10 Countries Travelers Should Avoid

Travelers talk a lot about their must-see places; top-ten lists abound, often listing the same destinations over and over. Almost everyone has a bucket list. Less talked about, however, are the countries that travelers would do better to avoid—especially for the time being. Whether it’s political unrest, economic turmoil or concerns about disease outbreaks, you might want to take these 10 countries off your 2016 travel itinerary—and they should probably stay off your bucket list until further notice.

10. Sierra Leone

The countries of Africa’s west coast, including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, were the epicenter of the 2014 Ebola epidemic. While Guinea and Liberia have been removed from some lists of travel advisories, Sierra Leone remains on the U.S. Department of State’s watch list. Although the agency has issued a general warning for parts of West Africa, which include Sierra Leone, the coastal country is the only one to have a separate travel warning of its own. A new cluster of Ebola cases broke out in August 2015 and, although authorities have been working to contain the outbreak, the continued presence of the virus makes travel to Sierra Leone dangerous. Ebola is highly contagious, so the U.S. advises against all non-essential travel to the country, as new infections may occur. Many medical services are either unavailable, temporarily suspended or provided at ill-equipped hospitals and clinics. Ambulances are generally unavailable.

Sierra Leone

9. Bangladesh

In early November 2015, a funeral in Bangladesh was bombed by a terrorist faction. The bombing occurred during a stretch of four days when violence seemed to uptick around the globe: Beirut and Paris were also under attack. While the U.S. Department of State’s current travel warning expires early in 2016, it seems unlikely that concerns about extremist violence in Bangladesh will dissipate any time soon. Since 2014, a string of attacks have seen both Bangladeshi nationals and foreign visitors killed by terrorist violence. Throughout 2015, writers, publishers and journalists were also threatened, and at least one American blogger was murdered in Bangladesh. The threat of violence against visitors appears to remain credible. Since the controversial 2014 elections, there has been ongoing political turmoil as well, with protests and violence occurring in the spring of 2015.

Dmitry Chulov / Shutterstock.com
Dmitry Chulov / Shutterstock.com

8. Kenya

On April 2, 2015, 147 people were killed when gunmen opened fire on a college in Nairobi. The terrorist group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, and the attacks are part of a larger narrative of extremist violence that have plagued Kenya since 2011, with attacks becoming more prevalent from 2013 on. Kenya faces threats from insurgent groups originating in Somalia, the country’s next-door-neighbor, among others. Although many people visit Kenya without incident every year, there does seem to be growing violence, with many attacks directed against locations that tourists frequent, such as airports and resorts. Even nightclubs and shopping areas may be targeted, as well as public transportation and religious institutions, all of which may be used or visited by travelers. Kenyan security has managed to detect or stop other plots, but heightened security may cause disruptions for travelers, especially those of Somali descent.

Nick Fox / Shutterstock.com
Nick Fox / Shutterstock.com

7. Somalia

Somalia is a “failed” state and entered into a state of near-lawlessness in the 1990s. Although the country does have a democratic government, it is weak and not recognized as legitimate by many. As such, the Somali state is often ineffectual. Large areas are controlled by extremist groups such as Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, which has planned and carried out many attacks, including a December 25, 2014, operation at Mogadishu International Airport. Many countries do not maintain embassies and so cannot help their citizens should they decide to visit Somalia. Due to the country’s weak government, many Somalis are suffering, particularly during an ongoing famine in 2015, which heightens risks of violence. Somali waters have become notorious as a refuge for pirates, who have been known to attack in international waters out to 1,000 nautical miles. Somalia remains incredibly dangerous today.

Free Wind 2014 / Shutterstock.com
Free Wind 2014 / Shutterstock.com

6. Venezuela

Tensions between supporters of the policies of Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, and opposition parties continue to cause civil unrest in Caracas and other areas of Venezuela. Chavista policies have led to chronic shortages of basic goods and high inflation rates. Both have contributed to violent crime in Venezuela; the country is the homicide capital of the world and “express kidnappings,” where victims are held for only a few hours while their loved ones gather funds to free them, are common. Demonstrations and riots continue as people protest the problematic policies that have caused living conditions to deteriorate and crime to soar. Armed robberies and other forms of street crime also occur frequently. Upscale neighborhoods and tourist areas are frequently targets for crime, so while many continue to visit and conduct business in Venezuela with little issue, visitors must be aware of the risks to their safety.

