Traveling alone can be one of life’s greatest joys. It is an opportunity to discover the world and yourself, make new friends, and have an adventure. However, it can be more dangerous than traveling as part of a group, and there are some places around the world where it’s downright risky to visit when flying solo.
Last year, the US State Department issued warnings for anyone travelling to Mexico after an American woman tragically passed away after consuming tainted alcohol in a resort. This put safety while traveling at the top of everyone’s lists of concerns when planning a trip. Whether you’re going to Aleppo or Mexico City, it’s important to take precautions, be vigilant and stay in touch with friends and family back home if you are a solo traveler.
Women can often be at more risk when traveling alone, as are minority groups like homosexuals, who can sometimes be unwitting targets in less liberal countries. Of course, a risk of danger does not mean that danger will occur. There are very few places in the world where tourists are outright banned from visiting because of risks, but it doesn’t mean that just because you can go somewhere, that you should.
When there is a risk, be it from violence, political unrest, or disease outbreaks, the State Department will issue guidance on its website, so it’s always good to check before you plan your ‘off-the-grid’ dream holiday alone. Here are 25 places that should be avoided when going solo.
25 Tanzania - Safari Parks may take advantage
Tanzania is a popular safari destination, and beaches like Zanzibar have long captured the imaginations of travellers. While it is generally a safe country to visit, there are a lot of scammers and unpleasant people about. It can be downright difficult to travel around some areas, as con-artists repeatedly target tourists, especially those traveling alone, with offers of tours (which are usually fake) or collection money for ‘refugees’. There is also a lot of pickpocketing and petty crime, which can get tiresome. Lonely Planet’s advice is “Never pay any money for a safari or trek in advance until you’ve thoroughly checked out the company, and never pay any money at all outside the company’s office.”
24 El Salvador - Hurricanes and Tsunamis
El Salvador is a beautiful and largely unexplored country in Central America that many tourists seem to overlook. According to The Economist though, it is one of the top 10 most dangerous countries in the world. The violence is largely between rival gangs, and tourists will likely be left alone, but those traveling alone can get caught up in some of the more nefarious activities going on around the country. Because of El Salvador’s geographic location, it is also prone to hurricanes and tsunamis, and the official advice is to not travel there between June and November.
23 India - weird taxis and tuk tuks
India is a very large, diverse country that has been a top travel destination for decades. However, for solo travellers it can be, well, a bit of a hassle. It’s a largely safe place, though tourists should be on the look-out for the usual risks: muggings and pickpockets. However, those traveling alone, particularly women, are at a higher risk of scams and assaults, people are frequently offering bogus services around train stations and top tourist attractions, and they can be very hard to shake off. Be firm, and stay vigilant, and avoid traveling alone at night on public transport and unverified taxies or tuk-tuks.
22 Kazakhstan - very expensive to get around
Kazakhstan is a relatively young country, and the last of the former Soviet Union countries to declare independence in 1991. It’s a landlocked nation rich in natural resources, but somewhat underdeveloped. The tourism industry is undeveloped and, in places, virtually nonexistent. Traveling alone can be difficult and extremely expensive, as you’ll often require a personal guide, and might find yourself stranded in places with little to no infrastructure.It can be particularly difficult to get around if you don’t speak the language, as few people speak English. It’s a safe place, but if you’re a solo adventurer with a small budget, it might be best to skip this one.
21 Afghanistan - can be quite unsafe
Though Afghanistan has been the site of several wars over the past few decades, it has recently emerged as a desirable tourist destination. Part of the appeal is a renewed surge of interest in the old Silk Road, and allures its desert landscapes and blue mosques offer enthusiastic travellers hungry for adventure. However, the continued presence of militant groups means travel to Afghanistan is ill-advised at best, and probably best avoided altogether especially for solo females. According to the State Department, there is a high risk of incidents and we all know from past events that tourists and foreigners can be easy targets. If you are interested in the Silk Road, try much-safer Uzbekistan a little to the west.
20 Philippines - tough stance on crimes, including tourists
The Philippines have long since been a beloved destination for adventurers and a vital stop-off for backpackers doing South East Asia. Its Palawan region is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, famous for the azure waters and jungle islands. However, since 2016 the country has been implementing a tough stance on crimes that have harmed thousands of people including many tourists. It’s particularly dangerous to travel alone around Manila, where rowdy behaviour can result in a higher risk. Best avoid altogether until the situation calms down.
19 Mexico - wear a fake wedding band to be safe
Mexico is one of the top tourism destinations for US travellers, and rightly so. It’s beautiful, there is plenty of delicious food, the weather is perfect, and it’s right there. But parts Mexico can be a bit of a bummer for women traveling alone. There are a lot of gropers around Mexico City and other places (with the exception of popular beach locations). World Nomad even recommends sporting a fake wedding ring to keep some of the more unpleasant leering at bay. They also recommend being discreet with gadgets like phones and cameras, and avoid carrying a lot of cash around, as foreign women are perceived as easy targets for robberies.
