When I told my family and friends in mid-June 2016 about my travel plans in Tunisia, almost everyone reacted with a shock: “Don’t go, it is not safe!” or “Aren’t you scared of all the terrorists over there?”
Of course, it is normal that parents always worry a lot for their kids. But Asian mums are very sensible, especially my mom who tends to exaggerate: “Don’t go, I don’t want you to lose any leg or arm!”
Above all, it annoys me the most when people associate all Muslim people with terrorism and crime.
Despite many warnings, also of governmental internet sites, I took my backpack and flew to Tunis.
At that time, I never thought that it would be one of my most amazing trips: while travelling through Tunisia, I slept in houses of locals who I contacted via Couch Surfing. These people, who were firstly strangers to me, became then good friends.
I even tried out a little bit of Hitchhiking, which worked pretty well!
After my 1 month adventure across the country, I came back safe and sound (with arms and legs!).
Therefore, I can tell you from experience the following points regarding safety and security in Tunisia:
1. A large number of security forces ensure the safety of tourists.
Since the terror attacks (Bardo and Sousse) in the last year, police presence has been increasing. In particular in and near tourist areas, I observed quite a few military bases. There, Policemen patrol at crowded places and carry out random security checks. Big shopping malls, bars and other public facilities are under strict security control.
During my travels by shared taxis (Luage) we were often stopped by security forces who checked the identity of the driver as well as of passengers.
2. Locals are helpful and care a lot about the safety of travellers.
Tunisians in the street not only warned me all the time about pickpockets, but they also helped me to prevent potential theft. Several times, Tunisians in the Souks (open-air marketplace) indicated to me when my backpack was opened. Another time, a friendly man drew my attention to my banknotes hanging out of my trouser pockets that anybody could easily have taken.
If you get lost somewhere or need something you can just ask anyone, who looks friendly, for help. I recommend you to always have available numbers of Tunisians who you met during your travels. Phone them if you have any difficulties, they will help you out!
Both locals and policemen make you feel safe in Tunisia.
3. Tunisian people are in general very friendly, warm-hearted and hospitable.
Besides the fact that Tunisians really appreciate tourists, I was most impressed by their hospitality. As food plays a very important role in their culture and tradition, Tunisian people love to invite you to their home to have dinner with their family. After the “holy” act of eating, a taxi driver explained to me, you enter in a kind of “family relationship”.
Many friends of my Couch Surfing hosts, but also people who I met randomly somewhere (taxi, beach, streets, etc.), invited me again and again for a drink & snack or to their house. Once, even a taxi driver invited me to have dinner with his family. At any invitation to someone’s home, I was warmly and friendly welcomed by a Tunisian family. Their great hospitality made me always feel at home.
The generosity of the Tunisian people even went so far, that I often felt uncomfortable when someone gave me so much. Especially, when you don’t know the person who could maybe struggle financially. Consider the fact that many Tunisians don’t even live with a monthly salary of 150 €. In addition, they are in a crisis because their important tourist industry has been massively declining since the attacks in 2016. Therefore, I often had to fight to pay at least my own drinks and meals!
Passengers on the taxi invited me to a barbecue.
Particularly in Tunisia I found out:
People from less developed countries love to share more than people living in prosperous countries who are often kind of stingy and would even remind you if you owe them 1 € from the last coffee!
4. The public transport is in general well-developed and quite safe.
It is true that the streets in Tunisia are very chaotic and a lot of road users do not respect traffic rules. But you can travel pretty safely and cheaply by trains (tram), buses and small taxis.
My favourite transport was the Luage, a big shared taxi carrying up to 10 or more passengers. Mostly Locals used the Luage system to get around. It is cheaper, more flexible and faster. As soon as the taxi is full, the often “adventurous” ride starts. Then, in consultation with the driver, you can get off earlier at any place that lies on the route.
Luage drivers often drive very fast and overtake many cars to arrive as soon as possible. One time, I felt like in Formula 1 while sitting in the front. How happy I was, when I arrived safe. Sitting in the front is definitely not for people with weak nerves! When taking the shared taxi, you have to trust the driver. Most of them, with which I drove, were experienced and had a family.
While gaining so many positive experiences of the country and its people, I asked myself the question:
Why people are so afraid of going to Tunisia?
For me it is the media, including the often no longer up-to date warnings of governmental sites, which had spread a lot of fear and panic. Of course, the Bardo Attack and the massacre in Sousse in 2015 were really terrible, but attacks like these can happen nowadays everywhere, recently also in France and Germany. For people living in crisis areas (Lybia, Syria, etc.) terror attacks are even part of their everyday life!
However, the consequences after a terror attack are even more devastating for a country that highly depends on tourism. One of the main economy sectors in Tunisia, the tourism industry, has been immensely damaged.
When I was travelling across Tunisia, I always felt like I was the only tourist. For example in Douz or in Matmata I checked in at hotels where I was the only guest. Furthermore, many luxury hotels in big tourist areas, like Sousse, Djerba or Hammamet, were closed and many others were threatened from it.
Hammamet – luxurious hotels, but many empty rooms.
While talking to locals coming from the lower or mid class, I could experience the general misery of the country: no jobs, increasing food prices and the teenagers don’t see many future perspectives in their own country. In almost every conversation, Tunisians linked the economic crises with the Revolution in 2011.
In this moment, it seems to me that the whole country is suffering economically even more, just because some “Psychopaths” have successfully spread fear and terror? And people in western countries believe the media propaganda against Muslims?
After my travel throughout the whole of Tunisia and throughout the different social classes I made an important discovery regarding their religion, Islam:
Muslims, even if they sometimes appear scary with their long beards, are one of the nicest people that I have ever met. Tunisians are not only very friendly and helpful, but they also respect all kinds of religions!
To put it in a nutshell, I can tell you from experience that now Tunisia is a safe country to travel.
Of course, you should avoid border areas to Libya and Algeria, therefore also the south of Tunisia from north of Dhehiba to south of Ras Ajdir, due to cross border terrorist activities and war. Keep up to date with the current political situation of the country and avoid all protests. Therefore, inform yourself on governmental sites.
I really wish and hope that the Tunisian tourism industry will recover soon, so that more travellers can see the diverse and breath-taking landscapes.
You will find the world’s top beaches,
remains of the ancient city Carthage,
amazing underground caves of Berber,
Ksour (fortified granaries),
Dromedaries in the Sahara,
AND SO ON AND SO ON….
The country has something to offer for everybody!
But most important: to get to know the Tunisian people and their culture!
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me. I am glad to hear your feedback.
Goodbye and have a nice trip!