At current, over 30 countries reside on the US state departments travel advisory and warnings list. Such countries include Syria, Iraq, North Korea, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, and the Philippines. However, while it is true that some of these countries are riskier than others, none are more dangerous than traversing the Bronx at night. And if you travel smart, enter countries with appropriate visas, and steer clear of conflict regions, there is no reason why you shouldn’t travel and experience these countries for yourself.
Poor inter-governmental relations is one of the primary reasons that a country gets branded as dangerous and is put on the list. It is also the reason why the media consistently portrays much of the Middle East as being hostile for Americans. However, it is important to note that the beef is strictly between governments and not the people.
Generally, people are people no matter where you go. And since almost everyone loves “A Lion King” and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Americans are usually welcomed with unrivaled hospitality. Something I have found to be even truer among Syrians, Iraqis, and Egyptians.
However, with poor intergovernmental relations comes the risk of hostage taking in order to gain diplomatic leverage. While this is a very real risk, it is also very easy to avoid.
Recently, the Iranian government released 3 US citizens after over 2 years of detention. The Iranians held them under auspices of espionage, while the Americans contested that they were merely hiking and crossed the border accidentally.
Even if they were just hiking, which is the most likely the case, what I want to know is, what kind of people go hiking near the Iranian border in northern Iraq. If they felt like hiking through the desert that bad, why not head to some national parks in Arizona or Utah?
In any case, the lesson to be learned from this is, if you don’t want to become a hostage, familiarize yourself with the diplomatic relations between countries, and simply don’t go hiking along the Iraq-Iran border.
The second reason countries are placed on the state departments travel advisory and warnings list is due to internal conflict. However, internal conflict is almost always a localized event. And so, as long you avoid those regions prone to conflict, there is no reasons why one shouldn’t travel and enjoy the rest of the country.
For example, the US has issued a strict warning for all US citizens traveling to Sudan and this is understandable. It is a country that has been in civil war since its independence, and is also the home of the state sponsored genocide in the Darfur.
However, while conflict, especially between North and South Sudan persists, it is sporadic and limited to the border regions. As long as one stays away from such regions, or enters them together with long established and organized missions, such as the UN, travel to Sudan is no more dangerous than touring the projects of the Bronx.
The third, final, and most divisive reason that countries are listed is due to the threat of terrorist attacks. The threat of terrorism is very real. However, as we have seen in the last few decades, terrorism is ubiquitous throughout the world and can occur without warning. Thus, dying in a terrorist attack is somewhat comparable to hitting the lottery. And so to let the threat of terrorism dissuade one from traveling a country would be to grant the terrorists undue power.
Take the Philippines for example. In recent years, there has been a surge of terrorist attacks. While there have been attacks across the archipelago, including the capital Manila, the majority of attacks are primarily located in the Mindanao and Sulu regions. So while, you may increase your chances of hitting the lottery in those regions, it still remains as unlikely as getting shot in a hit and run in the Bronx.
While travel to countries such as Iran, Sudan, & the Philippines come with increased risks, if you have done your research, cross borders legally, and avoid conflict prone regions, you should be relatively safe. In truth, though the US state department is right to list such countries, their warnings are sometimes overly cautious. And if the Bronx were a country it would surely be on their list.
Let Me Know What You Think!
Paul Weatherson says
People that get into danger in other countries, some think a good way to avoid that is to stay out of poor or run down areas that may be potentially dangerous. Those two hikers disobeyed this rule. While I still respect them, that travel was risky.
Dan Martin says
I thoroughly agree with what you’ve written here-great article. I did a bike ride from London to Cape Town in 2004/05 and was super scared of going through Syria and Sudan-they turned out to be the two highlights of the trip-so friendly and welcoming!
To push the point a bit further on my next trip I cycled from Korea to Cape Town (www.koreatocapetown.co.uk) via the Axis of Evil. It was massively eye opening. North Korea was the most interesting place I’ve ever been. Pakistan was hugely welcoming. Afghanistan was beautiful. Iran was a great counter culture to the west. Iraq was incredibly friendly. I went on across Northern Africa and down the West Coast through Nigeria and The Congos down to South Africa again and the only two countries that lived up to their danger billing were Nigeria and South Africa.
I just wish people would go and know before they judge. People are good. Don’t believe the hype.
The Runaway Guide says
That sounds like it was incredible. You weren’t the guy biking in the documentary, “The Long Way Down” were you? I am really impressed, thanks for sharing this!
I believed what the TV was telling me and had made a mind set of my own. I traveled to Pakistan. It was the most exciting, happy and fun trip I ever had. All the way from hanging out behind a bus to gliding to trekking and mountaineering. It was all great. Traveling from Gwadar in South, all the way to Sost in North of Pakistan on the Silk Route was an amazing experience. Met plenty of European travelers usually biking their way but happy and content with the hospitality they receive. As you mentioned, most of the conflicts are not related to travelers and locals are almost always equally excited to portray their best selves, but yup, one should always use some common sense to avoid any misfortunes.
The Runaway Guide says
I hear ya, it is definitely the case. Amen to common sense and not hiking in Iraq ;)
Well, I like in Khartoum Sudan and I would walk, even alone, anywhere in any neighborhood at night here and not fear for my safety. The potentially unsafe parts of Sudan are two days drive away….
The Runaway Guide says
Thats good to know because I am really interested in going to Sudan ;) Only you know my motivation behind this article.
Michael James says
So true! Traveling in other countries is really no different then traveling in the USA. When I was in Costa Rica, people there told me to be careful at night because of muggings and if someone put a gun to me and asked for money and I didnt have at least $5 I would be shot. Well I walked around at 2 or 3am at times and walked past gangs but never had any trouble at all. I think people don’t realize that the USA is actually more dangerous then most countries. Of course common sense goes a long way but when traveling some may be more adventurous then others. Like those two guys that were along the border of Iran, maybe they just were being a bit adventurous. Stupid but maybe it was there thrill and they paid the price but hopefully they learned a new language or something from it.
The Runaway Guide says
You said it. I guess it’s just because America is familiar, which makes it somehow feel safer. On the other hand, when we envision the dangers of foreign countries, either due to misconceptions or ignorance, our imaginations can run wild.
Isn’t visiting Iraq adventurous enough though? Definitely stupid.