Caracas, Venezuela

5. Turkey

Although tourism to Istanbul, Turkey’s capital, has been increasing over recent years and interest in visiting Turkey in general has been rising, so too has the risk of violence been increasing over the past few months. While Turkey has yet to encounter the level of violence witnessed in many Middle Eastern and African countries, the country has been a target for terrorist organizations, especially due to its proximity to Iraq and war-torn Syria. An influx of refugees fleeing violence in these countries also has the potential to create unrest in the region. Turkey has initiated military operations in some of its bases near Adana, in the south of the country. Turkey has also experienced internal political unrest in recent years. Demonstrations are common and can turn violent; border areas are best avoided.

Istanbul turkey

4. Ukraine

While some of the Ukraine may be safe to travel to, including western regions and the capital city of Kiev, ongoing tensions in Crimea and the Donetsk region have made traveling through Ukraine’s eastern reaches much more dangerous. In late 2013, civil unrest broke out, affecting the capital and other areas. While the government responded, rebels in Crimea allegedly broke with the state and requested Russian support. Crimea was occupied and annexed by Russia in early 2014. Fighting continued in the rebel-controlled Donetsk region throughout 2014. A ceasefire agreement between the Ukrainian government and the rebels created a dividing line between territories controlled by either group, but clashes continue in Donetsk and Luhansk. Airspace has been restricted since mid-2014, when a Malaysian Air flight was downed over the region, killing everyone on board. Ukraine remains in a state of unrest.

MagSpace / Shutterstock.com
MagSpace / Shutterstock.com

3. Yemen

Located on the Arab Peninsula, the country of Yemen has been teetering on the edge of civil war for years. The country experienced an Arab Spring revolution in 2011. Unrest and violence continued through 2014, and the government resigned en masse in January 2015. The country has been in a state of civil war since March 2015 as two governments attempt to claim supreme power. The U.S. Department of State closed their embassy and have warned Americans living in Yemen to depart as soon as they can. Airports have been closed, limiting travel to and from the country. Yemen, like much of the Arab Peninsula, has been plagued by terrorist operations that threaten the safety of civilians and travelers alike. Piracy in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean pose additional threats, with many pirate operations taking shelter in Somali waters.

Claudiovidri / Shutterstock.com
Claudiovidri / Shutterstock.com

2. Syria

Most people are more than well aware of the situation in Syria right now; the outflow of people from the country has been headline news for months. If so many citizens are trying to escape the conditions of their country, it’s probably not a place you want to be traveling to. The situation in Syria has deteriorated since the outbreak of the civil war and the ongoing conflict has made living in the region dangerous. While some people may want to travel here to offer humanitarian aid or to connect with relatives and ensure they are safe, most will be better served by finding other ways to help, rather than traveling into an active conflict zone. The U.S. Department of State advises that communication is difficult and kidnappings, as well as security check-points operated by extremist groups, pose serious threats for travel.

Aleppo, Syria

1. Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a turbulent and troubled history, stretching back decades. Although the DRC is currently in a period of relative peace, instability has long plagued the country and its grasp on security is indeed tenuous. In 2015, major protests demanded the resignation of President Joseph Kabila. Elections are scheduled for 2016, which could bring more civil unrest. The country was ravaged by the Congolese Civil Wars, which began in 1996 and are ongoing today. Armed groups continue to roam the countryside, committing violent crimes against civilians and foreign nationals. Travelers are often stopped at both official and unofficial roadblocks. Bribes are common and if a traveler refuses to pay a bribe, they may be attacked or even killed. Infrastructure in the DRC is minimal, with few highways or railways. Boat transport is common, but often unsafe. Diseases, including Ebola, malaria and yellow fever are common.

LMspencer / Shutterstock.com
LMspencer / Shutterstock.com

The 10 Most Poorly Designed Cities in the World

It’s fair to say that no city can ever be perfect as they are constantly evolving, changing and at times their systems can break down. Anyone who has sat in traffic for 3 hours in downtown Atlanta, Georgia can agree with that. But there are some cities around the world that are worse than the rest, and for a variety of reasons including poor road layout, no green space, non-working traffic lights, overcrowding and more. From India to Montana to Brazil, here are the top picks for the most poorly designed cities in the world:

10. Missoula, Montana, USA

Legend has it that when this city was first being established there were two brothers overseeing development who unfortunately had a falling out in the middle of the process. Instead of resolving their problems, they each began plotting out and building their own grids from separate sides of the city. The two grids converge in the middle of the city, which residents refer to as the “malfunction junction”. Others call this the most poorly designed city in the world because of its “Slants Streets” neighborhood, an offbeat part of town that was created when two lawyers wanted to break away and build a whole new town. The town ultimately said no and created their street plan with a grid, throwing everything out of whack. Whatever story you choose to believe, this city is a mess of bad intersections and confusing streets where trying to make a left hand turn is next to impossible.

