Country Specific Advice
Afghanistan is one of my favorite places for travel. The people are incredibly kind, the food is amazing and the landscape is stunning. Sadly Afghanistan is more known for war than for tourism. Decades of war have ravaged Afghanistan to the point that few tourists will ever go there. The Soviets invaded, followed by the Taliban and now various terrorist groups compete for power across different regions of the country. The government truly has control in Balkh, Mazar, Herat, Kabul, and Bamiyan. Luckily those also happen to be the main tourism areas. I would personally recommend using a guide while in Afghanistan. You could in theory do it without one, but your chances of being kidnapped would be exponentially higher. If you use a reputable guide, stay in one of the 5 cities above, and don’t do anything stupid you’ll end up having an incredible trip. ISIS and the Taliban are not lurking behind every corner looking to kill westerners. The only time my vehicle came under fire was from a half dozen kids with snowballs. The most important piece of advice for Afghanistan is that you should not stay in a hotel in Kabul. As recently as January 21, 2018 the Taliban have attacked major hotels in Kabul. Despite these hotels being heavily guarded they still manged to kill 20 people. Staying in a western hotel is the surest way to get yourself killed in Kabul.
As of 3.7.18 there are bombings roughly every week in Afghanistan. Most of these are in Kabul and continue to concentrate on military and police stations. Keep in mind that Afghanistan has a population of over 25 million people. Your chances of being killed by a bombing in Afghanistan are about 1/10,000,000 for every week that you are there. Those odds go down considerably if you avoid the police stations and military bases.
Tunisia is a beautiful country with a lot to offer. I would hesitate to call it a true conflict zone, but it is not like going to Austria or France either. I stayed at a hotel and Tunis and used the hotel as my base of operations. The hotel had a guide that they recommended and set me up with. I would advise you to do the same thing when you are moving around Tunisia. You would likely be safe even in a local taxi, but why take the taxi when you can get a reputable driver that acts as a guide as well? To safely visit Tunisia simply book a hotel with good ratings and ask for a driver. I used a hotel called “Tunisia Palace” and they did a great job of helping me out.
Egypt is one of those places that you simply must visit if you want to be a well rounded traveler. The majority of Cairo is very safe as long as you take normal precautions. I booked a room at the Kempinski Nile Hotel. One of the reasons that I picked the hotel was because it has excellent security and it is pretty close to the US Embassy. It’s close enough that I could have run to the embassy but not so close that a bombing or fight at the embassy would have put me in danger. I would recommend using a guide and hired driver when in Egypt unless you’re in one of the red sea resorts. There are some bad taxi drivers in Cairo and Luxor that have been known to rob solo passengers, especially at night.
Democratic Republic of Congo
A frequent guest on the State Department travel warning website, the Democratic Republic of Congo gives apprehension to many seasoned travelers. Fear not, with a little planning the DRC can be a very safe country to visit. The State Department suggests avoiding “Eastern DRC”. This just happens to include almost everything that a tourist would actually want to see. It also includes the two cities that are probably the safest in the entire country.
Most tourists will want to visit Goma and Bukavu. I went to both of them in December of 2018. Both cities are located in the forbidden “Eastern Congo” and both felt completely safe.
You’ll be totally safe if you go into the parks that remain open. If you follow general travel advice (found on this website) you’ll also be safe unless you go into one of the really remote areas where militias operate.
You’re NOT going to get Ebola. A few dozen people got it out of a country with more than 70 million. Should you go into the city that has it and shake hands? No. Should you let it deter you when you’re going to be 500 miles away? No.
General Advice for Congo:
Kinshasa is more dangerous than Bukavu or Goma. There also isn’t much for someone to see unless you’re on business. If you’re traveling in Kinshasa it’s best to hire your own transportation ahead of time. Taxis can be dangerous. Windows up and doors locked when you’re out and about.
The Police in Congo can be a major issue. We were pulled over 9 times. On one occasion the police were fairly aggressive and got into a heated argument with our driver. He luckily kept his cool and paid a “fine” on the spot. This worked out alright because he was a native Congolese driver. Unless you are part of a very well established NGO you have no business driving yourself around Congo. My guide also told me that the police can be much worse in the more remote areas. In the major cities there are tons of police (and witnesses) so they don’t abuse their power as much. In the smaller villages they are frequently criminals.
Getting a Visa can be a major pain. Due to the large amount of visitors to Virguna park the border patrol at Goma was relatively used to dealing with visas. The border at Bukavu was not. It took my guides almost an hour of talking (and some more money) to get me through the border. I would highly suggest you not try to get through the border into Congo without someone there to help you or unless your French is excellent. They don’t speak English, they don’t have any desire to help you, and they often will try to cheat you. They will think nothing of refusing your entry. It’s best to either get a visa in advance or to get a “visa invitation” and enter with an experienced guide.
During the dry season there might not be any rain in the Congo and the roads will be dusty but in good condition. In the wet season you can have roads that simply become impassable. If you’re going to be traveling in remote areas keep this in mind:
- The (southern) long wet season is roughly from October to January
- The (southern) short dry season is roughly from February to March
- The (southern) short wet season is roughly from March to June.
- The (southern) long dry season is roughly from June to October.
- The (northern) tropical wet season is roughly from June to January.
- The (northern) tropical dry season is roughly from February to June.
I don’t think I’ve been anywhere where the people have photography as much as the Congo. They seriously hate it. Little kids don’t seem to mind as much, but trying to photography adults can get a reaction that borders on violence. Always ask for permission from adults. Don’t even bother trying to take pictures of the police. At best they will say no, but they can easily arrest you and they often do. Photographing the police, military, embassies, government buildings is a great way to find yourself staying in Congo a bit longer than you intended.
UN Troops are not your friends, especially if you are a woman. The Congo has more rapes than any other country in the world, and a large part of those rapes are often attributed to the UN peace keepers that are there to protect the people. I personally would avoid UN staff in any remote area.
What works in one country doesn’t always work in another. The DRC is almost the opposite of Afghanistan, Iraq or Yemen when it comes to staying safe. In those countries the threat is typically a bomb or kidnapping and they are focused on government and military targets. In the Congo there isn’t a bomb threat, and you are by far the safest staying in areas that are full of government officials and military. Rebel groups are not going to come into the major towns on a moment’s notice and they are not going to attempt to blow them up. So you’re actually safer in the Congo if you stay in hotels full of UN staff, AID workers etc. (Again, this is the opposite of Afghanistan)
An excellent resource is http://congotravelandtours.com/travel-in-congo
I leveraged their material when creating some of my Congo advice. The majority of the advice is still based on my own experience and the words of my local guides.