What is a “dangerous” travel destination?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what it means to travel to a “dangerous” destination lately because I’m in the process of planning a 2-month trip to Cuba. While Cuba is not considered “dangerous” to citizens of other countries, it does send a little shiver up an American’s spine when thinking about the potential consequences of traveling there without a visa, which I might end up doing. I guess sneaking into Cuba through Mexico or Canada may classify more as “risky” rather than “dangerous,” but I am always willing to take risks so long as I know I will not inevitably put myself in danger. A possible $10,000 fine is quite a price to pay for a visit to a country closed to Americans, however, so I know it’s important to tread lightly.

So I proceeded to do some research on how to estimate a “dangerous” place in the world, and I found the results quite startling. According to Fabiola Hernandez over at Associated Content, the 5 most dangerous countries in the world are Colombia, South Africa, Jamaica, Venezuela, and Russia. Hernandez goes so far to say that, “You wouldn’t want to be caught dead living there, literally.” But do I trust her opinion? Not at all.
This list was generated from a kind-of-handy statistical website called NationMaster.com that spits out national information ranging from Agriculture to Terrorism. Hernandez seemed quick to compile her list by searching for “Crime — Murder per capita.” The “most recent” results of my search are the same as the results Hernandez found nearly two years ago, which leads me to believe NationMaster.com is not at all up-to-date and, therefore, its information is misleading.

I could not disagree more with Hernandez’s list. First, it is completely void of volatile countries in the Middle East. Secondly, I traveled in Colombia, the country at the top of her list, for three months during the spring of 2008 and never felt safer there. Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city that Pablo Escobar made famous, is largely misunderstood. While it may have been the “Murder Capital of the World” five short years ago, this city is quite safe, quite lovely, and quite a tourist hotspot.

I have never been to the other four nations on the list. While I’ve heard that these countries do indeed have their dangerous regions and cities, I know for a fact that there are also some really wonderful, worthwhile places within their borders that it would be a pity if fear prevented a traveler from going there.

I find Hernandez’s estimation of “danger” quite askew, and I feel lists like this are harmful and largely misinterpreted. Sure, the percentage of murders in a country is one thing that could make a place dangerous, but what about terrorism, civil war, theft, and rape? More importantly, fear is the thing that prevents so many travelers from leaving the “safety” of their home. I believe, with proper precautions, even the most dangerous place is just as safe as sitting on your couch. Additionally, you are seeing the world and experiencing life for real, in its rawest, most natural form.