Countries where locals feel safe. Also, cruise ships and smoking.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the October 2016 issue.

The Anglican St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Singapore, is located in the heart of the city. Photo: ©Sathianpong Phookit/123

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 488th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine.

This publication continues to prosper because of the travelers who subscribe to it (thank you) and the companies that advertise in it (thank them).

If you’re thinking of visiting a particular destination, consider the offerings of one of the tour operators who are providing support to ITN… and let them know where you saw their ad. They’ll appreciate the feedback.


The polling company Gallup (www.gallup.com) compiles a “Law and Order Index” every year that, based on what the locals in various countries think, gives an idea of how safe it is to visit those places.

The 2016 Global Law & Order Report was based on interviews conducted by Gallup in 2015 with over 135,000 people in 133 countries and nonsovereign territories (at least 1,000 people in each country or territory).

Gallup asked each person the following three questions about personal safety: “In the city or area where you live, do you have confidence in the local police force?,” “Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live?” and “Within the last 12 months, have you had money or property stolen from you or another household member?”

The answers were compiled into “index scores,” with higher numbers indicating a greater feeling of safety by the respondents.

As for how all the countries scored as a group, Gallup tallied all the results together. For those ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions, 65% of the respondents said they had confidence in their local police, 64% said they felt safe walking alone at night, and (looking at the bright side) 86% said they had not had property stolen within the last year. Adding the three percentages and dividing by three gave an average score of about 72. 

So how did some individual countries score in comparison? (For your information, among the dozens of countries where polling was not done were the following: Algeria, China, Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.)

According to the poll, the safest country was Singapore, with an overall score of 93. The next-most-safe countries were Iceland (90), Uzbekistan (90), Tajikistan (89), Switzerland (88), Norway (87), Finland (87), Jordan (85), Austria (85) and Denmark (85). (The US scored a 77.)

In answer to the specific question “Do you feel safe walking alone at night?,” which is likely of more immediate interest to travelers, Singapore again came out on top, with 92% answering affirmatively. On that question, Norway was next (90%), followed by Switzerland (87%), Finland (86%) and Iceland (86%).

The study also listed countries where citizens felt the least safe

According to their citizens, the 10 least-safe countries among those where polling was done were, in descending order, Liberia (with an overall score of 53), the Dominican Republic (53), Malawi (52), South Sudan (52), the Democratic Republic of Congo (51), Bolivia (51), Peru (50), Syria (50), El Salvador (48) and… Venezuela (35). Venezuela’s score of 35 was the lowest score achieved by any country in the last 10 years of the survey.

In response to the singled-out question, a paltry 14% of Venezuelans said they felt safe walking alone at night. That percentage is less than half that from the next-closest-rated countries, war-torn Syria and Afghanistan (!), where 34% of each country’s citizens said they felt safe walking alone at night.

Still in regard to people feeling safe walking at night, filling out the bottom 10 countries on the list (in ascending order) were Gabon (35%), El Salvador (36%), Dominican Republic (36%), Malawi (39%), South Africa (40%), Peru (40%) and Mexico (40%).

It’s understandable why Venezuelans rated their safety so poorly, considering that — according to the most recent statistics (self-reported by each country) gathered by the United Nations Office of Drugs & Crime (UNODC) in 2014 — per capita, Venezuela was the country with the third-highest murder rate in the world .

The countries with higher murder rates in 2014 were Honduras, with the most murders per capita, followed by El Salvador. However, according to the UNODC, the total number of murders in Venezuela that year — 19,030 — was more than double the combined totals of both El Salvador and Honduras, though, of course, Venezuela’s population is also more than double that of both of the other two countries combined.

To put this in perspective (and using the UNODC’s latest figures for the US, from 2013), if the US had Venezuela’s murder rate — 62 murders per 100,000 people — roughly 196,000 people would have been murdered in the US in 2013, while the actual number of murders that year was just over 12,000.

Getting back to Gallup’s 2016 Global Law & Order Report, the safest region of the world in 2015 was Southeast Asia, which had an average overall score of 79, an improvement of seven points from the previous year’s report, followed closely by the US and Canada, each with an average of 78 (same as the year before). 

In the latest report, Sub-Saharan Africa had the second-lowest average, 63, but that’s a 3-point improvement from the previous year’s report. 

Latin America and the Caribbean each had the lowest average score of all the regions surveyed, 55, the same as the previous year. It’s not all bad news for the region, though. Paraguay vastly improved on the previous report’s score, rising from 46 to 60, and Costa Rica, Haiti and Brazil each rose five points.

A condensed version of the poll can be viewed at www.gallup.com/poll/193919/security-issues-continue-trouble-latin-americ....


Planning to take a cruise? Pay attention to the rules.

For reasons of safety and passengers’ comfort, certain cruise lines are cracking down on smokers.

On June 6, a passenger sailing with P&O Cruises from Bali, Indonesia, to Fremantle, Australia, was kicked off the ship at the next port after a ship’s security officer saw him throw a cigarette butt off the side of the ship. (The passenger was in a designated smoking section at the time of the incident.) The man was left on an island in Indonesia, while his wife and daughter, facing the high prices of last-minute flights home, elected to stay on the ship.

With the assistance of P&O, the man was able to transfer to Bali, from which he flew home to Perth, Australia.

According to P&O’s health-and-safety video available in every cabin, “Passengers are never to throw cigarette butts, matches or cigar ends over the side of the ship or from a cabin balcony.” This is also announced during the mandatory passenger-safety muster upon embarkation.

There is good reason for this rule. A lit cigarette flicked off the side of a ship can easily be blown back on board and cause a fire. 

