FAQ: Is it safe to travel to ______ ?

I am in several women’s travel Facebook groups. Many of the questions I see by prospective solo travelers are about safety abroad. And with good reason. The media often portrays the world as a nefarious place that is out to get us. Danger at every turn, especially for women. Once you’ve ventured out, you discover it’s not quite as perilous as you’ve been led to believe. Some amount of fear and awareness is warranted, but when, and how much?

Is it safe to travel to <insert country name>? This is by far the most commonly asked question about safety abroad. I make the assumption that it is being asked in reference to one of two things: terrorism or sexual violence.

Terrorism is the specter that lurks around every corner once you step off American soil. Our obsession with terrorism abroad (specifically in Europe) keeps many people at home. The irony is that people abroad think the U.S. is wildly dangerous with our gun violence (not to mention that we are not immune to terrorism).

As an example, my Scottish boyfriend visited the U.S. for the first time last year. We were sitting in my parent’s backyard, watching the local news about the latest shooting, when a transformer exploded nearby. He freaked out and asked if we could go back inside. I laughed a little, but it just goes to show that we are not the haven of safety some people would like to believe.

Sexual violence is another story. Women are truly never safe from this. And yes, there are countries where it is more prolific and where you do not have as much recourse if something does happen. For every handful of good stories you hear about a destination, you will hear one that details your worst nightmare coming true. The worst part is that no amount of preparation or vigilance can stop it from happening if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. But my experience has led me to believe that my chances of coming to harm are the same just about anywhere I go, including staying home.

So is it safe? My answer is a resounding yes. Except. Except if the country is actively at war or has just experienced a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. A pretty good indication of a country’s safety is whether there are refugees pouring out of it. If thousands of people are being driven out, you should probably keep your distance. This is not to say you should never visit. Many countries that were dangerous even a decade ago are now open to tourism. Do your research to make sure you aren’t walking into a crisis, but otherwise do not let the media keep you at home out of fear.