Missoula, Montana

9. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

It may be surprising to many that this city makes the list as it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world but Dubai ends up at number nine on this list for a variety of reasons. The increasing number of skyscrapers and residential estates that take up hundreds of acres simply don’t jive well together. The entire layout of the city is connected by massive roadways leading from one enormous development to the next. Walking around the city is next to impossible because of this and frankly this city is lacking in shared public spaces. Parks and squares that encourage togetherness are void from Dubai and instead there are giant shopping malls and indoor ski resorts. If you are looking for a city where you can get to know your neighbors, have a picnic in the park or simply get some outdoor exercise; you may want to avoid Dubai.

All.in / Shutterstock.com
All.in / Shutterstock.com

8. Atlanta, Georgia, USA

If you are planning on moving to Atlanta and enjoying a traffic-free commute, think again. Traffic doesn’t get much worse than this city and in fact the traffic here is legendary. In the 1980’s and 90’s there was a boom in Atlanta that caused a massive urban sprawl and along with poorly situated highways; there seems to be no hope in terms of it getting any better. One of the major problems here is the division of race and class that leads to clashes in what should be done to alleviate the traffic problem. Georgia also happens to be one of the bottom five states in terms of highway spending per capita, meaning they aren’t committed to any kind of game plan to fix the system. Unless something drastic happens in this city, expect that the poor design will continue for decades.

Photo by: Flickr/Matt Lemmon
Photo by: Flickr/Matt Lemmon

7. Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Although this city boasts one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of the USA, Boston can be extremely difficult to navigate due to the layout of the streets. Navigating these maze-like streets can be overwhelming to both visitors and locals and although the common misconception is the streets were laid out on top of wandering cow paths, the truth is they simply weren’t laid out according to plan. The combination of random one-way streets and convoluted intersections pose significant safety issues for runners, walkers and cyclists. And although the “Big Dig” project has improved this city in many ways, it has cost an estimated $22 billion, an amount of debt that will not be paid off until approximately 2038. Although this city looks pretty, it certainly isn’t easy to find your way around and it came at a huge price to fix the problems.

Boston Aerial

6. Dhaka, Bangladesh

This capital city is truly a disaster, from one urban dysfunction to another. It stands to reason that this might happen considering out of the city’s 650 major intersections, only 60 of them have traffic lights, and only some of them work. Millions of rickshaws, cars, bike, buses, cows and motorcycles share these roads and driving here is downright dangerous. The awful transportation system means that many inhabitants are forced to live in the slums in the city, rather than commuting from outside, creating poor sanitation and water systems. This massive failure of infrastructure needs a total overhaul before it can begin to get better. In the meantime there will continue to be millions living in poverty and millions fighting each other for road space, truly proving it as one of the most poorly designed cities in the world.

Dmitry Chulov / Shutterstock.com
Dmitry Chulov / Shutterstock.com

5. Sao Paulo, Brazil

Over the course of the 20th century this city transitioned from a small urban environment into a sprawling metropolis, leading to what is one of the most poorly designed cities in the world. This shift in environment meant that the rich took over the center of the city and the poor were pushed to the outskirts; forcing a high number of commuters to the roads. In order to try and alleviate congestion this city implemented a two-mile elevated highway that winds right through the heart of the city, narrowly missing resident’s houses. This noisy eyesore replaced a lively neighborhood that was a cultural center of the city. The rich of the city don’t even bother dealing with roads though; instead they choose to get around by helicopter, making Sao Paulo the city with the world’s largest fleet of helicopters per capita. Unfortunately if you can’t afford a helicopter, you’re forced to deal with this:

AFNR / Shutterstock.com
AFNR / Shutterstock.com

4. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Hurricane Katrina devastated this city a decade ago due to the levee system failing miserably, a system that was designed to protect the city from storm surges. The large majority of Greater New Orleans was flooded and many people lost life and homes. Add this to the fact that this city is built on thousands of feet of soft sand, silt and clay and the song “New Orleans is Sinking” is actually coming true. Combine this with the awful traffic congestion and poor layout of roads and you can understand why this city ranks number 4 in the most poorly designed cities of the world. The saving grace of this city may just be its Mardi Gras festival that brings millions of dollars in revenue; enough to hopefully fix this infrastructure so another tragedy like Hurricane Katrina doesn’t strike this city again.

