Top 10 Worst Cities to Backpack in During 2014

There’s no doubt that travel bloggers, journalists and travel companies give too much publicity to the good stuff. We’re experts at polishing turds and glorifying the brilliant standout places we take our backpacks to. But there’s not enough travel sites and blogs detailing the shit places and the worst cities.

On a local bus in Caracas - the world's biggest shithole?

On a local bus in Caracas – the world’s biggest shithole?

As well as a load of amazing places I have also been to a lot of horrendous cities. I thought I’d give you my worst 10 cities to backpack in for 2014, based on my own experiences and some input from a few others. I’ve recently been to cities such as Changhsa in China, Amsterdam in Netherlands, Erbil in Iraq, Stepanakert in Nagorno Karabakh and Yazd in Iran. These are cool spots – great cities to travel in. In terms of living, Sydney, London and Hong Kong are 3 of my favourites and I was recently surprised to read that Calgary in Canada is actually considered one of the best cities to live in currently. But what about the other end of the spectrum though – let’s be honest there are some shitholes out there and here are 10 cities not to live in.

1. Caracas, Venezuela
Easily number one on my list of horrible and horrendous cities. I hated every minute of it. Perhaps I was there at a bad time but I saw a cocaine raid, got refused a Suriname Visa, got attacked and almost mugged, had bank cards refused, got ripped off, ended up paying $70 US a night for a hotel and just had a horrible experience. In fact Venezuela as a whole is my worst country.

Worst cities to live in - Caracas, Venezuela.

Worst cities to live in – Caracas, Venezuela.

2. Prague, Czech Republic
Despite the fact that I backpacked there with one of my best mates, Lock In Lee I just didn’t enjoy the city. Rip off merchants, wannabe backpackers and just full of scams. Mind you this was back in 2007 and I was a younger backpacker. But my girlfriend went back last year and felt the same as me, I won’t be renting a flat out in Prague in the near future.

Backpacking in Prague with one of my best mates - Lock In Lee - but I thought the city itself was shitty!

Backpacking in Prague with one of my best mates – Lock In Lee – but I thought the city itself was shitty!

3. Riga, Latvia
My hatred of Riga probably lends itself to food poisoning, a poor football performance and some corrupt police. I was there in 2007 watching Northern Ireland when we were on the crest of a wave and almost qualified for the 2008 Euros. Unfortunately this is where it all went wrong for the team. We lost 1-0 to a horrendous own goal and we played badly. Our fans were attacked by the locals and the police. That night I spent the night in bed with food poisoning.

Backpacking in Riga, Latvia. Suffering from food poisoning and not impressed at all!

Backpacking in Riga, Latvia. Suffering from food poisoning and not impressed at all!

4. Vang Vieng, Laos
This place just has to be in there. The less said about Vang Vieng in Laos the better, I lost $1000 US in one day there. I don’t care if it’s actually a city or not either – it’s on the list. Avoid.

Vang Vieng in Laos. One to avoid!

Vang Vieng in Laos. One to avoid!

5. Beijing, China
Whilst being a stable economic city, Beijing is not a place you want to take your family if you care about their health. With terrible pollution issues, Beijing is ranked second worst in the world for conditions. But more to the point, it’s not the real China. I don’t care what anyone says but if you want to see old school Chinese culture, head out to the countryside and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve gone backpacking to over 10 provinces in China but I won’t warm to Beijing. It’s rare for me to ever slag off China, but I’m doing it here.

Backpacking in Beijing in 2007 - I still havent totally warmed to it, nor will I ever.

Backpacking in Beijing in 2007 – I still havent totally warmed to it, nor will I ever.

Those top 5 are my PERSONAL WORST 5 cities to live in from my travels, ones that I would avoid. To level things up though, here are a further 5 shithole cities that are renowned but I haven’t been to yet. I felt I had to include them in a post like this as no doubt I will get slated if I don’t…

6. Detroit, USA

Detroit has a reputation in the USA for being the worst city to live in. Gang violence is prevalent here, with violent crimes being some of the highest in the country. Five times the national average to be exact. Ouch!

7. Karachi, Pakistan
With poor housing, violence through terrorism and some of the highest homicide rates in the world, Karachi is a hotbed of terrible, making it a very unliveable city. However a recent backpacking buddy of mine, Patrick Burke recently visited Pakistan and had more positive things to say so who knows.

8. Lagos, Nigeria
Have you ever been offered a million dollars from a Nigerian? I have… Lagos has serious problems with piracy, terrorism and kidnapping. Socially, politically and economically, this city has great steps to take before it even gets off the bottom rung of bad cities. Let’s hope it gets there – it’s on my list when I go to Africa again.

9. Cleveland, USA
The second entry for the USA, economically poor Cleveland has a major issue with drugs. Being on prime drug trafficking routes, violence is rife. Substandard housing, tragedies and high unemployment rates make this a city that often appears on “Worst Cities” lists. Although New Orleans has had also its fair share of tragedy, recovery in New Orleans is also pretty poor but I don’t want to clog this post with 3 USA cities!

10. Baghdad, Iraq
Despite the fact that I went backpacking in Iraq, I did avoid the capital city, Baghdad. Mainly as it’s still a warzone, off limits for travellers and doesn’t exactly have a hostel or a happy hour down the local just yet.

iraq backpacker

Backpacking in Iraq – but NOT in Baghdad! This was taken in Erbil, Kurdistan.

By the way, this post is a bit tongue in cheek and it’s each to their own. I know you’ll disagree with me! Safe travels everyone.

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2 thoughts on “Top 10 Worst Cities to Backpack in During 2014

  • Hello

    So first of all I have been travelling many times to Caracas when I was studying in Venezuela (this was two years ago) and although I did find the city to be dangerous your experience was very unlucky because no such thing did happen to me EVER.
    And while I was careful I did not stay locked up in my room the whole time, i actually walked around different areas, went to markets and stuff, travelled by bus and underground train…
    So overall no it’s not a nice place, its actually really chaotic and the architecture is ugly but your experience is not representative…

    Then regarding Venezuela being your “worst” experience ever, this make me seriously doubt you even saw something other that Caracas there… I have travelled for months around that country and I have found wonderful people, probably the most amazing beaches, incredible mountains and landscapes in the Gran Sabana… that I have been given to see, it’s accessible and it’s very easy to travel there with a backpack.

    And most places feel safe apart from Caracas and big cities such as San Cristobal but again being cautious during my months there avoided me any trouble…

  • Hi Matt, thanks for the comment. It was almost 6 years ago now and I had a bad time there. I was only in 3 different parts of Venezuela and experienced a lot of hostility. I have no doubt other parts are nice and safe as I have 3-4 good Venezuelan friends, but this was an honest account of a bad trip. Stay safe and happy travels. Jonny

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