Do nightmares of instability or violent political upheaval keep you awake at night?
Do you shudder at the thought of having your wallet brutally taken from you in a seemingly quiet train station?
Do you yearn to travel, but fret over the possibility of a military invasion by a hostile neighbour, or a horrific terrorist attack running your well-laid plans?
Well fear not, worrywarts. Jittery travellers can use good old fashioned statistical analysis to determine the likelihood of such unpleasant occurrences taking place while abroad. Uneasy travellers can mitigate risk by consulting the Global Peace Index prior to choosing their next destination and select a country that can arguably be called one of the 10 safest places on Earth to visit.
Here are 2010's 10 safest countries to visit, displayed in order from safe to safest:
A surprise entry rounding out the top 10, this former Yugoslav republic has transitioned well into the world following the fall of Communism and the Yugoslav Civil War. Wedged between Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary, this tiny mountainous nation has experienced a history of dominance by foreign empires. Picturesque alpine villages and great skiing make this nation a hidden gem of European tourism, while boasting low levels of violent crime and being little risk from terrorist attacks.
The first Nordic nation on the list, Finland is considered one of the most stable countries in the world based on economic, political, social and military indicators. Much like neighbouring Sweden, the landscapes are pristine and forested and Finland's cities are modern and progressive. Here you can experience the nation's rich folk culture in a land where day lasts all night in the summer months. Finland actually boasts a slightly higher homicide rate per 100,000 people when compared with several other nations on this list; however a strong respect for civil liberties, the democratic process and human rights make Finland another safe bet for travellers.
Despite popular conceptions, the "Great White North" is actually an overwhelmingly urban nation with almost 80% of the population residing in cosmopolitan and diverse cities. As a nation of immigrants, the government pursues a policy of multiculturalism where citizens are encouraged to maintain their traditional values and ways of life. Canada scores well for its appreciation of human rights and tolerance. While Canada also scores high for its low levels of violent crime, it loses points for a perceived ease of " access to weapons of minor destruction". Canada is also considered a more probable target for a terrorist attack based on the nation's participation in the war in Afghanistan and strong ties with the United States and Great Britain.
Painfully polite Japan boasts ancient temples and futuristic, neon cities. A destination that this author would recommend to any traveller, Japan is at once both hectic and serene. A place where modern Western pop culture is adopted by local youth and made entirely unique, while their grandparents adhere to the ways of the past. Japan scores well on the GPI for extremely low levels of violent crime, and has very strict gun-laws in place. Robberies are almost non-existent when compared to figures from other Westernized, industrial nations - although these statistics have been criticized for being unreported by some watchdog groups.
Not unlike the Volvos produced in this peace-loving country, Sweden is indeed very safe. Pristine lakes and forests, and trendy, attractive cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg help Sweden score big with tourists. Sweden also scores big across the board in a number of categories including respect for human rights, low levels of violent crime, political participation and civil liberties. As a major exporter of weapons, the Swedes lose major points on the Global Peace Index and thus falls to 6th place overall. It's still safe to conclude that Sweden is about as safe as it gets.
The hills are alive with the sound of safety. The land of music and Mozart scores highly for its low levels of violent crime and peaceful relations with neighbours. Austria loses points in the GPI as it is considered slightly less tolerant and respectful of human rights in comparison to the European nations at the top of the list. Visit elegant Vienna, Salzburg or chocolate box-perfect Hallstatt to enjoy the beauty of this touristic treasure. While Austria is considered one of the safest places to visit overall; the same can't be said for the death-defying ski runs at Kitzbühel in the Tyrolean Alps.
Home of Björk, geothermal power, glaciers and hot spring, Iceland is another Nordic nation that is considered very safe to visit. This tiny volcanic nation in the North Atlantic Ocean was at one time the world's most developed country - according to the UN, and one of the world's wealthiest per capita. Renowned for its first-rate social welfare system, low levels of violent crime and high respect for human rights, Iceland was hit especially hard by the great recession of 2009 and fell in the rankings due to a higher likelihood of political instability in comparison to the other countries listed here.
Although a historical homeland of warlike Vikings who ravaged Europe 1000 years ago, today's Kingdom of Norway is a wealthy, prosperous and safe nation. Breathtaking mountain fjords and colorfully-painted fishing villages make Norway a beautiful place to visit. Norway embodies the same high respect for human rights and personal freedoms, religious and cultural tolerance and low crime rates as the other Scandinavian nations on this list. While a combatant in the US-led War in Afghanistan, Norway is considered a low risk for a terrorist attack.
Another ancestral home of the Vikings, today Denmark is amongst the safest and most peaceful nations on Earth. Denmark is considered a greater threat for terrorist attacks when compared to New Zealand, thanks in part to the infamous Mohammad cartoons published in a Danish newspaper, and the country's role in the Iraq War. But despite the occasional riot in Copenhagen's slums, the nation remains overwhelmingly safe. A great respect for human rights, high levels of gender equality and low levels of homicide and violent crime make Denmark a very safe and exciting destination.
The "Land of the Long White Cloud" boasts rolling green hills, impressive mountains and icy glaciers. New Zealand is home to modern, multicultural cities such as Auckland and Wellington, and its thriving aboriginal Maori community is active in all facets of society. Flying somewhat under the radar of many travellers, little New Zealand is also a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies The nation is considered the world's safest thanks in part to Kiwi society's high respect for human rights and lack of hostility toward foreigners, along with the low risk of political instability and internal conflict.
The Global Peace Index (GPI) moves beyond simple crime statistics alone, and looks at the actions of a government, the country's relationships with the world at large, and the attitudes and demographics of its population. 144 Nations are scored yearly using 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators of peacefulness. The index includes the number of homicides per 100,000 people, the potential for being the target of a terrorist attack, level of hostility to foreigners, educational attainment and unemployment rates and several others indicators. While subjectively measuring the world's "most peaceful" nations, the Global Peace Index takes into account many factors associated with personal well-being and safety. The GPI does not factor in natural disasters or "Acts of God" into the equation however, so these must also be considered when debating overall personal safety as well.
Dealing with Risk
Of course nobody can predict the future, and by definition travel involves some inherent risk. These include both statistically improbable occurrences like your plane going down in the Andes Mountains, to more likely events like being pick-pocketed on a crowded bus. Travelling to the world's safest nations does not guarantee an incident-free trip however. In travel as in life, there are no guarantees. A greater risk in this author's view is letting fear and doubt prevent you from experiencing the World and living your dreams. So travel without fear or impunity, for in all countries - be they considered safe or dangerous, there are adventures to be had, friends to be made, and great life-changing experiences to take advantage of.
Source - Toronto travel writer Jeremy Niester is forever resigned to roam the Earth in search of the inspiring, hilarious, and delicious slices of life that make us all universally similar, but excitingly different.