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When planning a trip, I like to make sure I will feel safe enough (I am talking about war/terrorism risk, not pickpockets), or at least I like to have an idea about the risks. I know the risk could be subject to political views (for example the political stability of a region might not be acknowledged by every country) and therefore I am mostly interested in a Western country view.

In order to figure that, I thought about checking travel operators offers. I suppose if they do not organise trips to a specific region, it might be due to political instability risks. But it might be due to a lack of tourist interest too. As I tend to travel without their help, I am not really considering this kind of source as very helpful.

So I am interested in one (or two, for cross-checking) source(s) of information with a western view (I mean I understand the view could be biased) regarding the security of ideally any area in the world. My expectation is that, the same way I can browse a tour operator's catalog of visited areas, I could browse through the areas and see if it is recommended or not to travel there.

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Many "Western" countries provide travel advice to their citizens. To give some English-language examples, the US state department provides ongoing events alerts here as well as more general, less frequently updated advice about travel to a country. The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office also provides a very complete advice page for pretty much all countries of the world. "Travel Advice" seems to be the english language search term.

Each FCO country page consists of several sections. The initial landing page, provides a general overview of the country in question, and may contain a map like this:

FCO advice map of Nigeria

Image by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, available under the OGL License

Which indicates different levels of perceived hazard in different regions of the country, between "See travel advice", "advise against all but essential travel" and "advise against all travel". Sometimes an entire country may be issued with one of the higher level warnings.

The rest of the page for each country covers these areas

  • Terrorism
  • Safety and security
  • Local laws and customs
  • Entry requirements
  • Health
  • Money

Emphasis is mine on those sections that may be relevant to safety concerns. To their credit, the FCO advice on safety often makes a point of considering the relative danger of travel (road especially, but also other forms) and popular tourists attractions, which in the vast majority of destinations represent a much greater threat to travellers than the (thankfully rare) incidents of terrorism.

Another issue which deserves attention is concerns about infectious diseases - along with the dangers of road travel, these tend to be a more significant cause of hazard to travellers than violence. The FCO site will point towards the current UK website for such information (it seems to change quite often). The US CDC also provides a useful page for regarding health concerns. Where possible, try to find health advice from government agencies of your nation, as it will be tailored to the vaccination schedule and typically encountered hazards in your environment, rather than others.

With all these risks, it can be useful to compare to advice given regarding your own place of residence - it may be that despite warnings, it is safer at your intended destination (in some ways at least) than at home. For example, most US residents will find the rate of deaths and serious injuries from road collisions much lower across many potential destinations, especially western Europe. Equally, even in some areas of elevated terrorism risk, the risk from other violent crime can be much lower than some areas considered safe from terrorism.

Finally, it is worth noting that despite all this available advice and planning, terrorism especially, much like natural disasters, are difficult to predict. There are more frequent (and damaging) in some places than others, but none of these sources of advice are omniscient, and inevitably a lot of the advice they provide is reactive. It is ultimately upon the traveller themselves to assess the risks they will face when travelling, compare them to the risks they take at home, and make a judgement about what level of hazard is acceptable to them personally. Remember there is no such thing as strictly "safe" or "unsafe" - merely different levels of risk (and consequence), and the sober assessment of such risks may differ considerably from immediate emotional assessment. (Most people tend to dramatically over-prioritize risk from violence, and dramatically under-prioritize transport risks, for example.)

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    +1 for linking to the FCO travel advisories. I find them better than other countries' equivalent sites. However in my opinion, the FCO advice errs towards being over-cautious, and I have sometimes chosen to ignore the advice and have felt safe in doing so. If you do that, the key thing is to understand why they are advising as they are, so that you know how to reduce the risk. That might mean refraining from certain activities or hiring a local guide. – Richard Smith Dec 14 '15 at 16:30
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    I always presume that the FCO's main aim with this advice is to avoid having to give consular support, and it's something of an act of restraint to not just say "please, stay at home". – CMaster Dec 14 '15 at 16:38
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    One resource for German speaking users is: auswaertiges-amt.de/DE/Laenderinformationen/… – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica Dec 14 '15 at 21:42
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    @CMaster: The FCO is well aware of the temptation to say "Everywhere has some danger" and tries to keep the advisories at a sensible level. But it is unavoidable that somebody who travels uneventfully despite an advisory will be as mildly disparaging as yourself, whereas an actual problem that the FCO did not warn of will bring everything from insults on Twitter to a Royal Commission. In niether case does anyone ask what could have been foreseen. – Tim Lymington supports Monica Dec 14 '15 at 22:28
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In this day and age, the ugly arm of terrorism can reach into any country at any time. Even countries deemed to be safe can be unsafe at an unfortunate moment in time. Speaking as a tour operator, I think most of us plan our trips to go to places deemed safe to visit. We look at risks, weigh the significance of visiting the country versus the risks and downsides before offering a new trip and usually have a Plan B in place in case things go awry.

But the fact that a country is not in our brochure is not an automatic indication of being unsafe, far more destinations are crossed off our lists for being unpopular than are crossed off for being unsafe.

But of course, you the consumer need to convince yourself of that fact. Most of the western governments have websites with travel advice and known risks that cover most every country on the planet. USA, Canada, UK, Australia, etc all have such websites to start your researching. They tend to err on the side of caution, but comparing details between them can give an idea of risks.

Travel blogger sites tend not to be a good reference, as the majority of bloggers have only been to the destination once or twice and so have limited experience with the long term stability (or lack there of) and overall safety of the area.

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    This would be a better answer with a link to some of the resources you mention, and perhaps examples of the advice they provide – Kate Gregory Dec 14 '15 at 12:36
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    Are the tech oriented visitors here incapable of searching a bit on their own? Google for "Government Travel Websites" and viola on page one UK - www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice, Australia - smartraveller.gov.au/, USA - travel.state.gov/, Canada - travel.gc.ca/, NZ - www.safetravel.govt.nz/ – user13044 Dec 15 '15 at 1:04
  • The attacks in Paris prove this. America was thought to be safe when the twin towers went down and when the boston bombings happened. The UK was thought to be safe when the July 7th bombings happened and with the more recent but less severe tunnel attack. I'm sure other otherwise 'safe' countries have had similar, though obviously attacks are less frequent for such countries. – Pharap Dec 15 '15 at 3:06
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    @Pharap - I'm not sure those so-called counter examples really are. When you consider the frequency and relative loss of life in terrorist incidents in all those countries, the actual risk to a traveller is vanishingly small. Which is a real contrast to some other states where attacks are relativley frequent, if not commonplace. – CMaster Dec 15 '15 at 9:25
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Similar to the UK travel advise described in this answer, there is a website of the australian foreign affeirs : http://smartraveller.gov.au/countries/, which provides quite useful information about each country.

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There is a detailed and very useful travel advice for several countries by the German Auswärtiges Amt (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). They are up to date and very sensitive towards security. They also provide medical and general advice for travelers in many languages.

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