New Orleans, Louisiana highway

3. Naypyidaw, Myanmar

This fairly new capital of Myanmar has only been in existence since 2005, when the country’s government decided a change of scenery was in order. What was once a land of empty fields has been turned into a super city, six times the size of New York City and complete with 20-lane highways and widespread WiFi access. It sounds pretty great, so why is this city on the list? It happens to be located literally in the middle of nowhere with practically no residents. Government officials are pretty much the only people who choose to call this city home and while the streets and roads should be bustling with activity, more often than not there is no one around. Cities are meant to lived in and over the past decade, this city is failing miserably. Only time will tell if this was money well spent or not.

Photo by: NBC News
Photo by: NBC News

2. Brasilia, Brazil

It is the second Brazilian city on the list and while San Paulo suffers from a lack of design, Brasilia seems to suffer from too much design. This country just can’t seem to find a happy medium. The city of Brasilia was created from a plan back in the 1950’s which took inspiration from an airplane layout and included modernist concrete architecture, meant to make the city hold for years. While visually appealing to some, this city has earned a reputation for being sterile and artificial. It was also designed to house only 500,000 inhabitants but over the years has become home to almost 3 million people. In order to house all these people, it was no longer about keeping the city beautiful and more about creating room for them. Therefore Brasilia has become this mismatch of temporary fixes overshadowing its original beauty.

Donatas Dabravolskas / Shutterstock.com
Donatas Dabravolskas / Shutterstock.com

1. Jakarta, Indonesia

It happens to be the country’s capital and one of the most poorly designed cities in the World, a combination that makes getting around here a disaster. An ever-increasing number of car owners that come from the expansion of suburbia that surrounds this mega-city are to be blamed for the 400 hours a year that citizens spend in traffic. It is actually hailed as being the worst traffic in the world. It doesn’t seem like there is any solution for this mega-city as the infrastructure here falls into the hands of the local government and contracts are renegotiated annually; which means long-term projects are pretty much impossible. An average trip in this city takes about 2 hours; leaving plenty of drivers frustrated at all times. If you thought traffic was busy in your city, try living here for a few years.

Photo by: Indonesia Expat
Photo by: Indonesia Expat

10 Weirdest Sports in the World

For centuries around the world, people have invented many pastimes to keep them entertained. Sports have always been a big part of human cultures, with many sports originating ages ago and being handed down to us today in their modern incarnations. We’re lucky enough to live in a time when a lot of us have a lot of free time, which means we’re constantly inventing and re-inventing sports, so it’s no surprise that the world of athletic competition sometimes takes a walk on the weird side of things. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean the world’s weirdest sports are new; in fact, many of the strangest ones were invented eons ago, before people had the Internet to entertain them. Here are 10 of the weirdest sports you can play in your travels across the globe.

10. Wife-Carrying (Finland)

If you thought the Finns were progressive and all about gender equality, think again. This is a country that invented the sport of “wife-carrying,” sometimes known as “wife running.” The sport is basically an annual competition where husbands run an obstacle course while carrying their wives on their backs. The winner supposedly received his wife’s weight in beer. The most famous competition is held in Sonkjärvi, Finland, where the sport was invented. There are different carrying styles, including piggybacking, fireman’s carry and the Estonian-style, where the woman hangs upside-down with her legs around the man’s shoulders. The sport has spread to other parts of the world, including the US and Australia. Sounds like a great way to spend some quality time!

9. Sepak Takraw (Malayasia)

Sepak takraw is a sport that enjoys a particularly high profile in Malaysia and Thailand. The sport was first played in the 15th century and it has all but been adopted as the official sport of the monarchies of these 2 Southeast Asian countries. The name literally means “kick ball,” using the Malay word for “kick” and the Thai word for “ball.” It’s less like soccer though and more like volleyball. Two teams, each composed of 3 players, square off on opposite sides of a court divided by a net and then try to keep the ball aloft. The catch? You can’t use you hands. Sepak takraw players are only allowed to hit the ball with their feet, knees, or chin.

8. Hornussen (Switzerland)

The Swiss are known for a few things, but one thing they’re generally not known for is inventing Hornussen. A puck, the “hornuss” (hornet), is tossed into the air by the striker, who hits the puck with a whip to launch it. The players on the opposing team then try to knock the puck out of the air with schindels, big placards on long sticks, that they toss into the air. Teams consist of 18 players and games are played in 4 quarters. Although Hornussen is an old sport (the first recorded incident is a complaint about 2 men playing on a Sunday in 1625), it’s only starting to gain recognition outside of Switzerland, with an international association founded in 2012.

