Iran was my home for about 20 days in September 2019. It was like no other country I have visited. To be honest, it is like no other country in the world.
In this short article I want to answer the question every single person asked me about Iran. And I have a request if you start reading, please finish until the very end. I am counting on your honesty. Here we go. Everyone asked “Is visiting Iran safe?”.
My answer is – no, visiting Iran is not safe. BUT not for the reasons you might think.
In Iran, unlike the US, there is zero chance of you being shot down on the street. Owning a gun is forbidden for civilians and there is no gun violence. According to the Institute for Economics & Peace, Iran is 44th in the world in the 2018 Global Terroism Index. For comparison, Thailand is 17th, USA is 20th, UK is 28th, France is 30th and Germany is 39th. This means that Iran has less terrorism than Thailand, US, UK, France and Germany. Traffic in Iran is crazy, yes, but in my 20 days there I saw zero car accidents. People in Iran do not care much about the traffic rules, but they do not drive aggressively. For comparison, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the worst traffic situation I have ever seen. I usually do not pray to God when I cross the street, but in HCMC I prayed every time. I saw multiple accidents, especially with scooters, and when I exited the city alive I thanked God one more time for this miracle. What about theft? In Iran, nobody looked at my big Nikon camera in a way that made me fear robbery. I carried daily about 5kgs of photography + personal equipment without any problems. I never felt like someone was trying to lie to me about money. What about being a solo female traveller? I did not experience any form of harassment or aggression. People were looking at me, yes, but I did not feel uncomfortable. I felt like they were curious rather than with malicious intents. For comparison, I traveled solo to Indonesia (not Bali, but the real Indonesia) and there I really felt bothered by the looks (and, ugh, sounds) I got. Nothing like this in Iran.
Truth be told, I felt fear in Iran the first 1 hour in Tehran. This was because because my mind was programmed to feel fear. A few hours into the trip and I was free from it all. A few days in, I felt at home. Two weeks in, I was in love with everything and everyone, already thinking about what I want to do on my next visit…
But visiting Iran is not safe.
It is not safe because it will make you ask the question all politicians fear the most – Why? Why is it that a country with one of the friendliest people ever has been classified as an enemy or evil? Why are Western media only covering Iran in a negative way? Why don’t we hear anything good about tourism in Iran, even though it has so many UNESCO heritage sites, natural wonders, culture and arts few countries in the world ever have?
Visiting Iran is dangerous because you will ask yourself “Am I crazy, or is there some kind of hidden plot for all countries to put Iran in the corner?”. Even if I hate conspiracy theories, I saw the absurdity of the sanctions imposed on Iran. The government keeps spending all they want on military, but it is the normal people like you and me who suffer the consequences. Sanctions in Iran mean ordinary people cannot start a business because they are refused to open a bank account anywhere in the world. Sanctions mean smart people with two master degrees have an impossibly hard time to obtain scholarship or continue higher studies abroad. It means people cannot travel freely. And it means much deeper, sadder problems I do not want to discuss here.
To be honest, a lot of times when I talked with people from Iran I was speechless. I didn’t know how to reply in an appropriate way. I had no joke to make the conversation more cheerful. I felt a lump in my throat, a sense of guilt, because the EU also contributes to the hard situation for Iranians. Even though Bulgaria is probably the least powerful country in the EU, I still felt guilt and a heavy feeling in my heart. On an emotional level, this was the hardest trip I have done. Because all I saw was kind, ordinary, people put in an impossible, hard, absurd situation.
Visiting Iran is dangerous because you might have to argue with your friends and family trying to defend your stance that Iran is amazing and it is safe. You will see the disbelief in their eyes when you talk to them, even though they never visited and YOU are the person who saw, experienced and felt everything. When you tell them you want to be back again, you will see that “you’re crazy” look. So you will be. The crazy lone traveller.
You will ask yourself lots of questions. And you won’t find the answers easily. Instead, you will find strangers telling you “Welcome to Iran” and “Thank you for coming”. You will find beauty that will stop your breath. You will find peace in mosques. Perfection in the colours, patterns, in the reflections in the fountains. You will find people you will fall in love with. You will find safety in the night watching children play on the streets as the women walk by slowly. You will feel your mind and heart expand beyond measure. And this is really a dangerous thing. Because with an open mind and heart you cannot judge. You only listen, see and try to understand.
I have been talking with friends and family daily about Iran since I’m back in Europe. I have decided to start a travel blog and write about my trip in details. I will let you know how to travel Iran, as well as details + pictures of each city I visited. There is just too much to say for a single article. Also, I have decided to describe in details my previous trips to other countries. Stay tuned in the coming months on Instagram and Facebook page of Nomad Photos. As always, thank you for following along!
All pictures © Alex Kovacheva. Pictures taken with iPhone XR + Nikon D810 with Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VR in Iran, September 2019.