can get away with because, quite frankly, he doesn’t look like someone who is worth kidnapping. By contrast, I’m at least a little more socially presentable than my friend and would be a much more obvious target for those sorts of life-threatening shenanigans. Different strokes… just know who you are and who you are not before you rush headlong into potential danger.

This last point is a crucially important one when safely travelling abroad. A lot of people who run into problems do so because they push too far past their comfort zone too quickly. Just because you spent a lovely three months with a host family in France doesn’t mean you’re prepared to backpack by foot across El Salvador. Just because you’re looking for a little adventure in your life doesn’t mean you should escape a sedentary 9-5 life by running with the bulls. Anywhere can become dangerous if you’re over-compensating. Increase your sphere of comfortable action, and as such your list of safe destinations, with baby steps.


Always Do Collaborating Online Research Before You Follow Someone’s Recommendation

If you blindly take another travellers recommendations on a country to visit, you are NOT absolved from doing any additional research or taking any personal precautions. You need to make sure your new-found friend didn’t leave out an important point or two. If a trip to a country was safe for someone a lot like you, it probably will be safe for you as well, but it’s well worth taking a half hour just to be sure.

    • After receiving a recommendation, do a quick search on the U.S. Department Of State website to make sure there aren’t any big problems your new friends didn’t mention or know about.
    • Do a Google search regarding safety for both the country, and the city you’re planning on visiting, but also for the various neighbourhoods you might want to spend time, including whether they’re safe 24/7 or if they’re only secure when the sun’s out. Neighbourhood searches can be very revealing.
    • Finally, you also want to do some research on local laws and general cultural norms. This is a bigger, broader topic to cover when it comes to making sure the country you’re visiting is safe. After all, sometimes the country’s government or police force will be your biggest threat.

Just know you need to dig a little deeper than taking a recommendation at face value.

Recommendations are the best way to stray off the beaten trail but they aren’t the be-all-end-all when it comes to making sure the country you visit is actually safe. New travel friends can point you in the right direction and help you brainstorm new ideas, they can help you avoid common pitfalls and scams, and they can help you find the safe corners in otherwise problematic regions, but they do not absolve you from taking personal responsibility for your own safety.