7. Buzkashi (Afghanistan)

While this game is played across wide swaths of Central Asia, it’s the national sport of Afghanistan. The name literally means “goat bashing” in Turkish and it involves horse-mounted players attempting to drag a goat carcass toward a goal. In the past, games could last several days, but today’s matches have time limits. Riders typically wear heavy clothing and operate on an honor system, where they’re expected not to intentionally dismount other players or whip their competitors. In Afghanistan, the game was banned under Taliban rule, but is now being played again. Matches typically occur on Fridays and draw thousands of fans, with the most popular riders being sponsored by wealthy Afghanis. The sport is regulated by the Afghan Olympic Federation.

6. Camel Racing (Australia)

Australia certainly isn’t the only proponent of camel racing, but it does offer 2 of the biggest events: the Camel Cup, held yearly at Alice Springs, and the Boulia Desert Sands in Queensland, which boasts a $25,000 purse. Camels can run up to 65 km/h in sprints and at 40 km/h for about an hour. Camel racing, like horse racing, is a popular spectator sport and betting is encouraged. Competitors often come from areas of the Middle East, such as Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Camel beauty pageants are often held in conjunction with camel races, and some places have a marketplace and serve or sell camel products such as camel milk.

5. Bossaball (Spain)

Bossaball is a truly international kind of sport. It was created by a Belgian, first played in Spain and incorporates soccer, volleyball, gymanstics and Brazilian capoeira. The court consists of 2 trampolines on either side of a net, surrounded by an inflatable surface. One person from each team occupies the trampoline on their side of the net. One of these players is the attacker and they serve the ball. The opposing team must try to return the ball back over the net with no more than 5 contacts. Not only is it fun to play, but it also looks amazing, with competitors performing aerial acrobatics as they bounce around the court.

4. Ferret-legging (England)

This strange sport comes from Yorkshire, England, where it apparently originated among coal miners. Also known as “put ‘em down” and “ferret-down-trousers,” the sport is really more of an endurance test as competitors place live ferrets in their pants and trap them there by tying the ankle holes shut. Whoever can keep the ferret in their pants longest wins; the world record is 5 ½ hours! Some speculate that the sport may have arisen from a time when only the wealthy were allowed to keep animals for hunting, so poachers had to hide their ferrets. The sport has existed for a long time, but became quite popular in the 1970s, and was revived with a competition in Richard between 2003 and 2009.

3. Kabaddi (Bangladesh)

Kabbadi is a contact sport that mixes wrestling and capture the flag. During competition, a “raider” runs across the center line of the court and tries to tag players on the opposing team. The raider must not take another breath until they’ve returned to their side of the court, and will chant “kabaddi” under their breath to show that they haven’t inhaled. If they fail to tag a player on the opposite team, they won’t score a point. Kabbadi is popular in many countries, including India, Pakistan, Japan and Iran, but Bangladesh has embraced kabaddi as its national sport. Pro-leagues and cup competitions, including the Asia Kabaddi Cup and the Kabaddi World Cup, are increasing the sport’s profile around the world.

2. Capoeira (Brazil)

Sometimes known as the Dance of War, capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that blends dance, music and acrobatics into a thrilling match. When used for self-defense, capoeira incorporates many sweeps and low moves, but when used as a performance piece, it tends to focus on acrobatics and full cartwheels. Capoeira is almost always performed to music, which sets the tempo for the performance. Although its history is debated, capoeira seems to have evolved in Brazil among African slaves during the 19th century. Today, capoeira is inspiration for many fight scenes in popular movies and TV shows. There is even debate about capoeira’s influence on breakdancing, with some people seeing it as a forerunner sport.

1. Yukigassen (Japan)

Here’s a sport most kids could relate to: a giant snowball fight. That’s essentially what yukigassen is. It originated in Hokkaido, Japan, and the name literally means “snow battle.” Yukigassen is played between 2 teams, each with 7 players. When a player is hit with a snowball, they’re eliminated from the game. Safety precautions are key; players wear specialized helmets with face shields. Before a match, as many as 90 snowballs are made in advance. When the teams hit the court, the fun begins! Competitions are held in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Russia and Alaska today, with the World Championship held in Sobetsu, Hokkaido, every year.