Not all can enjoy carefree days of “crossing the street and walking into sunshine” Gilbert-style (circa Eat, Pray, Love) in a foreign place rich with cultures unknown to you. And, if you miss a step or do something that doesn’t really agree with the locals, you pay the price, more so if you are a woman. Though crime has reached almost every doorstep and women are not safe even in their hometown, there are certain places in this world that demand special kind of survival instincts in a woman venturing out on her own.
Besides the “avoid under all circumstances” list of countries that include Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria, for the sole purpose of spreading awareness among women travellers, The International Women’s Travel Centre has compiled a list of the 10 most unsafe countries for women to visit in the world. The list is not exhaustive though and this caution is meant to make you mindful of the need for some preparation and prior knowledge of the local culture and vibes before setting out with your loaded backpack.
Recent sporadic incidents of sexual assaults on foreign tourists in the capital city, New Delhi, has earned India a bad reputation in the international community. However, the government is determined to make it safe for travellers. Plenty of solo women travellers have travelled extensively in India and shared their heart rendering experiences online.
Since the revolution of 2011, the number of women tourists visiting Egypt have dwindled due to unprecedented increase in sexual violence against women. It is, however, safer for women to travel in groups with local tour operators.
While millions of tourists, especially Americans, throng the beaches of Mexico every year, incidents of lawlessness are common in the country. The government is quite vigilant in the tourist hot-spots, yet violence persists against women.
The country of Samba dance, carnivals and never-ending parties is turning more and more dangerous for the woman backpacker. Widespread violence led by gangs and abusive police destroys the beautiful image conjured up by tourists. Gun-point robberies and gender-biased problems are prevalent in the country.
The brutal murder of beauty queen Miss Honduras and her sister in 2014 had sent shockwaves across the world. The Department of State in the US continues to warn its citizens about the pathetic law and order situation in this beautiful country. Group travel is highly recommended in Honduras.
While the mystic Serengeti beckons the traveller to rush into its arms, danger doesn’t just lurk in the wilderness. United Nations Development Fund for Women reports, “women of all ages, education levels, and social groups, in rural and urban settings are subjected to violence in Kenya.” You are strictly advised not to venture on your own and always travel with the group tour operators, if travelling solo.
As the conflict-torn nation mops up its troubled past, its doors are opening to tourists worldwide. Unfortunately, sexual violence against women remains rampant in Columbia, besides the fact that the transport system in its Capital city, Bogota, is voted the most dangerous in the world! US travel writer Kim Meritt, however, paints a very different and positive picture of this country in her blog. She says, “the Colombians I met were some of the warmest, most inviting people I’ve met in all of my travels. Not only were they proud to share their country’s history and culture, they also seemed genuinely welcoming and intrigued as to why a woman was out traveling on her own.” Now that’s reassuring, right?
8. Papua New Guinea
Every government has issued warnings about the dangers of travelling in this island country. Due to violent crimes and the potential for civil unrest, it would seem that tourists, especially women, are better off going elsewhere. However, you will miss the opportunity to see one of the world’s most naturally beautiful countries. Even at the cost of staying on the beaten track, you could still enjoy the tribal life and vast natural beauty the country has to offer if you hire authentic guides and stay with the limited number of tour operators. This becomes specially significant while hiking as unexploded ordnance from WWII still exists in Papua New Guinea .
9. Saudi Arabia
Though it may seem a bit surprising that a wealthy and well-developed country like Saudi Arabia could be unwelcoming for women travellers, conservative social practices and customs based on Islamic law make solo travel difficult for women. Women traveling alone are not allowed to enter the country unless they will be met at the airport by a husband, a sponsor or male relative. You (women) should dress conservatively (ankle-length dresses with long sleeves and not pants) and never show any public display of affection. What more, if you are a woman traveling with a man who is not your husband, sponsor or a male relative, you can be arrested for violating the Islamic code!
Over the years, horror stories of corruption, assault, muggings and kidnappings from countless female travellers have put Venezuela in very poor light. Mosquito-borne Zika virus, too, is endangering the tourism industry in this beautiful country. Under the circumstances, it would be hard to justify a trip down to this turbulent, yet fascinating country. However, if you avoid Caracas and Valencia as well as stay indoors during the evenings, you would be comparatively safe in Venezuela. Women must stay away from the poorer pockets of the country at all cost.Also, be vigilant when in crowded cities, as pickpockets and muggers may be around.
Few other countries that do not figure in the top 10 list but are equally unsafe for women include South Africa, Turkey, Morocco and Thailand.
Based on numerous reports from woman travellers and bloggers posted in the recent years as well as a poll conducted by YouGov in 2014 for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, here’s a curated list of the cities with the most unsafe transportation systems as shown in the map below (Bogota, Columbia being in #1 position, New Delhi, India in #4 and New York, USA holding #16 position)
Blogger and frequent traveller Amanda Williams advises female travellers to use their common sense. “I would say to women just be smart and listen to your gut. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home – don’t drink too much alone, don’t go wandering alone at night, don’t go home with strangers, and read up on common scams.”
In an interview with HuffPost UK Lifestyle, traveller and blogger Lisa Edwards says that assuming you are in danger (when you re actually not!) is quite counterproductive. She says, “The only times I’ve particularly felt unsafe while travelling were when I had let my preconceptions about a country fuel my fears. I have been holidaying alone for nearly five years and taking those first steps into a Thai town, a Turkish city or an Egyptian village are incredibly scary…I once allowed myself to believe I’d been drugged in a shop in Dahab by a shopkeeper, when in fact it was probably a panic attack brought on by fear. Similarly in Kenya, a scary group of men on motorbikes I kept seeing when out running on my own turned out to be a taxi rank.”
While it is good to know about the places where danger lurks round the corner, it doesn’t hurt to throw caution to the wind and enjoy few of the world’s finest and most vibrant cities (or even countries mentioned in the above list). Just avoid geo-tagging and try to venture out in small groups after dark, not to mention the virtues of dressing sensibly!