Chances are your travel plans for 2019 don't include Iraq or Mali, but how about Mexico, South Africa or Egypt? Should you be worried about your security, or your health? What if you had a world map that would show you that information at a glance? Which is exactly what the Travel Risk Map does.
The map is the work of International SOS, the world's largest medical travel security services operation, providing medical and travel security advice and assistance to organisations whose personnel travel and work around the globe. The map has three tabs, "medical", "security" and "road safety". While you need to sign up as a member for country-specific information on any of those topics, at the very least the map tells you whether you might need to research your destination more thoroughly and find out what the risks are.
Morocco is the only country in North Africa rated low risk. Photo: Shutterstock
The map rates countries on a five-step scale, from "insignificant", a shade of marshmallow green, to "extreme", depicted in blood red.
The list of countries with the lowest risk profile are all within Europe. They are Norway, Finland, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Slovenia and, stretching the concept of Europe just slightly, Greenland and Iceland. The rest of Europe gets a "low" rating apart from little Kosovo, where the security risk is ratcheted up a notch to "medium".
Splotched with the violent red colour denoting "extreme", Africa looks like a continent with a bad rash. You'd need a good reason to visit much of north and central Africa but for most of southern Africa the security risk is "medium" or lower. Safest of all are Zambia, Namibia and Botswana. At the other end of the continent, Morocco is the only country where the risk is "low".
The closest country to Australia with a "high" security risk is Papua New Guinea, with West Papua getting the same treatment, and this is arguable. While Port Moresby has a high crime rate and the Highland towns can be mad, bad and dangerous, tarring the north coast of the country and the islands of the Bismarck Sea with the same brush is ignorance. On the other hand, if such misconceptions prevent the hordes from descending on one of the last true bits of the planet that deserve the word "unspoiled", I'm all for it.
You don't want to get sick in the outer reaches of Mongolia. Photo: Shutterstock
The map also has a "medical" tab and again it's predictable where the problems lie. Europe and North America, no problem at all. Much of the world including China, Russia, India, south-east Asia and most of South America gets tagged with the brownish stain that applies to countries with a "rapidly developing variable risk" profile. According to International SOS, this suggests a wide disparity between the standard of medical care available in major cities and the rest of the country. If you develop appendicitis while out with sheep herders on the Mongolian steppe, best of luck.
In Southern Africa, Morocco and Egypt the health risk is rated "low" to "medium", while "medium" also applies to countries on Russia's western border and west of the Black Sea.
Road safety is a big issue in Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock
Click on the "road safety" tab and the map changes to powder-puff pink, with splotches of ochre to indicate places where you really don't want to be on the road, or even crossing the road. The source for this data is the World Health Organisation's Global Status Report on Road Safety 2016.
On the basis of this map, most of Africa is a high-risk zone for road fatalities. Only a small number of African countries – Morocco, Namibia, Botswana, Algeria, Nigeria and – curiously – Egypt score a "high" risk rating, as opposed to "very high". Saudi Arabia also rates in the "very high" category and the WHO data confirms this. In terms of road deaths per head of population, Saudi Arabia sits on top of the Grim Reaper's podium. That's a curious statistic since presumably alcohol plays no part in those road deaths in booze-free Saudi Arabia.
In our own part of the world, the map suggests you're taking your life in your hands on the roads of Thailand and Vietnam, and anyone who has travelled very far in either will vouch for that.
Taking to the roads in Europe and North America is relatively risk-free, more so in Western Europe than eastern, while in South America the risk is moderate except in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru where the fatality rate for road users jumps up a notch.
Does risk change?
In 2007, Tony Wheeler wrote Bad Lands; A Tourist on the Axis of Evil. After founding Lonely Planet, a publishing empire based on places where you might want to spend your next holiday, Wheeler turned his attention to the polar opposite – places where you probably wouldn't. Wheeler's premise was based more on ideological considerations than the security risk, health and road deaths stats invoked by the International SOS maps, but it's interesting to see how those countries have fared over the past decade.
Assuming the mantle of an interviewer, Wheeler posed three questions of a country – "How does it treat its own citizens? Is it involved in terrorism? Is it a threat to other countries?" – waved his "Evil Meter" over the globe and came up with the nine most unwanted. In no particular order, they were Afghanistan, Albania, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Set those countries on the International SOS maps and you would need a very strong reason to visit Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. Cuba, Iran, Myanmar and North Korea are moderately safe although you wouldn't want to fall ill in any of them. In Saudi Arabia health is not a major risk although road safety is. Biggest improver award goes to Albania, now out of the sin bin and thoroughly rehabilitated, and nudging towards EU membership.