Lexie Alford holds the Guinness World Record for being the youngest person to travel to every country in the globe
Lexie Alford holds the Guinness World Record for being the youngest person to travel to every country on the globe. All 196 of them. During her globetrotting she discovered some places so dangerous that she recommends only intrepid travellers should attempt to visit them – and the average tourist should stay away.
The 25-year-old Californian, who has nearly half a million subscribers on her YouTube channel Lexie Limitless, created a video in which she lists the 10 countries she has found to be the most perilous for inexperienced tourists, places where there’s a risk of kidnapping, where violent crime is rife, and where armed guards are mandatory. One of the countries, she reveals, should not be visited by travellers ‘unless they have a death wish’.
Lexie has visited each of these destinations in recent years and has no regrets, telling MailOnline Travel: ‘Each place has taught me something new about the world and has challenged me to become a more seasoned traveller.’ Her top 10 list can be found below, ranked in reverse order from the least to the most risky…
10. NORTH KOREA
Lexie says that travellers can visit North Korea – a country that has been ruled by the Kim family’s dynastic dictatorship since the 1940s – via a ‘highly-supervised’ government-organised tour, though she notes that these tours offer no opportunities ‘to explore by yourself to find out what’s really going on’.
Lexie recommends visiting North Korea via a trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (pictured), rather than taking a ‘highly-supervised’ government-organised tour of the country
She says: ‘If you go on this tour expect to be inundated with pro-government propaganda and only see the parts of the country that the regime wants you to see. Your tour money will go directly to the Kim regime and its cronies, not the North Korean people.’
Listing the dangers of visiting North Korea on such a tour, she says: ‘If you step out of line in the eyes of the government minders, the consequences are extreme. You must be always hyper-aware of the rules and your actions if you go on this tour. For instance, when it’s time to go to your hotel in the evening, you’d better stay there until it’s your time to leave in the morning.’
There is an alternative way to see the country, Lexie notes. She recommends visiting the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between North and South Korea, where you can set foot in North Korean territory inside the blue buildings at the demarcation line between the two countries.
Lexie notes that there’s a ‘lack of a solid tourist infrastructure’ in Bangladesh
Explaining why she doesn’t recommend Bangladesh to inexperienced tourists, Lexie says: ‘Unfortunately there’s a very high rate of petty crimes and violent crimes like pickpocketing and robbery. This happens in every country, but keep in mind that since there are hardly any other tourists here you’re going to attract a lot of attention every time you’re on the street, making you an obvious target.’
The YouTuber adds that ‘Bangladesh is often an uncomfortable and difficult place for women to travel… especially solo female travellers because sexual harassment tends to be more common than average here.’
These issues can be exacerbated by how densely populated the country is, she says. Lexie notes: ‘Bangladesh is just so crowded… if you get claustrophobic or intimidated by crowds then this is definitely not the place for you.’
Lexie continues: ‘To make matters worse, there’s been a lot of political instability due to unrest in neighbouring countries with ongoing terrorist attacks, including attacks that targeted foreigners in the past five years or so. [Bangladesh is] also, unfortunately, hit quite commonly by several different types of natural disasters, the most frequent being extreme monsoon flooding.’
Generally, she notes that there’s a ‘lack of a solid tourist infrastructure, which makes travel that much harder’.
However, there are lots of wonderful reasons for experienced travellers to visit too. ‘There is beautiful nature to see in Bangladesh, from its rivers to its jungles to the largest mangrove forest in the world,’ Lexie says, adding: ‘This country is cool and there are so many kind people in Bangladesh.’
Lexie explores the ruins of Leptis Magna, an ancient Roman city on the Libyan coast
Lexie tells MailOnline Travel that Libya is ‘one of the only countries in the world that you cannot visit without hiring a tour company… you aren’t technically allowed to visit as a tourist because Libya doesn’t currently issue tourist visas.’
She managed to visit the country in 2019 by securing a ‘business visa’, explaining: ‘When you arrive you have to tell the immigration officers that you are visiting Libya for work in the oil and gas industry, which is really uncomfortable.’
The country is in the grips of political-military instability that’s been ongoing since the ousting of its former ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Listing out the dangers that travellers face, Lexie says: ‘On the low end the risk would be not being able to move about freely due to battles that might pop up at any time. On the high end, the risks would be getting kidnapped for ransom or political leverage or simply just getting killed in a conflict.’
