In each installment of the Uproxx Travel Guide, we ask some of our favorite professional travelers to answer one travel question — then share their best advice with you. From informational, to inspirational, to entertaining, our aim is to incite your wanderlust and provide bite-size takeaways you can put to use on your own adventures.
This Week’s Question: What is the most dangerous destination you’ve been to? What was it like?
Danger is relative. Are we safe in a city like Chicago, St, Louis, or New Orleans where literally thousands of people are shot yearly? There are plenty of very smart people in the world who would never set foot in those cities because of their unchecked violence. As someone who often gets mistaken for Central Asian (I’m Native American, and bearded), I get racially checked by police in the USA and the UK all the time. Working class blokes have tried to beat me up in Northern England until they realized I was Native American and not Pakistani. Racism is so weird. Other times I sought danger: Northwest Territories of Pakistan, Badakhshan, Virunga, Congo. Sometimes it sought me. When you come from a place where violence already lurks around every corner because you’re not white enough, going into a war zone doesn’t really ring as all that dangerous.
The most danger I’ve ever put myself in was in the mountains of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Only 1/4 of that country’s name rings true. After an hour-long flight into the jungle, and a four hour hike up a canyon, we arrived at a coltan mine. It was being run by Rwandan rebels (funded by UK banks) and mostly worked by doped up child slaves. Spoiler alert: I still have very bad dreams about this place. My body guard/fixer and I weren’t welcome. My camera’s film was destroyed. A dude in a suit (sans tie) appeared out of no where, claimed to be secret police (more likely a bank goon), and arrested us. Not surprisingly they had a jail on site. After six hours of negotiations and many, many fresh 100-dollar-bills, we were allowed to leave. I’ve never been closer to being shot and fed to dogs by my own hubris and wanderlust. But I survived. Travel at times can be a unstable balancing act of insane trust in humans and crazy luck. Now I’m figuring out how to go to Damascus and make a short film about the Assad loyalist keeping their bars and clubs open in the face of an extremist Islamic rebellion. Wish me luck.
Zach filming in Berlin:
Kiersten Rich is the author of award-winning solo female travel & lifestyle blog, The Blonde Abroad, which features travel tips, fashion, festivals and photography from around the world. You can follow her on Instagram at @theblondeabroad and on Facebook.
A: There have only been a few destinations that I would consider dangerous, and those were mainly because of the activities I chose to do. I would say the most treacherous things I’ve done are biking the Death Road in Bolivia, and climbing Mt. Huashan in China. I’m terrified of heights but I survived and had absolutely exhilarating experiences!
Kiersten in Bolivia and China:
A: About 12 years ago, I traveled to Morocco and my boyfriend was offered camels for me in a rural town outside Casablanca. Someone also told me they wanted to take out my eyes and keep them. It was the first time I felt really threatened and objectified while traveling.
Nathan Fluellen is the host of his adrenaline filled travel show, World Wide Nate, which showcases adventure, food, and culture from around the globe. You can follow him on Instagram @WorldWideNate, Youtube and Snapchat, username: worldwidenate.
A: Visiting Bethlehem, Palestine was pretty nerve wracking because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations in the region so you travel at your own risk.
Another thing that made it nerve wracking was my ex-girlfriend was extra terrified. We met a taxi driver on the street and he took us through a backroad check point and I was fine but her energy made me start to second guess the game plan. At the end of the day we made it to Manger Square and the taxi driver did everything he promised for the quoted price. He turned out to be a cool guy and hooked us up by taking the back entrance into the area where Jesus was born. He also explained the history of the area and took us to a real nice souvenir shop. He had the hook up!
Lessons learned: know the type of person you’re traveling with — and not everyone is up for the same level of adventure.
A: I was in Ramallah, Palestine the week before it was invaded by Israeli forces, but I’ve never felt more safe in my life. Walking down the street one day, someone pulled me into a back alley. I’d heard of Americans getting abducted in Ramallah and held in a hotel for a few hours — just long enough for the episode to register on the U.S. State Department’s radar, but not long enough to cause an international incident — and assumed that’s what was happening. It wasn’t. The man gave me a tea and showed me a poster of Che Guevara that he kept hidden under a tapestry. Was it a dangerous area? Perhaps. Did I ever feel “in danger”? Not for a second.
I was mugged in Quito, Ecuador but it was 100% my fault. It was late at night, I was walking alone, I didn’t know the area, and I had no agenda. (Moving with a purpose is the #1 self preservation technique I know) Does that make Quito unsafe? Doubtful. In fact, I wrestled with the muggers, no one pulled a weapon, and eventually a police patrol scared them off. So the whole thing feels pretty neutral on the danger scale.
In Mbwara, Tanzania someone tried to steal my camera and I chased him all the way down the beach and caught him. The community heard about what was going on from a local who witnessed the theft (and yelled to alert me) and an angry mob tried to attack the thief once I caught him. They were ashamed that he’d besmirched the area’s name. I ended up having to protect the thief from the locals. After the ordeal we shared a meal and he explained the political forces that had driven him to try to take my camera. I was glad to have my camera back, but I understood why he’d tried to take it.
Clearly I’ve lucked out a few times, but I like to believe that if you are kind-hearted and positive your chances of lucking out are relatively high.
Trevor Morrow is a travel writer whose worked has appeared on Outside Online, Details, Men’s Journal, Inside Hook and more (he’s also the author of this article). You can follow him on his lifestyle travel blog, Trevor Morrow Travel, on Instagram at @trevormorrow and on Snapchat, username: thetrevormorrow.
A: First, I need to preface this by saying: Safety situations can change frequently — and you can’t generalize and call an entire country dangerous. To get up to date info on a country or region you’re interested in traveling to, just use the State Department’s “Learn About Your Destination” search feature. That being said:
Kuwait — I was there during the middle of the Iraq War (Kuwait boarders Iraq to the south). I didn’t really feel unsafe, but in retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best time to be in the region. During the time I was there, there wasn’t really a large threat of terrorism within the country — but as mentioned above, situations can change (which is why it’s good to get current info from the State Department). A few years after I was there, ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing of a mosque that killed several people in Kuwait City. That mosque was a half mile from where I had the memorable meal described here.
Kenya — I walked a few miles every day, sometimes alone, from where I was staying, through the outskirts of Nairobi (a city that’s had a long held reputation for being relatively unsafe) and into Kibera, Africa’s largest urban slum. I never had a problem. However, after I left, another volunteer was robbed at gun point while sitting in the back of a car that was stopped in traffic. You do want to keep your wits about you while in Nairobi — but honestly, most people who visit Kenya will skip Nairobi all together and head directly to a game reserve or national park to view wildlife.
Nepal (at the time) — I never really felt unsafe in Nepal, but when I was there 10 years ago, there was large Maoist revolt/demonstration. They cut off the roads leading in and out of Kathmandu (I was stuck in the city for a few days) and held loud, although from what I remember, not especially violent, demonstrations. During that general period of time, American’s were cautioned not to leave the Kathmandu Valley, as some areas outside the valley were controlled by Maoist rebels and considered unsafe. I left the Valley for a few days (to go whitewater rafting at the end of my trip) and felt safe (I think the rapids posed more of a threat than any people did).