The 5 Safest Countries I Have Backpacked In

easiest and safest 5 countries backpacking

My tips on the Safest 5 Countries I have backpacked in.

I’ve been asked a few times about staying safe when you travel and it’s definitely something I need and want to write more about. I’ve written some articles about this before including mostly health safety and also personal safety in South America. But I haven’t really delved into which specific countries I have found the safest, so it’s time for me to pick my personal 5 safest countries I have backpacked in. These are all from my own experiences of travelling through over 200 countries in the last 20 years.

safe countries for backpacking

My top 5 safest countries that I have backpacked in.

I based this top 5 on overall safety and my general feeling of how safe I felt there, this means those included in this list are places I felt I could trust almost all the people around me, not worry about locking my belongings up as badly as normal and generally have a feel good opinion of the people I met everywhere in the country that I went. There is also a lot of theft from fellow travellers and backpackers around the world (hang your heads in shame guys) and these 5 countries are also places where it felt there was less chance of getting something stolen from a fellow backpacker. I’ve based the list obviously on the 213 countries I’ve been to so far.

These are the main categories I considered:

– risk of burglary
– risk of theft
– risk of meeting a mass murderer
– risk of being shot
– risk of being ripped off
– risk of being mugged
– risk of being attacked
– risk of being arrested by corrupt officials
– risk of being run over by traffic
– risk of being raped
risk of being scammed
– risk of injury

Staying safe recently on a slow train through China.

Staying safe recently on a slow train through China.

If you’re a first time backpacker, it would make for a good start to try these places out first. Though I must admit that most first time backpackers head to places like England, Australia, Benin, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and France. These places are a great start too but they have too much street crime, scammers, thefts from fellow travellers, burglaries etc. So here is my top 5 safest countries to backpack in. I’m not looking at expensive or luxury travel here by the way – this is backpacking safety – as in my opinion expensive travel should have no excuse for not being safe. If you can afford to pay that much for holidays and travel, then you can afford to stay in posh hotels, lock your stuff in safes, get escorted to places and even take taxis and even have personal guards. As a budget backpacker, long term, I keep my costs low. Here’s the magic five:

1. Iran
Iran is by far and away the most welcoming and safe country I have ever been to. It’s a complete backpacker’s dream! The people are just so friendly, it’s ridiculous. We got invited to 4 or 5 family homes for tea, dinner and to stay over. The warmth, genorosity and welcoming nature of Iranians puts the rest of the world to shame! At one of the hotels we stayed in, I went to the reception to leave my laptop in while we went out sightseeing, and the owner told me “nobody will steal it – this is Iran!”. The streets are safe, the buses are safe and this is probably the safest country I have ever been to. I’ve never met anyone who will disagree with this. Get Iran on your list before it becomes full of backpackers.

safe and friendly country iran

At home with the lads in Shahr-e Kord in Iran. Probably the safest and friendliest country I’ve ever visited.

2. North Korea
Forget all this perception that North Korea is “dangerous”. I’ve heard it way too many times before and it’s just not true. It’s ridiculous. In fact it disgusts me – South Korea is in fact more dangerous, by a long shot. When you go to North Korea, you are treated like Kings, given total respect and looked after. The hospitality is immense. None of the locals would ever want to steal your belongings. I left stuff lying out in my hotel room all day every day, left things in the bus, even left a camera in a bar at one point and nothing was stolen or would it ever be likely to be. The people are brought up to be honest and hard working. You also won’t see tramps or beggars on the streets – it’s frowned upon.

safe cities pyongyang

North Korea: backpacking in Pyongyang – easily one of the safest cities I’ve ever been to.

And in terms of security threat – zero. This is a totally safe country to travel around. Check out some of my posts on backpacking in Kaesong, drinking in Pyongyang and attending the Mass Games. Even better – head to North Korea yourself and get a cool 5% discount by quoting Don’t Stop Living!