The YouTuber notes: ‘Regardless of the stressful situations that can come with simply getting into some of the more off-the-beaten-path countries like Libya, it’s always worth it. You’re rewarded with unique, colourful culture and beautiful landscapes which you often have all to yourself.’
A high point for Lexie was seeing the ‘well-preserved’ ruins of Leptis Magna, an ancient Roman city on the Mediterranean coast. Lexie says: ‘Not only were they spectacular to witness with my own eyes but it was also surreal to walk around this place completely alone – that’s definitely not an experience you can have at the Colosseum in Rome or the Acropolis in Athens.’ However, she notes that currently, she doesn’t recommend that either experienced or rookie travellers try to visit.
7. SOUTH SUDAN
Lexie with security guards in South Sudan. She says that ‘some of the reasons to travel there as a tourist would be to see its unique tribal cultures and a few national parks scattered throughout the country’
Lexie says: ‘There are many reasons why South Sudan isn’t a safe place to travel, but the main concern is that foreigners are often targets for kidnapping and violence by militia groups.’
The video blogger says that ‘there is a huge lack of the infrastructure necessary for tourism’ in the country, which makes it ‘extremely expensive to travel there’.
While Lexie says that ‘most foreigners in the country are there as aid or military workers’, she does note, however, that ‘some of the reasons to travel there as a tourist would be to see its unique tribal cultures and a few national parks scattered throughout the country’.
6. CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Lexie says that large parts of the Central African Republic are ‘basically inaccessible due to armed conflicts over control for the roads throughout the country’. Above is a rowboat on the country’s Ubangi River
Lexie says: ‘The Central African Republic (CAR) is the only place I’ve ever travelled where my commercial aeroplane had to land in a corkscrew formation to avoid missile strikes… that really set the tone for what it is like to travel here.’
The YouTuber notes that while ‘there are some national parks and small cultural villages that tourists might want to see’, large parts of the country are ‘basically inaccessible due to armed conflicts over control for the roads throughout the country’.
My commercial aeroplane had to land in a corkscrew formation to avoid missile strikes
She continues: ‘Once you get outside of the capital [Bangui] there’s not a lot of basic infrastructure so enforcing any laws is very difficult for the government. Armed militia groups basically set up illegal roadblocks to exert their control on a region and have targeted foreign travellers and aid workers this way.’
Lexie also notes that ‘basic transportation and communication lines in the country are so limited’ that embassy staff might not be able to reach travellers that require support in the time that is needed.
Lexie visiting the Laas Geel caves on the outskirts of Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland
During her time in Somalia, Lexie stayed in a hotel with armed guards and security checkpoints at the entrances. She says: ‘Kidnapping and terrorist attacks are by far the biggest concerns here, so you are not allowed to go anywhere here without an armed escort that you have to hire.’
She notes that the Somaliland state within the country is marginally safer for travellers, but whilst there she was still ‘required by law to have an armoured vehicle and security guard with [her] the entire time’.
A highlight of her trip was a visit to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. She visited the Laas Geel caves on the outskirts of the city, which contain ‘some of the oldest and most well-preserved cave drawings in the world’. Lexie says: ‘That was pretty amazing to see.’
Lexie says: ‘Even if you are an experienced traveller… don’t go to Syria in the foreseeable future.’ Above is the Syrian capital, Damascus, pictured in May 2022
Lexie says that it has become ‘nearly impossible’ to travel in Syria as the country’s political tensions have worsened in recent years, due to the ongoing Syrian civil war.
She says: ‘Before the war, there was a good infrastructure for tourism but most of it has been lost now as large amounts of the country [have] been reduced to rubble.
‘Syria is the only country where I personally know someone who was kidnapped there and held by the government. Thankfully my friend was dramatically saved after several months of being held in a Syrian prison… many other travellers have not been as fortunate.’
Summing up her advice, she says: ‘Even if you are an experienced traveller as my friend was, don’t go to Syria in the foreseeable future.’ The YouTuber adds that she hopes the situation changes in the future, as ‘Syria has such an amazingly rich culture and history’.
Lexie notes that intrepid travellers might be tempted to explore the Great Mud Mosque (above) in Djenne, Mali
Lexie says of Mali: ‘This is not the place for your average tourist vacation because the risk versus the reward isn’t worth it.’
She continues: ‘Large areas of Mali are under the control of Islamist rebels who practice extremely strict sharia law. This… makes it particularly unsafe for solo female travellers. Let’s just also say that these groups politically don’t take too kindly to American or European tourists.
