Home » Authentic Travel in Iran » Travel in Iran carries the risk of going to jail – WRONG!

The biggest risk of travel in Iran is not going to jail (or from getting shot or ripped off, as is the case in the streets of Europe and America). Here the risk is getting your gourd smashed in a traffic accident! Or at least think you're out of your mind after witnessing what Iranian drivers are capable of.…

One more thing I’ve learned on my latest road trip through northwest Azerbaijan provinces of Iran: Travel to Iran can be unsafe but not for what you might be told.  

“Travel in Iran carries the risk of going to jail” – this according to the travel advisories issued by the brilliant minds in US, UK and Australian governments, who somehow equate arrests of political dissidents to tourists going to jail.

It’s a ridiculous conclusion that would draw outrage if it was done the other way around.

It’s in the middle of the planet’s most violent region but Iran is not only the safest place in the Middle East, it safer than many American and Western European destinations. No daily mass shootings here or the hordes of pickpockets and scammers (enabled by mostly indifferent cops) roaming the streets of Venice, Paris and Barcelona.

No, the biggest risk of travel in Iran is not political. It’s getting your gourd smashed in a God-damned traffic accident!

Or at least think you’re out of your mind when you see what Iranian drivers are capable of.

I used to think driving habits in Tehran and Mashhad are horrid, until I drove from comparatively placid highways of the countryside  into round-the-clock pandemonium on the streets of Sabzevar or Qazvin or Zanjan. In Iran’s medium-sized towns – and I hear things get crazier the smaller the town – there’s not even the pretension that driving rules exist.

Trucks, cars, motorcycles and pedestrians mix in such a stupefying manner that the unaccustomed driver is left gasping with exhaustion – because of the mental vigilance and muscular agility required for constant swerving, like you’re stuck inside a violent video game – and bemused wonderment that so many close calls don’t end in more tragedies (although Iran is a recent world record holder for traffic fatalities).

Thankfully, most tourists are driven to their destinations by experienced local drivers or the Western travel advisories would be grimmer: “Risk of Dissident Tourists Dying Before Even Getting to Jail.”

After nearly six months in Iran, I’ve yet to get into an accident. This is just bizarre considering what I’ve seen buzz by within millimeters. “Don’t keep saying you’re accident-free!” Saeideh snaps at me, fearing self-jinxing.

But I contribute to the mayhem too. I was fined not once but twice during this trip. Yes, there is the chaos and there are the cops writing tickets and the two genially coexist.

Iranian road police, Travel Tour Iran Ali Torkzadeh Com 3363
Waiting in my car and taking pics while the cop writes up my traffic ticket. Just outside Sari, Mazandaran Province.

I tried to squeeze out of the tickets by claiming ignorance of Iranian traffic laws as I handed over, with a straight face, my Iranian driver’s license. But as dangerous as they are behind the wheel, Iranians aren’t idiots.

“You mean in your country they don’t have solid white lines in the middle of their roads?” asked with a knowing smile the sharply-uniformed officer stepping out of his Mercedes Benz.

So what’s ahead?

Everything in me says I’m in the right place at the right time. I’m in an incredibly beautiful land with people who are f%$#ing insane drivers but nonetheless have stolen my heart with kindness and generosity. It feels like my time here could serve a good purpose, to try to reduce even by a little bit the ignorance of the rest of the world about a complex people who defy stereotypes.

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