18 Egypt - pickpockets everywhere
Visiting the pyramids and taking a picture next to the Sphinx are likely on most people’s bucket list, but lone travellers should be careful when visiting Egypt. For the past few years the country has been a hotspot for unpleasant activity, and tourist have been frequent targets of attacks. There is also a lot of petty crime where foreigners are the victims, according to the State Department: ‘The vast majority of criminal acts against foreigners tend to be crimes of opportunity (purse snatching, pickpocketing) that are often carried out by young males. Semi-professional thieves target unaware visitors in popular restaurants and shops stealing purses, phones, and purchased goods.’
17 Morocco - very persistent vendors
Morocco has been one of the countries to benefit the most from Social Media travellers – those savvy tourists always on the lookout for a photogenic spot for the ‘Gram. Destinations like Chefchaouen, the famous Blue City, in the north of the country have experienced a tourism revival since 2016 because of their online notoriety. However, Morocco is a famously unpleasant destination for women travelling alone, with a lot of leering and groping going on. The Blue City itself is the capital of the country’s illicit trade, and there are reports of people desperate to extract money from travellers which can be a serious problem. They can often be quite persistent and sometimes even threatening, so avoid going if you’re alone and uncomfortable with this type of thing.
16 Nigeria - infrastructure makes it difficult to get around
Nigeria is one of the most vibrant and populous countries in the world, and over the past several years it has experienced something of an economic boom thanks in part to its rich oil reserves. However, two-thirds of Nigerians still live in poverty, and it can be an extremely challenging place to travel alone. US News warns in its’ Best Countries in the World report that “security is a concern in the country. Christians have fled the country to avoid the severe enforcement of the law.” Tourism infrastructure is also extremely limited and you might find it a chore to get around.
15 Angola - watch out for those bugs
Angola is one of West Africa’s last unexplored locations, where tourists have yet to discover. It can be a beautiful country, with pristine Atlantic beaches and dramatic mountain ranges, but strict visa policies and high-prices make it tough to travel around. The biggest risk to solo travellers venturing into Angola is disease: yellow fever and cholera are rampant, and though treatable, it can be rough to be very sick while abroad alone. A lot of the country is still also heavily contaminated with landmines, which makes it extremely dangerous for thrill-seekers to make their way safely around.
14 Brazil - the plants can be a risk
Brazil is famously one of the most beautiful and friendly countries in the world. But it can also be one of the most dangerous. Crimes rates all over the country are much higher than they are at home, and there is an elevated risk of muggings and robberies. People traveling alone are at higher risk, and are often targeted. According to Smarter Travel, native fruits are also a big risk as tourists are seduced by attractive plants growing wild in Brazil, and end up consuming poisonous or toxic elements. This can be especially dangerous if you’re doing nature walks alone.
13 Dominican Republic - the risk of Zika
The Dominican Republic is a generally safe place to travel, however it is one of a handful of tropical countries that are still grappling with the Zika virus, and it’s therefore a risky destination. The official guidance by the Government of Canada is that travel should be avoided, particularly by pregnant women. While Zika virus is not fatal, and the biggest risk is actually to unborn babies, it is still an extremely unpleasant experience, and those bitten by the Zika mosquito are likely to spend the following two weeks experiencing extreme fevers, chills, body pains, and headaches.
12 Dubai - keep it covered up
Dubai can be a tricky place to visit alone. Though it has a liberal reputation, especially compared to some of its Middle East neighbours, it is still a very conservative place by western standards. Women travellers are expected to dress modestly and cover their heads when not in the tourist compounds of their resorts. Getting too rowdy after going to a bar can lead to arrest. A woman was arrested there in 2017 for mistakenly brushing up against a man in a club, and two unmarried tourists who got frisky after meeting in a club also ended up in the slammer. It can be a difficult place for solo travellers looking to make some friends or let their hair down, so be weary of Dubai.
11 Iran - don't go off-the-beaten-path
Iran is a beautiful country and has become an unlikely tourist hot-spot over the past few years, due in large part to thrill-seekers looking for ‘off-the-beaten-path’ adventures. However, according to US News, ‘Iran faces economic challenges, as well as has problems with trafficking, opiates and corruption. The nation ranks last among the 2018 Best Countries Rankings for adventure, citizenship and quality of life.’ There are known risks to being a solo traveler though, as the Lonely Planet reports that “some official paranoia does exist, and there have been instances of travellers being arrested and held until it became apparent they weren’t spies.”
10 Israel - local boundaries
Because of Israel’s rich history and multicultural society, many travellers are drawn there. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Dead Sea destinations are among top picks and can be extremely rewarding places to visit. However, over the past few years there has been an escalation in sectarian violence, particularly in areas bordering the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Those traveling to Jerusalem should be careful around some of the famous attractions like the Wailing Wall, as those are active religious sites and dressing inappropriately will attract a lot of unwanted attention. According to USA Today there have been instances of assaults against visitors deemed to be dressing or acting immodestly in Ultra Orthodox areas of the city, so be respectful of local boundaries.
