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Should I stay or should I go?

You’ve probably seen travel advisories in the news, and they go something like this: U.S. State Department issues travel advisory for (insert country).  The alerts can instantly inspire fear and bring travelers to question future plans, or ones they’ve already booked. This raises one question: what do U.S. State Department Travel Advisories actually mean, and should you be worried about travel plans to a country that has one?

U.S. Travel Advisories Have Four Tiers

All destination countries are broken up into four tiers. The lower the number, the safer the United States feels the country is to visit. The key with these advisories is to note them, read them and behave like a logical tourist. The U.S. State Department Travel Advisories go like this…

  • Level 1: Exercise Normal Precaution. 
  • Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution. 
  • Level 3: Reconsider Travel. 
  • Level 4: Do Not Travel.

In short, Level 1 means that the destination is as safe as travel can ever be. Normal precautions effectively means, you shouldn’t act like an oblivious tourist. If you go out trying to buy drugs at 2AM, you’ll probably get robbed or worse. If you wear flashy jewelry for a night out in the worst part of town, you guessed it – you’ll probably get robbed too. Think as logically while traveling as you do while taking care at home and you’ll be fine.

Level 2 warnings are interesting. Know this: they do not mean “don’t travel”. They simply mean be extra cautious. Many countries you wouldn’t ever imagine to be on an increased warning list are featured in level 2 and in the grand scheme, are perfectly safe. Think: Maldives, Italy, Turks & Caicos, Spain, United Kingdom, India and even the Bahamas. These are countries where there’s a slightly increased risk of terrorism or civil unrest. For example, the USA often fits a similar level to a level 2 warning on many other countries reciprocal travel lists. When you see Level 2, just read “why” here, and register for free safety updates with STEP, the smart traveler program.

Level 3 warnings should be read and considered. The warnings don’t specifically say not to travel at all, just that you need to be abundantly careful, potentially reconsider and that there may be areas within the country which should absolutely be avoided entirely. For example, the warning may be specific to a certain region and not the entire country. By reading the Level 3 U.S. Travel Advisory you’re able to read between the lines and make your very own personal risk assessment. These warnings may also apply to countries where the U.S. government has limited resources to help if you get in a pinch, which is an important consideration.

Level 4 warnings could not be more simple or explicit: don’t travel. These are places engulfed in war, famine, unrest or perilous danger and it’s the uncolored advice of the U.S. State Department that you should not go. In many cases, that doesn’t mean that you cannot go, but doing so puts you in grave danger and will likely secure you the beloved “SSSS” extra security status on many boarding passes to come.

Travel Is The Best, So Just Be Smart

A level 2 alert shouldn’t keep you from tasting Paella in Spain, wine in France or Pasta in Italy, let alone seeing the crystal blue waters of the Maldives or stunning beaches of Barbados. These alerts are designed to keep travelers informed and aware of potential issues to look out for, so that issues don’t happen. Read them, follow them but don’t let them keep you from your dreams, unless they say not to go at all. Level 4 is not worth messing with…

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