Roadside cardboard depiction of police vehicle in Iranian desert to – I’m not joking – to scare drivers into slowing down. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com

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

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

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, 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 in Los Angeles. 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.

Pull to the side of the road and raise your hood. Within minutes someone is going to stop to help. Or get stuck in sand and people, almost as if they’re movie extras waiting for their cue, will quickly gather to push you out.

Has happened to me multiple times but seeing this endearing quality of Iranians never gets old. Sometimes brings me to tears.

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.

I love San Francisco. But after yet another viral video of the outrageous street crime there, I can’t help but prefer to leave my heart in Isfahan, Iran’s Golden City. Also Isfahan’s homeless don’t leave their feces on the streets.

Excerpt from New Rule: American Carnage | Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)

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

I wish the Iranian traffic cops would pull 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. 

Travel safety in Iran. Scene of traffic accident in Tehran.
Scene of traffic accident in Tehran. Thankfully, tourists here are driven around by experienced Iranian drivers or the warnings about travel to Iran would be far grimmer. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com

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

Is Iran safe for travel? Rural road in Razavi Khorsan Province, near Mashhad. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com
Rural road in Razavi Khorsan Province, near Mashhad. This is only 45 minutes from home in Mashhad. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com

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. 

Is Iran safe for travel? Using ridesharing to avoid driving the chaotic roads of iran
I often use 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. Iranian drivers pull out of parking spots or turn into traffic from side streets before looking for oncoming traffic that could smash into them. Some don’t look at all.

(It is very much the shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality that pervades through all of life here. People here tend to do things without planning. I could write books about this because I see it everyday in construction, social events, business, everything!)

This burns: the lack of shame. The worst driving offenders are the totally oblivious. They’re often laughing into their mobile phone as they whiz by within millimeters 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 after a particularly harrowing encounter. 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 caught on camera costs the equivalent of $4 USD, which you can ignore until there’s another amnesty for unpaid fines.

Somewhere on the road to Isfahan: A drawing of a police car, placed roadside to scare drivers into obeying Iran's traffic laws!
Somewhere on the road to Isfahan: A drawing of a police car, placed roadside to scare drivers into obeying Iran’s traffic laws! I’m not making this up. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com

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, smiling. “Someday you’ll get it.”

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

So is Iran safe for travel? I realize traffic safety in Iran isn’t on your mind. I know because what’s on the news bothers me too. I explain in the Part 2 of this series >.

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Ali and Saeideh plan their Iran roadtrips from their home in Mashhad. More about us here >>

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