Peace in the Nordipodes

Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland ...

Excitement in Iceland (NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr)

If the tales of armed insurrection and crime rates in the last couple of blog posts have caused some to reconsider travel plans, it should be noted that it’s not all doom and gloom out there. In fact, there are destinations so safe, your primary risk might be dozing off. So, if your travel itinerary doesn’t include posing for snapshots with AK47 toting freedom fighters, you might consider visiting some of the safest countries in the world.

According to the Global Peace Index’s 2009 listings, the five destinations below are the safest places in the world. Perhaps coincidentally, four out of five of these are in the Nordic and Antipodean regions.

Number 5: Austria

A high GDP, stable government, free university education, and the rugged Alps, Austria really has it all…except for crime and violence that is. What should you worry about then? Avalanches perhaps.

Number 4: Iceland

There is an apocryphal story that Iceland acquired its name in a cheeky ploy to avoid excessive immigration. While the story might not be true, could it be possible that the icy climate keeps crime at bay? Not likely. What might be a more rational deterrent is Iceland’s enviable third place ranking on the UNDP’s human development index. Mix the country’s highly developed welfare system and universal health care with a clean and beautiful environment – notwithstanding the once in a double century ash-spewing volcanoes – and it really is a surprise that more people aren’t migrating to Iceland.

Number 3: Norway

While its fun to think of Norway as home to rampaging Vikings bent on pillaging Europe, reality is far different. Norway might better be characterized by its egalitarian social security system, universal health care, subsidized higher education, and robust economy. Chances of being attacked by Vikings: 0.

Number 2: Denmark

Is crime and social unrest a by-product of poverty and economic inequality? Ask a Dane and they might say yes. This is because Denmark has the highest level of economic equality in the world and issues of crime and social unrest are largely absent in the Kingdom. The only danger for visitors, depending on your taste buds of course, might be the pickled herring.

Number 1: New Zealand

When was the last time that you saw New Zealand on the world news? Possibly it was a story about the stunning scenery used as the backdrop in the Lord of the Rings trilogy because it certainly wasn’t a story of political unrest or crime. Respect for human rights, a strong environmental protection ethnic, high literacy, lack of corruption, press freedom, the list of positive traits just goes on and on. Congratulations New Zealand! 

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Trip to Bangkok

With the protests happening in Bangkok we thought it would be a great time to spread the word about Journeywatch to the backpacker areas so… we went there and stuck stickers on the tuktuks and taxis! Here are some of the photos.

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Hotspot destinations – part two

In part one, we looked at how common business and leisure destinations like India, South Africa, Mexico, Kenya, Turkey, and the Philippines are all unconventionally dangerous places.

Despite the travel brochures promising sunny coastlines and local culture, visitors are just as likely to experience violent street crime or political instability. This is not to say that you should not go. Somewhat hazardous locations are often the most interesting places. With this in mind, we look at the risks in South Africa, Thailand, Brazil, Morocco, and Russia.

Tourist slogan: South Africa, It’s Possible.

Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs: “Travellers are advised to exercise a high degree of caution in the country.

FIFA World Cup action is ramping up in South Africa and throngs of football-mad fans are expected to descend upon the country. While there will be excitement on the pitch, the streets of major cities can offer another kind of excitement: crime. Not your standard level of crime either, but a level of violent crime more akin to a Mad Max movie. With an average of 50 murders each day, President Jacob Zuma has unleashed the police to exercise a controversial shoot-to-kill policy in an attempt to reign in the violence. Economic inspired crime is not the only issue. Xenophobic violence aimed at economic migrants from Mozambique, Somalia, and Zimbabwe has raged in the Johannesburg townships forcing some 30,000 migrants from their homes and has produced truly horrendous scenes of mob violence.

Tourist Slogan: Amazing Thailand.

UK Foreign Office warning: “The political situation in Thailand is volatile.. exercise extreme caution throughout the country and avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, which may turn violent.

