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In How do I know if it's safe to travel to a country at a specific time? , the main suggestion for determining the safety of travel to a certain country are travel advice agencies run by governments.

This may be good for advice about which countries to expect hypothermia in, and which countries to expect heat stroke, but is there the risk of sites not mentioning certain risks due to political interference?

For example, I assume most government travel advice sites will have information on the radiation situation in Japan. But a lot of people (including Japanese citizens) distrust the Japanese government, and I wouldn't be surprised if they suspect the government of not only being willing to misinform its own citizens, but also being willing to stop other governments from providing accurate information about the safety of visiting Japan. (Though they haven't stopped safecast.org from operating)

Another potential source of information are travel guides. But they may have a conflict of interest, in that if they describe a country as being unsafe to travel to, people may decide not to buy guidebooks for that country.

Yet another potential source of information is mainstream media news reports. I don't really trust them, because they may be biased because of the owners, staff or target audience, and also sensationalistic but inaccurate reporting may be good for sales. Also, they may accept money for tourism advertising, which would be another source of conflict of interest.

How well founded are these concerns? Are there alternatives, such as well-funded and professional online resources solely dedicated to the safety of destinations?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

While there is no way to know this for every case, it depends which government. A government is likely to play down issues in their own country and exaggerate that in others.

The exaggeration is partly to protect themselves and partly because the situation of an entire country can rarely be described in a few pages. So, while a report can recommend to avoid a country entirely due to violence, it may be isolated to only some areas far off from where you will be visiting.

The more information sources you read, the better chance you will have of having an accurate idea. I would correlate issues mentioned in government reports with events in the media to check if they are indeed still relevant.

For example, the Government of Canada has travel advisories for a number of countries which describe issues in quite some details. There is both a publication and a valid-until date but neither says when the information was gathered.

Guidebooks tend to err on the side of caution and are rarely updated, so that is the information I found the least accurate, despite them often knowing about the best hotels and restaurants well because those tend to change less.

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+1 for the 1st paragraph! –  NWS Mar 22 '13 at 12:34
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Government travel advisories tend to exaggerate due to differences in perspective with an individual traveller. If something bad happens to one traveller in 10000, you probably don't need to worry about it too much, even if you travel all the time, disregarding any advisories. On the other hand, if there are 50000 travellers a year from your country to that particular destination, something bad will probably happen to a few of them, and that tends to make the news. –  Jouni Sirén Mar 24 '13 at 16:58
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I know it's a far stretch, and I am probably the only person visiting the site, but there is a website I found where one can directly ask questions like that.

But jokes aside:

  • Your local embassy in the respective country should be a good source. If you are really concerned about a specific risk (like rape in India, radiation in Japan, kidnapping in Brazil), I would consider it highly to call the embassy and inquire directly on the issue. I would NOT expect them however to have a website that lists up all the dangers of their host country.

  • Newspapers and their recent reports are tricky, specially ones from abroad. Some crimes are so prevalent in a country that foreign media simply do not report them anymore.

  • Websites: Google "Crime stats [country]" and Wikipedia are really good sources. While they might not give you the data from last Saturday, I consider them a great resource to compare your safety to other places that I know personally.

I think the biggest issue with this type of information is the diversity that can exist in a country together with the diversity of travelers. Example: Japanese tourists abroad are much more likely to be victims of fraud committed by other Japanese citizens since they are overly trusted due to the generally poor language skills of Japanese tourists. Also it was reported that someone in Hong Kong, which I consider one of the safest places on earth, was mugged last year after somehow revealing in a bar that he had a lot of cash on him. So who you are and exactly where in a country you go might have a huge impact on how dangerous it actually is, be it environmentally or crime-related.

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