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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.