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We get a lot of questions along the lines of "Is [location] safe?". These get closed as uncearly or primarily opinion based. This is of course right, as "safe" is a value judgement, and without knowing more about the activities and behaviour of the asker, and what they consider a thershold for "safe" etc.

One could stereotype the askers and assume that they are excessivley focused on violence and the liklehood thereof, and "safe" means "could never happen to me" (which shows them missing all the risky behaviour they otherwise undertake). But that's not very productive. Instead, how can we have good, answerable questions regarding the liklehood of harm (and good preventative measures) to travellers?

One path I could imagine is to request people focus on simple, objective measures. Eg "How safe is [location]?" is not ok but "How many tourists are attacked in [location]?" or "What is the rate of deaths on [method of transport] in [location]?" are acceptable. These are clearly answerable questions (although the staistics may not be available). However, they play to the biases and existing knowledge of the asker. Perhaps I ask "What is the level of risk on the road in Imaginistan?" and get an answer, but I was completley unaware that dozens of tourists per year are struck by falling objects, didn't even know to ask this, and came to harm as a result during my visit.

Is there then a good, broad question one could ask? Something like "What are the principle risks to health and life in [location] for visitors?" Or is that going to be too broad and unanswerable?

Thoughts anyone?

Also, this question covers similar ground, but from the point of view of good answers, not good questions.

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    Wasn't this already covered in meta.travel.stackexchange.com/questions/1906/… – CGCampbell Jul 15 '15 at 17:42
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    For me, either it's your time to go or it's not. I have been in cross fire in Chinatown NYC and on Nikolskaya in Moscow. I can't see safety being anything other than a transitory, ephemeral condition. Anyway, it's a duplication, sorry :( – Gayot Fow Jul 15 '15 at 23:00
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    @GayotFow isn't everything on a transitory, ephemeral condition though? I mean, when one asks a transportation questions for instance, the answer might only be valid for a year or so. – Adrien Be Jul 26 '15 at 9:17
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The fact that safety level is a very relative perception makes things very "complicated".

Here are a couple of tips to help people answering to actually provide an answer that is not "too" opinionated:

  • narrow down to a specific safety concern
  • narrow down to a specific area, do ask if you should narrow this area down even more (in the question, yes)
  • ask if any unique danger specific to your destination
  • maybe ask to give the example(s) of more (un)safe place - in the given context (i.e. taxis in Colombia) - to give a fairly good "range of safety evaluation"

I think that it's easy to say, place X is more dangerous than place Y for a given context. And it's probably the most objective (non opinionated) advice a group of people can all agree on. For instance, no one will disagree saying walking at night in Paris' lovely suburb of the 93 "département" is more dangerous than walking at night in Paris' Luxembourg neighbourhood.

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To be honest I've always thought this policy over-restrictive and over-literal.

I don't see any reason to interpret "Is X safe?" as meaning the subjective "Is X safe enough for me to feel safe doing the things I do?" instead of the objective "What uncommon safety concerns exist in X, and are the risks of common safety concerns like crime, disease, accidents etc higher or lower than a suitable benchmark?".

Any such question can be given a useful, purely factual answer along the lines of "X location has X specific dangers and here's some context to judge how serious they are [...], and the rates of [common dangers] are [high/low/typical] relative to [benchmark]. [X arbiter e.g. FCO] [do/don't] advise against travel and report that the most common problem faced by travellers is [almost always traffic accidents]".

You'd use knowledge plus government advice plus guidebook "Dangers and annoyances" sections plus any other security info you have access to.

You're not saying subjectively yes or no, this is/isn't safe for you good stranger on the internet. You're describing the objective dangers relative to some more familiar benchmark.

For example if someone said "Is Sierra Leone safe?" (somewhere I've looked into recently), I'd explain that, while on the one hand, crime rates and civil disorder are low by African standards and the risk of ebola is extremely low for non-medics so long as basic precautions are taken (much lower risk than rabies, lassa fever, etc), most governments warn against travel there (invalidating insurance) due not to ebola but the fact the country's health and related infrastructure is stretched to a point where normal health issues would become disproportionately dangerous. I'd explain that traffic is reported to be the biggest danger, and while it's very dangerous by western standards due to unsafe driving, poorly maintained vehicles and poor quality roads, it's not untypical by West African standards. Then I'd point out that while crime rates are low by regional standards, they're at least as high as a typical slightly rough Western city, so precautions should be taken, and I'd point out some specific danger spots and tips (e.g. don't go to major Freetown beaches alone, even during daytime, and beware pickpockets in shared taxis). Then I'd credit and link to sources (FCO travel advice, NGO security briefings, Bradt and Lonely Planet guidebooks) and allude to how up to date the info is.

Nothing subjective there, and I'm not trying to second guess what the random person who asked the question considers safe - I'm just pooling available facts, accurate at time of writing.


I'm really wary of all the suggestions that rely on people already knowing what the dangers in a country or region are to ask about them. Often the most important safety concerns are the ones people don't think about and wouldn't think to ask about:

  • Sierra Leone again: people asking will likely be thinking "Ebola? Crime?", when the big danger that should actually make then think twice is "If you're hit by an out of control motorbike, which is not unlikely, there's a real danger you'll die of injuries that would be easily treatable in a country whose health infrastructure wasn't stretched beyond breaking point".
  • Central Asia: people might be thinking terrorism, riots, political instability... when the biggest danger is "It's not uncommon for intercity drivers to cut lanes around blind corners at speed, and if you're in a head-on collision, it'll be a very long time before any help can reach you. Make sure you get a cautious driver"

And so on.

  • I'm not sure I agree here. You're saying "answer what a good question would be", rather than actually answer the question that is asked? – CMaster Jul 27 '15 at 4:01

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