3. United Arab Emirates
I admit that the United Arab Emirates is not one of my favourite countries to have visited, but I loved the safety element of it. I didn’t see any sort of crime there. ANY! That’s not to say it doesn’t exist – it’s just a wealthy country and people seem to have developed a mutual respect for one and other. Walk around the malls, the beaches etc. and it’s very unlikely you’ll be attacked or witness a mugging.

top 5 safest countries

Backpacking in Dubai, United Arab Emirates: one of my 5 safest countries to backpack in.

In retrospect, the country has its critics due to its glammed up supercities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but I feel the place could grow on me and I promise I will write about my visit at some point.

4. Singapore
This is Asia’s sure fire safety option. When you cross from Malaysia to Singapore by train you will realise just how different this place is. Squeaky clean, safe, full of business types and similarly to Dubai it has an air of safety about it. Even drinking water or chewing gum in the metro is frowned upon by some locals. This to me means – they’re not going to steal your handbag or become a pick pocket.

safety in singapore

Backpacking in Singapore – safe as houses my friends and makes the top 5.

5. New Zealand
This last one on the list was the hardest to pick, and I know some of you will get back to me and say that there is some crime here and there are a load of crazy UNSAFE activities around. Yes, New Zealand has some crime, but generally the crime is from immigrants and fellow backpackers. Local people are friendly to the core. They care about visitors to their country and they are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. And as for the unsafe crazy activities like bungy jumping and sky-diving, these are safer than you think and it’s your personal choice whether to do them or not, my list is kind of about the safety of the actual country on an everyday basis.

sky diving in new zealand

Top 5 Safest Countries to backpack in – yes, New Zealand makes it in despite all these crazy adventure sports.

Compared with nearby Australia, New Zealand is a really safe place. If you’re interested in relocating or getting a Working Holiday Visa for New Zealand, please check out my friend Abbi’s top class blog Life in a Rucksack which covers the diverse ins and outs of living on this wonderful set of islands.

staying safe in iraq

Stay safe on your travels my friends!

So guys and girls – that’s my top 5 – no room for Europe, North or South America or Africa on this list just yet. Get your backpacks on and stay safe please – remember to lock up your belongings and try to trust no-one you meet. These are the five countries I’ve been to where I felt safest and less risk of any danger on my travels. I’m pretty sure anyone else who has been to these places will agree they are safe spots.

Safe travels!

18 thoughts on “The 5 Safest Countries I Have Backpacked In

  • Quite frankly, none of these Top 5 surprise me, especially North Korea and Iran. Will be looking forward to reading more of your forthcoming United Arab Emirates stories!

  • Thanks for the comment yeah – these are easily the safest 4, and then New Zealand made it into the top 5 just ahead of Taiwan, San Marino and Hong Kong (pretty safe to be honest but still has that slight China influence within it). No matter what though, people will always head to places like Thailand and Australia first – and while they are “westernised” and fairly safe, just be aware of scams, rip offs, burglary and fellow backpacker theft in those parts. All of which I’ve experienced first hand.

    I’m starting a Dubai post in the next few days.

    Safe travels.


  • Thanks for the comment Megan – I think Ray was saying the opposite though – that these didn’t surprise him?? Most backpackers that have been to Iran will agree it’s far and away the safest country to travel in (Graham Hughes that did every country in the world also cited Iran as the safest and friendliest). I haven’t done my 5 unsafest places yet but for sure I’d stick Venezuela and South Africa in there though I’m not sure I want to compile that list! Safe travels, Jonny

  • Correct, Jonny. I did say that neither Iran nor North Korea surprised me as part of your Top 5 Safest Countries list. I think part of that has to do with the fact that I have also watched travel documentaries on North Korea before – aside from your blog – so I know it is rigid, but safe, and I am aware of some of the harsh punishments that Iran has for thieves, rapists, etc.

