juliamhammond

Pick somewhere safe for your travels this year

In a world where, sadly, incidents of terrorism and violent crime are all too common, it can be a worrying proposition to plan a trip outside a familiar environment.  Ongoing conflicts and political uncertainty place too many countries strictly off-limits for the time being at least, including destinations to which I’ve enjoyed peaceful holidays in the past, like Syria and Ukraine.

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A tranquil scene in Hama, Syria photographed in 2010

According to the 2016 Global Peace Index, seven out of the top ten safest destinations for travellers are in Europe.  Iceland, one of the world’s most fashionable must-sees right now, takes the top spot, with Denmark and Austria snapping at its heels.

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The Sun Voyager statue, Reykjavik

For a full list of countries you can view the entire report here:

http://static.visionofhumanity.org/sites/default/files/GPI%202016%20Report_2.pdf

The Economist’s Intelligence Unit creates its own list based on perceptions and reality in fifty of the world’s cities.  It’s not as comprehensive a report but it does give an interesting insight into the situation in some of the world’s most influential and populous cities.  In 2015, Tokyo was deemed the safest of the cities investigated, closely followed by Singapore and Osaka, demonstrating that Europe doesn’t have a monopoly on safe travel.

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Tokyo: safe doesn’t have to be boring

See the report here:

http://www.nec.com/en/global/solutions/safety/Event/EIU_Index/PDF/EIU_Safe_Cities_Index_2015_white_paper-1.pdf

Sometimes, perceptions can be very different to reality.  I made my fourth trip to Lima in 2014 and felt much safer than when I first visited in 1995 (and definitely safer than when I was almost mugged there in 2006).  Yet The Economist places the Peruvian capital at number 38 (out of 50) on its summary list.  I spent the majority of time during my last visit in the prosperous Barranco and Miraflores districts, which might go some way to explaining the discrepancy.

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Lima coastal view

So what can you do to ensure you don’t unwittingly stumble into trouble?

Read government advice before you travel

If I’m planning a trip somewhere, I make this one of my first ports of call at the research stage so that I can make a considered decision as to whether I’m happy to put myself in that country.  Sometimes, it’s as much a case of being prepared as being put off; if there’s an upcoming election for example, I might make sure I’m not in a large city in case the losing side get a bit shirty. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office maintain a comprehensive listing of travel advice by country here:

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

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Carnival queen, Jacmel

Utilise social media

While travelling in Haiti last winter, I found Twitter an invaluable source of information as an unfolding labour dispute saw taxi drivers take to the street to blockade roads and set fire to piles of tyres.  I was able to keep abreast of events happening in the capital Port au Prince and judge when it was safe to make the minibus journey back from the sleepy coffee town of Jacmel where I’d holed up to experience Carnaval.

Get advice from people who’ve just been there

The internet’s home to many forums specialising in travel and by posting for advice on a destination you’re hoping to visit you can tap into a wealth of information.  Try forums such as Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree or myWanderlust whose regular posters are usually more than happy to help.

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Residenzplatz, one of Salzburg’s prettiest corners

Trust your instincts

Finally, if something doesn’t feel quite right, go with your gut.  That might mean you move on from a place that has a dodgy vibe or it might mean you shelve that trip for another time.  After all, there’s always Austria…

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