Sandy beaches, spicy cuisine, and the famous Thai smile are what the Tourism Authority of Thailand would like you to think. Yet Thailand is also home to one of the world’s most violent Islamic separatist insurgencies. The conflict, just south of popular beach destinations like Koh Samui and Krabi, has claimed more than 3500 lives since fighting surged in 2004. While separatist violence remains remarkably contained to the three southern border provinces (largely due to insurgents preferring to be labelled freedom fighters rather than terrorists), Thailand in general is not a particularly safe place. The country ranks third globally for firearm murders and fatalities on the country’s chaotic roadways are more comparable to the statistics of a small war rather than road accidents. Finally, protracted political turmoil has kept Bangkok in a state of unrest for the past five years. Violent demonstrations, riots, and frequent M79 grenade attacks make visiting Thailand amazing indeed.

Tourist slogan: Brazil, Sensational!

U.S. State Department warning: “The conditions in favelas vary widely, but these areas are often sites of uncontrolled criminal activity and are often not patrolled by police

Images of Carnaval or scantily clad sun-bathers makes Brazil an almost legendary destination for travellers. Equally as legendary is the crime. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Brazil has the dubious distinction of being the global leader in firearm related deaths. Responsible for much of this carnage are street gangs and organized criminal networks. In 2006, after a vicious prison riot, gang members and police fought pitched street battles across Sao Paulo leaving 170 gang members, police, and civilians dead. Drug gangs operating in Favelas, sprawling shanty towns that exist as quasi-autonomous cities, are extremely well armed and police are either incapable or simply unwilling to confront them. In the absence of state control, the gangs are apparently spending their profits on more and more sophisticated weapons – including anti-aircraft missiles – and this is likely to ensure that Brazil’s legendary sights on the beaches are matched by the legendary violence on the streets.

Tourist slogan: Morocco, Travel for Real.

France-Diplomatie Advice: “Il est conseillé aux voyageurs de faire preuve de vigilance au cours de leurs déplacements au Maroc.

The stark minimalist grandeur of the Sahara’s golden dunes stretching across North Africa is one of the most awe inspiring natural wonders in the world. For intrepid travellers on gear-laden motorbikes or rugged jeeps, eastern Morocco is the starting point of travel into the desert. It is also the starting point of a journey into a region largely void of governance and the rule of law. Run-ins with bandits are not uncommon and stories of travellers being robed and/or killed after offering a lift to hitchhikers are rife. For travellers heading south, they will encounter the disputed territory of the Western Sahara in which a secessionist struggle remains unresolved. While hundreds of thousands of refugees remain camped in neighbouring Algeria, the POLISARIO Front remains adamant in their demands for a separate state apart will be realized. Finally, the risk of terrorist attacks remains high. Morocco has experienced a number of major terrorist attacks and it is reported that there are both local and foreign terrorist groups operating in the country.

Tourist slogan: Visit Russia

U.S. State Department warning: “Acts of terrorism, including bombings and hostage takings, have continued to occur in Russia, particularly in the Caucasus region

The Russian Federation is beset with potential dangers. From the much feared Russian mafia to secessionist struggles Caucasus, one does wonder if it is really the right time to Visit Russia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the state’s social security network, crime has flourished. Of particular concern is the power of the mafia which is involved in drug and human trafficking, money laundering, extortion, prostitution, and employs a small army of professional hit men. While travellers can likely sidestep run-ins with the mafia by avoiding vodka-fuelled debauchery in seedy bars, terrorism remains a serious concern both in the Russian heartland and the Caucasus. While fighting in Chechnya officially ended in 2009, conflict there and across the Caucasus continues to sporadically flare and often fuels terrorist attacks in central Russia. It’s hard to forget the notorious hostage taking at a Moscow theatre which claimed 129 innocent lives or the Beslan school siege in which many children were among the victims. While these might be notorious cases, terrorism originating out of peripheral conflicts continues to reverberate in the Russian homeland.