    Anything “negative” you see in the media about either of these two countries are about their respective Governments and not their people. So, kudos to you for getting the most of these two countries and sharing your stories with us!
    Ray recently posted…Livin’ On the EdgeMy Profile

  • Thanks for the comment Colleen! Top 4 were easy to pick – far and away the safest places I’ve been so far. I’m not sure I’ll ever visit a country as safe or friendly as Iran again but we shall see. Safe travels. Jonny

  • Interesting choices there. It doesn’t surprise me though, as the press love to demonize some nations instead of showing what they’re really like. It’s a real shame though that countries with the friendliest people miss out. You also mentioned Thailand as not being so safe, which I agree with to some extent. but I’d also add that while people do want to be safe when they travel, it’s often not their number one priority. I wish Thailand was safer, especially on the roads here, but t does have lots to offer, which is why I’m based here.
    Mike Santos recently posted…Bangkok Streets – Pan Road, SilomMy Profile

  • Thanks Mike – yeah Thailand in general is fairly cheap and safe, as is Laos and Malaysia. It’s just all the scams, the odd theft and of course the traffic as you mention that mean it doesn’t make the list. I backpacked through about 10 countries in South America a few years ago and even Uruguay, the most safe is still a higher crime rate than the likes of Thailand, Germany etc. Safe travels. Jonny

  • Thanks for the comment Empty Rucksack! I’m sure you’ll get to them eventually – it’s not always about being safe though. Wow – Thailand for safest?? Loads of scams, crazy traffic and too many other backpackers about in my opinion! I always pop through Bangkok for a few jars though! Safe travels. Jonny

  • Very interesting choices. I wasn’t expecting to see some of the places you picked (but what I know about those places, right?). I have traveled thru Central and South America using public resources as much as possible. I haven’t really felt in danger in any of those countries (some of which don’t have a good fame). So, it depends a lot on being aware and knowing where you should be. However, it is cool to learn about some places where you don’t even have to think about safety because it is a given.
    Ruth recently posted…500 Things to be Grateful ForMy Profile

  • Hi Ruth, thanks for your comment! From my own experience there is no way anywhere in Europe or South America could get on a top 5 safest countries list!! Ive been to over 40 countries in those two regions and there is theft, rape, burglary and attacks happening in them all!! You’ll never have any danger in places like Iran, North Korea, Singapore or UAE. Like I say you can leave your laptop lying around in hotels, you won’t get ripped off by market sellers or taxi drivers, rape is almost non existent and nobody ever gets attacked, no fights when the pubs shut either! New Zealand is not quite as safe but it’s definitely safer than South America, I assure you! Safe travels, Jonny

  • Another great post, Jonny and a very surprising list indeed. We haven’t been to North Korea and I don’t doubt the locals’ hospitality but how about the authorities? I’ve always imagined that in NK you wouldn’t feel safe just because you would never be able to trust the police and they would confiscate your camera as soon as you pull it out to take some photos.
    Similar stories I’ve heard about Iranian border police, that they often check what’s on your camera and if they don’t like it they take it off you. I’ve also heard a story of a male hitchhiker being attacked by a truck driver who tried to rape him (in Iran too). Nevertheless, I have also heard from more than one source that Iran is safe and every Iranian I have ever met was amazingly friendly, so I expect only good things to happen to us when we hitchhike Iran and Central Asia this year!

  • Hi,
    Those stories surprise me completely. North Korea doesn’t have many photo restrictions in fact – that’s all a myth and I was sure of that before I went there, just had to prove it for myself. The tour guides want photos with you so do the locals. There are no police about – mostly just army – they don’t need police – people don’t really steal (largely because there is nothing much TO STEAL). Same rules in places like England, USA, Australia etc. apply i.e. dont walk up to soldiers and take photos of them (a given in any country) and you can’t take photos inside the Mausoleum of Kim Il Sung. Apart from that I had 1,500 photos from 6 days in the country!! Plus about 300 videos.

    Yet when we were in the DMZ in South Korea they were VERY strict. We drank a beer on the North Korea side, but on the South Korea side you weren’t even allowed a bottle of water, nor could you take photos facing south for some reason.

    The Iranian border police were SO friendly to us (we crossed into Bazargan, from Gurbulak in Turkey) it was like “Welcome to Iran, how are you?” etc. Perhaps the border to Pakistan and Afghanistan may have more dangers but I’ve never heard of that either. Iranians are BY FAR the friendliest and most welcoming nationality I have ever come across. Message me back after your trip and I’m 95% sure you will agree with me about Iran 😉 Safe travels. Jonny

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