How Do You Decide If A Travel Destination Is “Safe?”


I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, though I’m curious how others approach this topic…

My general philosophy on travel & safety

For many people, safety is a major concern when traveling. When planning travel, they may have concerns about the safety of the airline they’re flying with, as well as concerns over the destination they’re traveling to. Having flown millions of miles and having visited 100+ countries, here’s my general philosophy:

  • I don’t put any thought into airline safety, and am happy to fly any airline; that simply comes down to relative risk, and that even the least “safe” airline is safer than other forms of transportation
  • I’ve visited around 100 countries, and when traveling solo I tend to think that a vast majority of destinations are safe, especially if you just apply common sense and take some basic precautions (don’t have anything flashy, be careful where you walk, research scams in advance, etc.)

Admittedly everyone has different standards as to what’s “safe” and what isn’t. In terms of destination safety, there’s a big difference between Dubai, Paris, Sao Paulo, and Mogadishu, for example (roughly in that order).

Speaking of people having different standards, I have family friends who will always get in touch prior to booking a flight to ask if a particular airline is safe. “Is British Airways safe?” “Is Norwegian safe?” “Is JetBlue safe?” I always answer “yes,” of course, yet they keep asking. It just shows how we all have different standards when it comes to this stuff.

We all have different standards when it comes to travel safety

The challenge with researching destination safety

Let me pose my question in the form of an example. I’m considering two different trips that would take me through Abidjan, Ivory Coast (ABJ), and Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia (VVI). I could just connect right through, or I could spend a day or two in each destination. Personally I always enjoy checking out a place I haven’t been to before for at least a day or two.

But of course I also don’t want to be totally reckless, or at a minimum, want to know what I’m getting myself into in terms of the precautions I should take. Can I just (carefully) roam the streets in the daytime? Should I hire a guide? Should I arrange airport transfers in advance? Is that sufficient?

While the internet is an amazing resource in general, I sometimes find it’s not terribly useful when it comes to establishing the relative risk of a destination:

  • Travel warnings are often overly cautious for destinations that I find to be quite safe, and that sometimes makes it tricky to determine if a destination is actually higher risk, or just has the typical disclaimers
  • While there are some online message boards talking about safety of various destinations, it can sometimes be hard to figure out if the people have a similar risk tolerance to you; some people seem overly cautious, while others will go anywhere
  • It seems that when you Google “is [insert destination] safe?” the answer is almost always the same, and mentions that there is at times violent crime, to remain vigilant, etc.

That brings me to my overall question for OMAAT readers — how do you decide if a destination is safe to visit, whether you’re planning it as a destination, or just as an extended stopover where you leave the airport? I’d of course welcome thoughts specifically on the above cities, but I’m more curious about the thought process that people use.

It can be tough to research destination safety

Bottom line

Most people consider safety when traveling to an off the beaten path destination. This is one of the things that it’s surprisingly tough to research, though, given that that everyone has different standards when it comes to safety, and government travel warnings often aren’t very useful.

So I’d love to hear from OMAAT readers on this — how do you go about deciding what precautions you’ll take when traveling, based on the destination?


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