Traveling is one of the best ways to broaden your perspective as well as the scope of things that can kill you. Taking a trip may involve quite a few unpleasant experiences—from civil wars to bad sex—along with awesome ones. That’s why travelers usually avoid some cities and countries altogether as quite a few regions in the world are experiencing one problem or another.
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But some locations have extremely bad reputations that may be unwarranted. If you visit these places, you may soon realize that they’re probably better than many cities in your own country. The reasons for these misconceptions can range from a history of conflict to poor economic conditions.
As anyone who has journeyed to any of the following places will tell you, these destinations are safer and far more hospitable than some popular travel spots around the world—you know, the ones we don’t think twice about visiting.
10 Tehran, Iran
If you grew up in the US—and maybe during some time periods in the UK—chances are that you view Iran as the last place you’d want to go. Most people visualize it as a desert nation with regular terrorist attacks and general conflict. They don’t realize that they’re probably picturing parts of Afghanistan or the Arabian Peninsula.
Although Iran does have deserts, they barely cover 25 percent of the country (although sources vary on the exact percentage). In comparison, China’s deserts make up about 30 percent of their territory. Moreover, Iran’s deserts are very different from what you’re imagining. They have a hilly look and distinct geographical features not found anywhere else in the world.
If that’s surprising, then you’re still thinking of places like the Arabian Peninsula or the Sahara. Most of Iran is hilly, with quite a few alpine regions that you might want to explore on Google Images.
As far as safety is concerned, Iran is far from the center of religious extremism that we imagine it to be. At an altitude of about 1,200 meters (4,000 ft) and against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, Tehran may well be one of the most picturesque cities you’ll ever visit. Iranians are also known for their hospitality, something you’ll realize the moment you land.
Of course, it’s still a country ruled by an extremist government and many nations advise tourists against indulging in anything illegal when they’re there. Other than in Britain and the US, though, that’s pretty much the only advice that state departments give regarding Iran.
When we think of Antarctica, we think of a frozen wasteland with variations of snow-covered, barren terrain. It also sounds extremely dangerous—as any remote place without a steady stream of supplies tends to be. If you do the research, though, you’ll find that Antarctica is gradually becoming one of the best places for adventure lovers.
In Antarctica, hardly any people die from extreme weather or a lack of supplies. In fact, most casualties occur in research stations there due to scientific reasons.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can head to Antarctica like you’re going on a hike for the weekend. It’s still a remote place unsuited to the casual traveler because medical facilities and emergency resources are scarce.
Typically, the research stations are only involved with science, so it’s not a good idea to rely on them for help. If you want to visit, you’ll need to join a planned expedition that will take care of all supplies and other camping needs.
Once there, you’ll enjoy some of the most pristine views in the world. With the snow gradually melting to reveal a unique, almost alien-like landscape, Antarctica is slowly becoming one of the best destinations for modern-day explorers.
8 Detroit, Michigan, USA
The United States is hardly uniform when it comes to tourist safety. Although certain US cities are recognized as among the safest and most hospitable in the world, others—like Gary, Indiana—have become Internet jokes over how dangerous they are. Detroit also has a bad reputation. In fact, its decayed urban setting served as an ideological backdrop for quite a few dystopian cyberpunk movies.
That reputation isn’t groundless. Due to many factors, the last few decades saw Detroit become the poster child for the numerous tales of urban decay and rising poverty hiding behind the famous American Dream. Thanks to some recent efforts by local authorities, though, the situation may not be that bad anymore.
Make no mistake: Detroit still has high crime rates. But you can probably spend a weekend or two there without taking a tremendous risk—if you watch where you go. The crime rate has drastically declined in the past few years, and median income is rising. Quite a few development projects are aimed at restoring the city to its former glory.
Travelers who’ve spent time there refer to it as a vibrant spot with a burgeoning local culture. Of course, you’ll need to avoid going to the bad areas, just as you would in popular cities like New York or London.
7 Kiev, Ukraine
On first look, Ukraine doesn’t seem to be the kind of country where you’d want to spend a relaxing week. Its ongoing war makes it an active conflict zone, giving it a reputation for continuous danger.
That’s absolutely justified because some parts of Ukraine are still embroiled in a battle with Russia. Far away from the conflict, however, Kiev remains one of Europe’s least expensive and most lively destinations.
Although news channels paint pictures of dropping bombs and militias regularly invading government buildings, travelers tell stories of quaint cafes and an old-world, ex-Soviet charm, perhaps only matched by its sister cities in Russia.
Thanks to the diverse cultures that have influenced the city, Kiev features many beautiful churches and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can explore them with little to no risk of being caught up in a skirmish as the war is quite far away.
