The fear of danger is one of the reasons that makes round-the-world (RTW) travellers think twice about setting off on their trip. When making your itinerary, it’s important to know the risk you run when visiting each country. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the different dangers which travellers might face and tell you which precautions to take.
The first step you should take to find out about the travel risks associated with a particular country is to look up the US Travel Advisories on the Travel.Sate.Gov website and the UK Foreign Travel Advice on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) website.
The Travel Advisories classifies travel to each country in the world according to four levels of danger: 1. Exercise Normal Precautions 2. Exercise Increased Caution 3. Reconsider Travel 4. Do Not Travel. They also have a colour-coded world map that is regularly updated. It precisely pinpoints embassy and consulate locations and it categorises countries according to seven different travel advisory levels. These include the four levels of danger mentioned above, plus three extra cautions when areas in 1, 2 and 4 contain a “Higher Security Risk”.
The Foreign Travel Advice classifies travel to countries abroad according to 3 levels of danger. Each country will be labelled as: 1. Against all travel 2. All but essential travel 3. No travel restrictions. For higher risk countries, you’ll also find colour-coded maps that highlight whether it’s safe, or not, to travel.
You’ll then need to decide how far you’re prepared to go based on the potential risks.
Reading the travel advice on these pages can be quite worrying. Indeed, even for countries that seem safe, the website often highlights threatening risks. However, you should bear in mind that its aim is to identify, as comprehensively as possible, all the potential dangers linked to each country. Therefore, take it with a pinch of salt.
Similar services are available for other English-speaking countries:
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free and voluntary service from the US Department of State that allows you to record information about your trip abroad that can be used to contact you, and provide assistance, in an emergency. Once you’ve registered on their website:
Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland also offer similar services for their citizens.
The UK closed its ”Locate” service in 2013. For British citizens travelling abroad, it’s a good idea to regularly check the FCDO travel advice to stay informed. You can even subscribe to email alerts, and follow FCDO Travel on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates.
In the event of a problem, US and UK citizens can count on consulates in most countries to help them get through it. They can:
However, consulates can’t:
Therefore, it’s essential to have enough money in your account to be able to face a potential hard blow and, of course, take out travel insurance. See our travel insurance comparison
You can find out more information about the role of consulates on the following websites: Diplomacy.State.Gov for US nationals and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for UK nationals.
You can also look up embassies and consulates by destination for American, British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealanders and Irish citizens abroad.
We carried out a big study between 14th and 16th November 2017, amongst 530 RTW travellers. We asked them if they’d been a victim of accidents, theft and / or assault during their trip. We’ll refer to this a lot in this article. Find out more about our Methodology here
|Country||Number of travellers who visited the country||Number of travellers victims of theft||Percentage of travellers victims of theft||Number of travellers victims of an accident||Percentage of travellers victims of an accident||Number of travellers victims of assault||Percentage of travellers victims of assault|
|Central African Republic||1||0||0%||0||0%||0||0%|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||1||0||0%||0||0%||0||0%|
|Papua New Guinea||2||0||0%||0||0%||0||0%|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||8||0||0%||0||0%||0||0%|
|Trinidad and Tobego||2||0||0%||0||0%||0||0%|
|United Arab States||19||0||0%||0||0%||0||0%|
|Total Africa & Middle East||5||5||2|
Aside from illnesses we talk about in our article on travel health and vaccines, accidents are the main reason why RTW travellers use their travel insurance. This is a risk that is too often underestimated by travellers. About three quarters of these accidents are road traffic accidents. Most other accidents happen during sports activities: trekking, horse riding, diving, skiing…
Source: Wikipedia, road accident mortality rates per 100,000 inhabitants per year (data World Health Organization between 2013 to 2016)
On a RTW trip, motorbikes and scooters are by far the leading cause of injury. In Southeast Asia, motorbikes and scooters are the main means of transport. Many travellers rent them to get around freely in cities and in the countryside. Lots of them, who aren’t used to doing it at home, fall and injure themselves, sometimes quite badly.
