Home » Authentic Travel in Iran » How to visit Iran » Is Iran safe for travel? (Part 1)

I feel safe living in Iran even though they can tell I'm a foreigner and despite Iranians' demented driving habits.

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Is Iran Safe for Tourists?

Stories in this Iran Travel Series:

Is Iran Safe for Tourists?

  1. Is Iran safe for travel? (Part 1)
    NO! But not for the reasons you think
  2. Is Iran safe for travel? (Part 2)
  3. Is Iran safe for travel? (Part 3)
  4. Is Iran safe for travel? (Part 4)

Iran is safe for travel and I stopped beating my wife. Now smack me.

Is it safe to travel to Iran?

It’s like asking if I stopped beating my wife. Any way I respond, I’m gonna get hammered.

On the one hand, certain irritating online characters relentlessly promote Iran travel to anyone and everyone. They are usually Iranians selling tour packages. Or nationalist trolls with nothing better to do but start arguments often peppered with accusations of racism. 

On the other hand, save for one exception (see below), I feel safe living in Iran, even though I hold a foreign passport and, even after nearly three years, I’m not very good at passing myself as a local.

But that’s my deal. Your decision on whether Iran is safe for tourists should be based on facts not hearsay, much less assurances from strangers online.

It’s easy, though, to confuse facts with impressions we develop over time about foreign people and places.  

I’ll explain. But first, here’s why I feel safer in Iran than in many other places.

Iran safe for travel? I feel safer here

I smile when friends abroad end their messages with, “Hope you’re safe” because I feel safer here than when I’m in Europe or North America. 

In Iran, I don’t worry about pickpockets and scammers like I do when I’m in the streets of Barcelona, Paris or Venice. Over there, I walk around like a fresh prisoner taking his first shower, constantly checking and rechecking for the possibility of penetration. I am paranoid because I’ve been ripped off multiple times. 

And in Iran, there are no mass shootings – a twice-daily average in America. You’re not going to get shot here because you went to the wrong address or because you gave the finger to someone on the freeway. Cops here don’t approach your car with a hand on the gun holster.

Again, I’m paranoid because of personal experiences, like the time a homeless man pulled a pistol on Saeideh. She tearfully begged a passerby for help. The passerby just kept walking. “Call the police,” he said. When cops tracked down the passerby later on, he just threw up his shoulders. That kind of indifference is IMPOSSIBLE to happen here. Iranians are not indifferent to each other.

Iranians who immigrate to the big cities of the West have to learn quickly that they can’t go out for a stroll anytime of the night. Because in Iran, no one fears the night.

Iran unsafe for travel? Yes. but not for the reasons you think

I wish traffic cops in Iran pulled guns on us, though. Because what’s unsafe in Iran is the God-damned traffic!

Alcohol is banned here, but everyone drives as if they’re wasted. The sheer stupidity and selfishness on Iran’s streets is the top source of the stress in my life here, period. 

I cherish heading into the desert and the mountains in my 4WD. Traveling the rural roads in Iran is an adventure into remarkable beauty that remains mostly unknown to the rest of the world.

But I dread getting behind the wheel in the city. Just thinking about it makes my shoulders tense.

Driving in Iran’s city streets is like being trapped inside a violent video game: the constant swerving away from the nincompoops who cut me off or speed straight toward me on a one-way street or even slam the brakes on the freeway to reverse back to the exit they just missed. 

Using ridesharing to avoid driving the chaotic roads of iran
Using ride-hailing apps to avoid driving the chaotic streets of Iran, Mashhad, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, Escapefromtehran.com

You see things on the streets here that defy logic. For example, Iranian drivers tend to move out of parking spots or speed into traffic from sidestreets before looking for oncoming traffic that could smash into them. Sometimes they don’t look at all.

This burns: the lack of shame. The worst offenders are the totally oblivious. They’re often laughing into their mobile phone as they whiz by within millimetres while I’m having a heart attack.

The law of the jungle is the default for all homo sapiens in the absence of any other.

No, they are not savages, like I used to think, and I still occasionally cry out. The law of the jungle is the default for all Homo sapiens in the absence of any other. Enforcement of traffic laws in Iran is nearly nonexistent and as amusingly senseless as Monty Python skits. Plowing through a red light costs the equivalent of $4 USD, which you can ignore for years until there’s another amnesty for unpaid fines.

Saeideh tells me I just don’t understand the “hidden logic” of Iranian drivers. “They expect you to brake for them. And when you do crazy things, they brake for you. It all works out.” Saeideh tells me. “Someday you’ll get it.”

Thankfully, tourists here are driven around by experienced Iranian drivers or the warnings about travel to Iran would be far grimmer.

I know. Your are concerned about issues other than traffic in Iran. I know it’s on my mind all the time. I explain here.

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