6 Republic Of Kosovo
Kosovo, a tiny country in the Balkans, may not figure often in our news cycle these days, but it still bears the scars of one of the most brutal wars of the 20th century. Fought between the rapidly disintegrating Yugoslavian troops and Albanian rebels, the war was part of the larger phenomenon of the Balkanization of Yugoslavia.
After witnessing everything from attempted genocides to unprecedentedly brutal sieges on civilian populations, the ex-communist state was divided into several modern countries in Eastern Europe.
Although Kosovo still carries much of that violent reputation, it’s largely unfounded because the war is long over. Today, Pristina, the country’s charming capital, is one of the safest cities in Eastern Europe. Visitors from English-speaking nations will be glad to know that almost everyone speaks the language in Kosovo, even though the republic is as foreign and distinct as it can be.
Kosovo lives up to the reputation of unimaginable hospitality, which is shared by most countries in the region. It is also more affordable to spend time there than in its Western European counterparts.
5 Istanbul, Turkey
Contrary to popular belief, Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey. However, it is still considered to be the best city to visit in the country—at least by some people.
Even so, Istanbul has endured quite a few cases of unrest in the recent past. Turkey’s alleged involvement in Middle Eastern wars has only added to that perilous reputation. Even though some individuals regard Istanbul as a risky travel destination, many past visitors will tell you that it’s still better than other locations with safer reputations.
Although Istanbul has witnessed some violence in recent years, it coincided with the war in Syria, which is now in its final stages. Incidents are few and far between, and there haven’t been any major ones for a long time.
In many parts of the city, things haven’t changed a bit since the war started. As a major center of arts and culture in the region, Istanbul contains an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of course, it always makes sense to check travel warnings from your country. But for anyone developing an itinerary for a trip to that part of the world, you may want to explore Istanbul.
Many conversations in Zimbabwe inevitably turn to its ravaged economy and what happens when you let your leaders do whatever they want for one second. Zimbabwe is a great example of how unchecked inflation can destroy a country. Everyday goods now cost exorbitant amounts of money. Needless to say, it’s not the best spot to have a fancy bespoke wedding.
Then again, you may want to reconsider. Despite being in a state of economic ruin, Zimbabwe remains one of the most beautiful and geographically diverse countries to visit in Africa.
Many tourists have said that the country’s economy didn’t have any effect on them as Zimbabwe is still one of the more popular spots for travelers in the region. The gorgeous waterfalls, flora, and fauna make Zimbabwe a noteworthy destination.
3 Saint Petersburg, Russia
The reputation of Russia as a dangerous travel destination probably originated during the Putin era—and rightfully so. If you’re a journalist working to uncover the shady connections between private Russian industries and Putin, we’d highly recommend against going to Russia to do it. Other than that, the country contains many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and some of the most distinctive artistic styles anywhere.
In contrast to the depictions in 1990s Hollywood shows, traveling to a big city in Russia isn’t all murder houses and dilapidated Soviet structures. If you do visit, make sure to see Saint Petersburg.
Although it’s safer to avoid any unknown parts of the city, Saint Petersburg is a cosmopolitan vacation spot that offers a variety of activities. In fact, many people from across Europe and the rest of the world call the city “home.” It sports some spectacular buildings and corners, so make sure to take your best camera.
China is often portrayed as a rogue state in the global media—and for good reasons. First, the country has the most internal surveillance of any nation. In fact, its citizens lack many freedoms that we take for granted. China is also becoming more militaristic and flexing its muscles in the region. As a result, most of us think that going to China will probably lead to our arrests—or worse.
In part, stark cultural differences between China and Western nations shape our beliefs that the Chinese are oppressed. But a visit to any major city in China will reveal that the country is one of the most technologically advanced in the world. It may soon become the first truly cashless society, if it isn’t already. In general, the Chinese don’t see the trade-off between freedom and economic prosperity as a bad thing, something you can only know when you go there.
Due to Western beliefs, we’ve isolated ourselves from a unique travel destination. With its futuristic cities, various landscapes, and more, China should be on the top of nearly everyone’s bucket list. (Of course, you’ll want to wait until the current coronavirus outbreak has run its course.)
1 Medellin, Colombia
When Pablo Escobar, the ruthless “king of cocaine,” was alive, Medellin was a particularly violent city. With one of the worst rates of gang-related murder in the world, Medellin was hardly anyone’s top pick as a travel spot. Although we can’t say that all violence has disappeared, we’ll still argue that the situation has improved substantially.
As for murder statistics, they have drastically declined in recent years. In 2018, for example, Medellin recorded about 24.75 murders per 100,000 residents, down from 375 per 100,000 in 1991 and 94.2 per 100,000 in 2009.
Of course, you still have to be careful in Medellin. But the city probably sounds scarier than it is due to the Netflix series Narcos. Some people even consider Medellin to be a “hipster holiday destination.” The city is imbued with a young entrepreneurial vibe that led to its designation as “the most innovative city in the world” in 2013.