When you’re on a scooter, watch out for unpaved roads
The second leading cause of accidents is buses. Most of the time, these aren’t very serious accidents, and they’re mostly in minibuses / vans. The drivers of these vehicles are sometimes forced to work long hours to earn a living and often drive when they’re tired, or even drunk. Long-distance buses are usually safer.
In Nepal, bus drivers are sometimes a little crazy behind the wheel!
RTW travellers who travel in Asia, Africa or Latin America often go with all the gear (camera, smartphone, laptop…) which amounts to many months’ salary in lots of countries. Not only can this attract the locals’ attention, but also that of other travellers.
The rates are also significantly higher than those recorded by the Office for National Statistics’s (ONS) Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (TCSEW). In this survey, 8.6% of the respondents aged 18 and above reported being a victim of theft in England and Wales between May 2020 and March 2021.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that England and Wales are safer because, when we travel, we visit much more touristy areas which are full of pickpockets.
You’ll meet lots of new people on your trip. The majority of them will be friendly. Even though there’s a real risk of being assaulted whilst travelling, you mustn’t let the fear of this stop you.
If you’re aware that this risk exists and you accept from the outset that you might get assaulted during your RTW trip, you can still make the most of it by simply taking the necessary precautions and not worrying too much.
The possibility of being assaulted with a weapon, or even without, is cause for concern. But, in reality, while assault in some cases can be quite a traumatic experience, usually no one gets hurt.
Attackers very rarely act for the pleasure of physical violence. They mostly use threats and intimidation to steal something from travellers.
These rates are distinctly higher than those recorded by the ONS’ TCSEW, in which 1.8% of the survey respondents aged 18 and above reported being a victim of violence (including all kinds) from May 2020 to March 2021. In the same survey, the percentage of theft from a person was at 0.5%.
Once again, these figures don’t necessarily mean that England and Wales are safer, because we spend a lot more time in the street when travelling.
In more than 80% of rape cases, the victims knew their attacker well. When your travelling, you’re far away from these people, therefore there’s a lower chance that you’ll be a victim of this.
But sexual assault doesn’t just concern rape. When travelling, sexual assault mostly involves touching the thighs, breasts or bottom whilst on transport and in the street. Sometimes, but this is rare, it involves non-consensual kissing or voyeurism.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), estimated 2.9% of women and 0.7% of men aged 16 to 74 years experienced sexual assault (including attempts) from February 2019 to March 2020.
The CSEW study states that men and women aged 16 to 30 years were much more likely to be victims of sexual assault.
As the average travellers on a round-the-world trip is under 30 years old we can estimate that the results of this study and of ours are probably quite similar for this age group.
Considering all this it seems that the risk of being sexually assaulted is not higher when travelling around the world than in normal daily life.
All of the above tips for avoiding assault can also apply to preventing sexual assault. We can also add the following advice:
In the event of harassment or attempted sexual assault:
In some countries, cannabis is very easy to get. But that doesn’t mean that you can casually smoke it. Just because it’s easy to find doesn’t mean that buying and smoking it in public isn’t looked down upon by locals. Above all, the fact that it’s easy to find doesn’t mean that it’s not illegal.
Drug use, even of those which are considered soft drugs at home, is sometimes severely punished. Find out about the drug laws in the countries you visit before consuming them. Sometimes travellers have problems with the local police because of drugs.
If you’re arrested for possession of an illegal substance, you could face severe prison sentences. See the map of the legality of cannabis around the world on Wikipedia.
There are organised scams in which someone sells you drugs then you get inspected by a cop (in cahoots with the drug dealer) right after and have to pay a very big bribe to avoid ending up in prison.
Also be careful at border crossings (land and airports), particularly in Latin America. To prevent someone from unknowingly planting drugs in your luggage, never leave your bags unattended and never agree to carry something for someone who you don’t trust 100%.