On Princess Cruises’ Star Princess in 2006, a cigarette left smoldering on a stateroom balcony’s partition (one made of polycarbonate) started a fire that left one passenger dead from smoke inhalation, with 13 others treated for the effects of smoke inhalation. More than 100 staterooms sustained fire damage.

Though the 2006 fire was not a case of someone’s having tossed a cigarette overboard, it does show that a lit cigarette can pose a very real threat to the safety of passengers and crew. 

Because of this danger, the captain of the P&O cruise ship referenced above had decided on a no-tolerance policy, so when the matter was reported to him, he declared that the passenger would be removed from the ship, this despite the man’s apologies and the protestations of his family. 

Some cruise lines are becoming more stringent in their policies on smoking. Starting in November 2016, Seabourn Cruise Line will no longer allow smoking on cabin balconies, limiting smokers to designated locations on deck. Anyone caught smoking on their balcony (or in any other nonsmoking area) will be subject to a $250 fine. 

Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and P&O Cruises are some of the other lines that also have completely banned smoking on balconies. On the other end of the spectrum, Costa Cruises, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and Holland America Line still allow smoking on balconies.


CORRECTIONS to note —

• Jim Johnson of Chattanooga, Tennessee, wrote, “In the letter “Comparing Bicycle Tours” (Sept. ’16, pg. 18), a subscriber described my company incorrectly. She stated, ‘With BikeTours.com, … you’re on your own with a map. The company makes all hotel reservations and transports the luggage.’

“The subscriber was on a self-guided tour, and she may not be aware we also offer self-guided tours (with luggage transfers, prebooked hotels, maps, service hotline, etc.) and guided tours (including support vans).

“It’s also important to point out that BikeTours.com is not a tour operator. Rather, we represent and sell tours operated by more than 100 companies local to destinations worldwide. They create and operate the tours, and we promote their tours through our website. In nearly every case, the operators we represent are small companies that until recently catered to regional markets.

“In addition, our staff advises travelers in choosing (appropriate) bicycle tours.”

Ron Walker of San Diego, California, also noted the mischaracterization of the company’s offerings and added, “I am a happy repeat customer, having taken three tours with BikeTours.com, to Poland, Romania and Holland. As Facebook has been reminding me, the most recent one was two years ago. The company is a ‘must consider’ for anyone planning a bike trip and seeking reliable providers at various price points.

“In researching bike tours, I’ve noticed that there are a number of US-based operators that run their own high-end, fairly expensive tours in many countries. I’m sure those tours are very nice, but my girlfriend and I prefer more affordable tours that are run by locals. 

“We don’t need to stay at the fanciest places. In fact, we think very high-end lodging often puts more distance between you and the locals, removing you from the local experience. That’s not what we’re after when we visit another country. We’re planning another BikeTours.com trip for summer 2017.”

• When Brenda and George Milum visited Bhutan in 2008, they were only in their mid-70s, not mid-80s as was printed last month on page 44. (Brenda only mentioned this error in passing when I called her about another matter. I’m the one who wanted to set the record straight.)

The Milums are snorkeling aficionados, and from the moment I got Brenda’s report last year on favorite snorkeling sites plus tips on snorkeling, I couldn’t wait to print it. For that terrific write-up, see the May 2015 issue, page 28.


Those of you who have missed seeing the money-exchange guide in ITN since we unceremoniously dropped it (starting with the March 2016 issue) will be happy to know that we will be printing it in every other issue from now on, starting this month. You’ll find “On The Money,” with selected exchange rates as supplied by the firm XE.com, on page 67.

Three decades ago, our printing a money-exchange guide was one of the top two requests made by our subscribers. (The other was having a regional map with each Feature Article.)

Noting that exchange rates are easily found online these days, ITN staff decided to pull the “On The Money” box and use the space for more text. It took a while for subscribers to speak up en masse, but it became clear that a significant number of our readers do not have ready access to a computer and rely on the guide in ITN for various reasons.

As one subscriber mentioned recently, “After returning from a trip, I compare the figures on my Capital One bill to the exchange rates on the money guide, and it’s comforting to see that the rates are within a few cents of each other.”

Events like the Brexit notwithstanding, exchange rates don’t waver all that much, so the guide will be there bimonthly as a reference and noted on the Contents page. 

In ITN, we are more and more often including mentions of websites and apps — which are helpful to travelers who are “plugged in” — but we keep in mind that a percentage of our readers are “old school,” so, when editing letters and Travel Briefs, we often add phone numbers and even overseas street addresses of travel firms mentioned.

In a write-up of a tour or package trip, however, we may not include such complete details with every hotel or restaurant mentioned because the tour company or travel agent handles all of those bookings.

We’ve been printing some form of the money guide since April 1987, and I apologize for yanking something so familiar without giving any warning or announcement.

We’re listening, so do let us know how you feel about what’s in ITN or what’s not in ITN that you’d like to see. We’ll try to comply. As is often the case in this world, if you need something, it’s necessary to speak up and not assume that someone else will do it for you or that piping up will do no good. It’s the wheel that squeaks that gets the grease, and sometimes you can get results.


Pleasant sentiments from the In Box —

Jo Anne Herbeck of Picton, Ontario, wrote, “I just want to say how much I’m enjoying ITN. I especially like that it’s not big and glossy and that it’s written by people who state when they went, which I find important.” 

Yes, Jo Anne, when someone doesn’t mention dates or a time period in their trip report, we write back and ask for it.

Susan Walz of Portola Valley, California, in renewing her subscription, wrote, “To ITN staff: As usual, thanks for what you do. At $57 for three years, this is the best deal around. We think ITN is great.”

Ellen Rado of Hollis, New York, kept it really short: “Love, Love, Love ITN! Nothing else like it.”

Keep the travel reports and suggestions coming. ITN continues as a group effort!