‘I have heard first-hand from European military officers that Mali is one of the worst places on the planet that you could possibly get kidnapped because it is nearly impossible to rescue someone there.’
The YouTuber notes, however, that extreme travellers will be tempted to explore sites in the country such as the ‘mysterious’ Unesco-listed city of Timbuktu and the Great Mud Mosque in Djenné.
‘I met some of the kindest people here, but it by far felt the most dangerous,’ Lexie says of Yemen
Lexie spent a week in Yemen when she was granted a visa to access the country as a working photographer. She explains: ‘There is no infrastructure for tourists in mainland Yemen, and it isn’t even possible to get a tourist visa for here.’
Reflecting on her time in the country, which has been seized by civil war since 2014, Lexie says: ‘Yemen was one of the most interesting countries I have ever travelled to. I met some of the kindest people here, but it by far felt the most dangerous.’
She says: ‘Not only does the U.S not have an embassy here, very few countries have embassies here, and there’s basically no form of law enforcement beyond the Yemeni military. It feels like you’re in the most lawless version of the old Wild West movies.’
The YouTuber does note that a safer way to ‘get a taste of Yemeni culture’ is to visit the island of Socotra, which lies off the coast of the mainland in the Indian Ocean. Describing the Yemeni isle as an ‘amazing place filled with so much incredible diversity in its landscape’, she notes: ‘This island is somewhat autonomous from mainland Yemen and they do welcome tourists.’
However, Lexie does note that ‘there are still many risks involved with travelling [to Socotra], so I would consider it something only an experienced traveller should undertake’.
Lexie says of Afghanistan: ‘I wish everyone could see the beauty of this country but it has become too great of a risk for the time being’
Afghanistan was another country in which Lexie stayed in a hotel with armed guards and security checkpoints to secure her safety. She says: ‘I loved my time in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has all the makings for a world-class tourism destination – there are colourful traditions, amazing local foods, historic monuments dating back thousands of years and more importantly, kind people at every turn who had so much hope for their country.’
However, she notes that since the hardline Islamist group the Taliban returned to power in the country in 2021, the ‘situation has changed completely’.
She says: ‘This country is now totally inaccessible for the foreseeable future, even for the most extreme traveller. Unless they literally have a death wish.’
The YouTuber adds: ‘I wish everyone could see the beauty of this country but it has become too great of a risk for the time being.’
LEXIE’S TIPS FOR TRAVELLING TO POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS PLACES
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A TRIP
‘Some of the least visited, most dangerous countries in the world are the hardest places to get to,’ Lexie reveals.
Detailing the groundwork she puts in ahead of a trip, she says: ‘Before you even have permission to get on the plane you have to jump through countless bureaucratic hoops, which often takes months of planning and hundreds of dollars to coordinate.’
Lexie uses social media to speak with locals who can offer tips for accessing the country. She says: ‘Getting in touch with locals or people who have also recently travelled to that country (key word: recently). That’s where the power of social media steps in to gain valuable connections to locals and travellers who have the connections within the countries to arrange visa.’
The YouTuber continues: ‘In every country, I would do extensive research in order to understand the most current political situation and stability of each place. This also included learning about which areas are considered to be the most dangerous and avoiding those areas specifically.’
Travelling with an escort is her rule of thumb when visiting dangerous countries. She says: ‘I opt for hiring a local fixer or guide in dangerous countries. It’s always best to have a local with experience who can help navigate certain areas which you should not travel [to]… it’s important to coordinate with local guides on the ground to ensure your safety throughout the trip starting with being picked up straight from the airport and returned at the end of the trip.’
HOW TO STAY SAFE ONCE YOU ARRIVE
Lexie says that when it comes to extreme travel, it’s essential to have common sense and a sense of self-confidence.
She explains: ‘I use the term “common sense” to include all of the safety measures and self-awareness that also apply to your day-to-day life. Things like don’t walk alone late at night; don’t get intoxicated and lose control of yourself; make sure someone knows your whereabouts; always have a plan for your trip.’
Sharing her tips for projecting a sense of self-confidence, Lexie says: ‘Body language is the only truly universal language! Stand up straight, keep your head level, make eye contact and don’t forget to smile.’
The YouTuber continues: ‘Your intuition is your best companion as you travel solo. If you have an idea and your gut begins to squirm… listen to that! The most important thing you can do while solo travelling is to be present, think critically, and enjoy the adventure!’