In Nepal, cannabis grows XXL in the wild
Also be cautious with “local” drugs, like ayahuasca in the Amazon, around which a real tourism of shamanism has been established. What’s more, the increase in use threatens the existence of plants used in the ingredients, and destabilises local communities. Here’s a particularly good article on the subject.
Injuries or diseases caused by animals are quite rare when travelling. Only 7% of RTW travellers had health problems (mostly minor) caused by animals on their trip. When we talk about dangerous animals, we imagine having to defend ourselves against a ferocious Bengal tiger or a bloodthirsty white shark. In reality, the animals that really threaten humans aren’t so impressive.
The most dangerous animal to travellers is the mosquito. It’s bites are responsible for the transmission of many tropical diseases: dengue fever, malaria, zika virus, chikungunya fever, yellow fever…, not to mention the other infections involved when there are several bites and when we scratch them all the time.
Public enemy No.1: the mosquito
Snakes claim a lot of lives in tropical countries, but travellers don’t usually encounter them. Amongst the survey respondents, no one was bitten by a snake during their RTW trip.
Contrary to popular belief, not a single snake species is able to kill a human in a matter of minutes. Snakebites, even the most poisonous, are not fatal, provided that they are treated quickly.
Snakebites are very rare amongst RTW travellers
To prevent snakebites:
Venom extractor pumps suck out venom in the case of toxic bites and stings. But, we don’t really recommend taking them, as the risk of being bitten is very low and their effectiveness is questioned.
In the case of bites:
In some countries, lots of stray dogs live in the streets. Most of them are very friendly, but some can sometimes be aggressive. According to the World Health Organisation, dog bites account for 50% of injuries inflicted by animals on travellers.
Beyond injury, the main risk is the transmission of rabies. Even if you’re vaccinated, you still need to be treated for a bite, but less doses of the vaccine are required. Once the patient shows signs, there’s no effective treatment for rabies, death is certain.
If you’re bitten by a dog, watch out for rabies
To prevent bites:
In the case of bites:
Monkeys don’t only live in the forest. In tropical countries, you also come across them a lot in cities. Like dogs, they can carry rabies.
Note: Also try to avoid sitting under a tree full of monkeys. They might want to relieve themselves on your head (a real-life experience in India, it doesn’t smell good!).
Monkeys are sometimes aggressive
The aim of terrorism is to spread fear and often it works. As soon as a country is the victim of a terrorist act, the number of tourists drastically drops, even in wealthy cities like New York or London.
This isn’t rational behaviour, because the probability of being the victim of an attack remains infinitely lower than the probability of being involved in, for example, a road accident.
However, TV footage that is shown on repeat has such a powerful impact that it manages to convince people that the country isn’t safe.
War zones or areas with severe levels of terrorism like in Afghanistan, Syria or the Sahel in Africa, where the risk is, on the other hand, very real, are formally advised against by the Department of State and the FCDO. Therefore, you probably won’t visit them.
Source: Wikipedia, Global Terrorism Index and visionofhumanity.org, data from Institute for Economics & Peace 2021
No one from our survey has been injured during an act of war or terrorism, nor have they witnessed one.
Outside of areas advised against by the Department of State and the FCDO, from our point of view, the risk of terrorism isn’t really important when choosing your destinations for a RTW trip.
This includes earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, landslides, volcanic eruptions, cyclones…
These events are generally very destructive and can claim a lot of lives, but they ultimately represent a tiny amount of the injuries inflicted on travellers.
Amongst the survey respondents, a few travellers have experienced earthquakes, cyclones or roadblocks from landslides, but no one was injured.
The majority of natural disasters are unpredictable. Therefore, there’s not much you can do to protect yourself from them. In our opinion, this isn’t a major risk criterion for the countries you decide to visit during your RTW trip.
However, if you travel in the Caribbean or in Asia, avoid the cyclone season as much as possible, and the rainy season in all the countries that you’ll visit.