Travel Advisories:
Are You Headed for a Danger Zone?

Not too many travellers would need to check their government's travel advisories to know that Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia aren't exactly on the well-worn backpacking trail these days!

What might be harder to believe is that there are also official travel warnings currently in effect (that is, at the time of writing) for such popular tourist destinations as India, Thailand, Mexico and Japan!

So . . . now what?

Before you go cancelling all those foot massages, kimono fittings and tickets for the Tequila Express, let's put things into perspective.

travel advisories nicosia cyprus Eerie remnants of conflict in Nicosia, Cyprus

What Travel Advisories and Alerts
Really Mean to You

What are advisories and alerts?

Travel advisories (also travel warnings) are travel safety notices issued by governments to inform their citizens of any security threats or safety risks that could affect their travel abroad.

Where travel advisories normally address ongoing, long-term issues, travel alerts (also travel bulletins) report on more event-specific problems or short-term concerns.

There are lots of reasons why a government might post a travel alert or travel warning for a certain country or region:

  • political instability, civil unrest or war
  • terrorism or high levels of violent crime
  • hazardous weather or natural disasters
  • health emergencies (such as outbreaks of disease)
  • temporary or permanent closure of its embassy

That makes for a pretty long list of potential no-go places. Should you cross all these conflict-stricken countries off your round the world itinerary? Not necessarily.

How do you know whether or not to heed the advice?

At first read, travel warnings can sound seriously scary — kidnappings, bombings, live landmines, assassinations, gun warfare.

But dig under the surface a bit and apply some common sense, and you'll find that the situation isn't always as critical as it appears.

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    Is the information current?

    Most travel advisories are updated regularly, especially when dangerous events develop. But they're not always withdrawn immediately after the trouble has passed.

    Check international and local English-language newspapers, and tune in to the news on TV to get a clear picture of what's going on.

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    What's the level of danger?

    Governments grade their travel advisories based on an overall assessment of the security risks in each country. These levels range from very low (recommending that you exercise some caution) to extremely high (advising you not to travel).

    Use these levels to help you evaluate how grave the matter really is.

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    Where are the actual danger zones?

    Travel warnings and travel alerts are frequently issued for specific regions of a country only — often around border areas or in places where natural disasters have recently occurred.

    Stay away from the danger zones, of course. But there's probably no need to avoid the entire country altogether.

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    What kinds of incidents are being reported?

    Organised demonstrations against the local government or inclement weather conditions in parts of the country are generally less cause for concern than random suicide bombings and terrorist attacks against foreign tourists.

    Look at each travel advisory carefully to assess how likely it is that you'll get caught up in the turmoil.

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    Have other countries posted similar travel advisories?

    Don't forget that governments issue travel warnings specifically for their own citizens. So if diplomatic relations are strained or there's outright hostility between two nations, the advisories will reflect those circumstances.

    Consult different government websites to see how their travel warnings and risk levels compare.

travel advisories riot police bogota colombia Bogotá, Colombia – slowly shaking its bad reputation Matt Lemmon on Flickr

Still Want to Go?

Travel warnings aren't there to stop you — they're only there to inform you. Ultimately, the decision to travel is your own.

Just remember that you always go at your own risk. So if you do choose a destination where there's conflict, be sure to take all the safe travel precautions you can.

Also . . .

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On the fence about a specific destination?

orange arrow light yellowUse these 3 general rules of thumb from World Nomads to assess your situation.

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    Know your embassy's contact details.

    Take down the physical street address (not just the post-office box number) of your embassy, consulate or high commission abroad. Find out what services it can provide in crisis situations and always keep the emergency phone number close at hand.

    If your country has no diplomatic mission at your destination, determine what your alternatives are.

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    Register with your embassy.

    Registering your passport details with your embassy and letting them know your exact travel plans will allow them to locate you in an emergency and help you quickly if you run into trouble.

    You'll probably be able to register online. If not, contact your embassy as soon as you arrive.

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    Monitor the travel advisories en route.

    Warning levels can change at any time, so it's important to keep an eye on things while you travel.

    If you've registered with your embassy, they may automatically notify you of any significant security incidents or changes to the country's travel warning.

    If not, an easy way to stay up to date with travel advisories is to subscribe to your government's website.

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    Keep in touch with family and friends.

    Before you leave home, give copies of all your important travel documents and your itinerary to a family member or friend.

    Then, make it a point to check in with them at regular intervals via email, text, phone or even just status updates on a social media website. That way, your loved ones will always know where you are, when you arrived and that you're safe.

orange arrow light yellowYou can access reliable worldwide travel warnings directly from this page.

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Any thoughts? Leave a comment!