9 Kenya - even small insects can cause harm
Out of the countries in East Africa, Kenya is one of the most stable and most well-travelled. However, tourists traveling alone might find a few things difficult about it. First up is food: it can be challenging. According to World Nomads, you should “be especially careful when eating meat. Sometimes the quality of meat, or other ingredients used in local dishes, doesn't agree with foreign stomachs.” It’s also important to remember that in Africa, even small insects can be a danger and there is a very high risk of contracting malaria in Kenya, so come prepared with lots of insect repellent and long sleeves.
8 Lebanon - low quality of life
Lebanon is one of the most stable countries in the Middle East, and home to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: Petra. It is a largely safe place, but after British woman passed away after an incident last year there has been a spotlight on some of the dangers lurking in the shadows. The fact is that Lebanon has a pretty low quality of life, according to US News’ ranking, and that will generally lead to some violence and petty crime. “There have been incidents of armed robberies and physical attacks against passengers in shared taxis with passengers being attacked by either the driver or other passengers,” the British Foreign Office said.
7 Pakistan - hire a bodyguard
Landlocked Pakistan is a beautiful region, and somewhat unexplored by tourists. Years of issues with India and civil unrest have put foreigners off from making the trip, and the official guidance remains to ‘avoid all but essential travel’. However, it is a beautiful Himalayan country, full of exquisite architecture and a rich cultural fabric. The downside is that it is an extremely dangerous country, and police have been known to offer armed security to tourists for free when they perceive a risk, according to Against the Compass. It’s particularly risky for women and LGBT people, and there are areas that are completely off the table.
6 Puerto Rico - some areas still have no power or clean water
The island of Puerto Rico has been a popular tourist destination for decades, as travellers come for its sandy beaches, beautiful colonial-era architecture and friendly locals. However, there is always a big danger of hurricanes in the region, and sometimes these storms can be particularly deadly. Since Hurricane Maria in 2017, the island has struggled to rebuild, and areas remaining without power and clean water. It has made solo travel a lot more risky, and frankly, a bit more difficult too. There is also a real risk of Zika in the island, so if you don’t fancy being bedridden for your trip, best avoid until things pick up for Puerto Rico.
5 Qatar - they have 'modesty laws'
Qatar is set to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, and as such it has been working really hard to revamp and promote its tourism industry. However, it ranks among the lowest countries in the 2018 Best Countries Rankings for adventure and heritage, and is actively unsafe to women travellers and LGBT people. Foreign women have been known to be arrested under the country’s archaic ‘modesty laws’ when reporting falling victims to assault or abuse. There is no drinking allowed, and everyone faces arrest if they are perceived to be disrespecting the local royal family, even if in jest.
4 Saudi Arabia - no spying on the buildings
It is notoriously difficult to obtain a tourist visa for Saudi Arabia, but over the past few years the country has appeared to relax it’s restrictions towards foreign travellers somewhat. However, women still should wear a hijab or a full abaya at all times when out in public, and it can be a little tricky for LGBT people to get around (public displays of affection are dangerous, though, and could put people in danger). Photography is also a risk. According to World Nomads: ‘Anything that's government-related including ministries, airports, military facilities, or looks like it could be a government building, don't take a photo of it. You risk being hauled off to jail for spying offences which really isn't a joke.’
3 Syria - might want to skip this one
Syria has been gripped by conflict for close to a decade, which has resulted in the destruction of lots of the country’s most prized tourist destinations, like the ancient city of Palmyra. However, as some parts of the country are declared peaceful, tourists are starting to return. Aside from the questionable morals of visiting Syria right now, there are still plenty of areas of active fighting, as well plenty of insurgent groups operating around the country. The US State Department is clear: “no part of Syria is safe from violence”. Even if you’re a serious adventure junky, just skip Syria for now.
2 Turkey - tourists are advised to be vigilant at all times
Over the past few years, Turkey has experienced heightened political instability, and a rise in religious sectarianism. Though Istanbul, Bodrum, and Cappadocia remain extremely popular tourist destinations, it has unquestionably become tougher to travel alone, especially for women. According to GlobalLink “there may be some business owners or shopkeepers who show aggression especially toward women”, and catcalling and leering are commonplace. Crimes such as pickpocketing are also widespread, and all tourists are advised to be on the lookout at all times. Overall it’s not the best time to visit Turkey if you’re a woman and alone.
1 Venezuela - collapse in public infrastructure
Venezuela has been facing an extremely tough economic crisis which has caused severe shortages in basic goods like food and even toilet paper. There has been an increase in violence, rioting, looting, and large portions of the population have been trying to flee to neighbouring countries like Peru. There has been an almost total collapse in public infrastructure which makes travel very difficult as well and dangerous. There is a warning in place by the State Department against travel to Venezuela due to social unrest, crime, and pervasive food and medicine shortages, and even staff have been evacuated from the Caracas embassy.
References: travel.state.gov; gov.uk; usnews.com; usatoday.com; smartertravel.com; lonelyplanet.com; worldnomads.com