Is it Safe to Travel to the Middle East?

by  Amy E. Robertson | Oct 11, 2016

With the rising threat of terrorism across the globe, traveling away from home can feel scary -- specifically to places near the heart of tension.

But consider this: When it comes to terrorism, it is unlikely to stumble into the middle of a terrorist attack anywhere. The probability is comparable, if not higher, in cities like New York, Paris, and London than it is in large swathes of the Middle East, in particular the countries that border the Persian Gulf (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates).

But what about places like Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, home to some of the richest cultural heritage and most dramatic archaeological sites? Is it safe to travel there?

The key to managing risk is to be smart about it. Here’s how.

Consider Crime Rates

In all three countries, intentional homicides are similar or lower than they are in the U.S. Pickpockets and taxi scams aren’t unheard of at the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. On the other hand, they are a serious problem at the train stations of Barcelona and Rome. In Jordan and Lebanon, even pickpockets are a rare breed, and more aggressive crimes, such as muggings or personal attacks on tourists or foreigners, are virtually unheard of.

Monitor the Threat of Terrorism

Given the instability in parts of the Middle East, the threat of terrorism is very real. But, unfortunately, the threat of terrorism against cities such as New York, Paris, Brussels, and London is also very real. This map lists the countries that the UK’s Foreign Office has rated as having a high threat of terrorism (including the UK itself). You'll notice that they have issued the same level threat to Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon as they have for Spain, Germany, France, and the UK. The U.S. isn't much better, either. Bottom line: There is a chance that you could be affected by terrorism in any of these places, but you are not particularly likely to be affected. Whether you're headed to the Middle East to Western Europe, remain aware of your surroundings at all times.

Stay Informed

One excellent source of information is anyone who lives in, or has recently traveled to, the destination you are considering. News reports can be both dramatic and one-sided. They can make it seem that a country is on the brink of civil war, when most folks are going out for dinner or for a day at the beach. On the other hand, newspapers won’t necessarily report something as intangible as “rising tensions,” and that might be a very good reason to postpone a visit. Speaking to someone who is there, on the ground, can help you better assess the situation.

Check travel forums for advice from local experts. Do a Google search for bloggers and for people on Twitter who are residing or traveling in your desired destination, and don't hesitate to ask questions.

Consider a Guide

Not only can a guide help you navigate a new country, a tour company can be an excellent resource for safety. They will know any areas to avoid, whether certain sites should be dropped from an itinerary for safety, and so forth. And in case of an emergency, a guide can become invaluable. One guide with Memphis Tours reported that at the time of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, not only did their company spend two days getting all clients safely to the airport, they even refunded customers for shortened and cancelled tours, or helped them reschedule to join a tour in another country.

In short, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon are generally safe to visit. Do your due diligence to check in on current safety conditions, and don’t allow yourself to be hemmed in by anxiety.

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