Travel caution urged but experiences await, who to turn to?

Travel caution urged

There is a lot to be said about experience when it comes to traveling. If we have been some place a number of times, that previous experience can add a valuable filter to what we see in video and print reports when events occur around the globe. Government-issued travel alerts and warnings are surely important to consider. Catastrophic weather events, political unrest and the like are too. But while experts urge caution they also explain the actual situation on the ground may not be cause to cancel plans then travel elsewhere.

In Travel caution urged but experiences await, what to do? we talked with premiere land tour operator Abercrombie and Kent, asking the question “Is it safe to travel to Egypt?” who told us:

“The situation has improved dramatically in recent weeks. The U.S. State Department has softened its Travel Warning and both the French and the British have updated their cautions. Airports and financial institutions are functioning normally and popular tourist sites are open – and remarkably free of visitors. Beyond that, Egyptians are relishing their new-found freedom and a sense of optimism is palpable wherever you go…”

Today we take a closer look at areas where headline-grabbing events have led many to reconsider travel plans, some life-long dreams, that may indeed be safe for travel.

Asking again “Is it safe to travel to Egypt?”, we talk to Dwain Wall, Senior Vice President & General Manager of CruiseOne & Cruises Inc. Unlike big-ship cruises, river cruises sail on smaller ships to get up close and personal with countries almost everywhere. Throughout the Middle East and Europe from Egypt to France to Vietnam, river cruising is gaining in popularity. But some worry that same up-close-and-personal exposure many find attractive, puts them in harms way.

“Travelers no matter the destination must be fully aware of any issues in their destination prior to travel “says Wall, adding “This awareness allows for them to properly prepare and assure their safety.”

Beyond our personal knowledge, preparation for travel such as checking to see entry requirements for various countries or enrolling in the US Department of State’s registered traveler (STEP) program, we trust tour operators to keep us safe. If a situation should develop while we travel, being with someone or some company experienced in how things work in a given country under normal circumstances can help.

“The continent of Europe encompasses many countries with vast cultural differences. The most apparent is the many languages that are spoken that can itself make for difficulties which can be exasperated in an emergency or by security issues.”

Beyond traveling with a destination expert and adequate preparation on our part as travelers, backing our plans with some sort of travel protection is also advised.

“The best way to assure that travelers are protected is for them to purchase travel insurance with a reputable travel insurance company. These companies have an amazing array of services including cancel for any reason, and once on the trip should a traveler experience an issue, their emergency response teams have foreign language speakers at their disposal in addition to great resources both at their HQ and on the ground in many foreign countries that they can rely upon.”

Still, caution is urged. Even the best travel insurance can not prevent a tsunami from occurring or political unrest to take center stage in any number of countries. Often, travel insurance does not cover natural disasters or other Acts of God so knowing what is and is not covered is important. Beyond insurance and probably more importantly, a trust should be established with a travel service provider, one we can count on.

“Obviously, traveling to countries experiencing civil turmoil such as Egypt, Jordan, and other North Africa/Middle Eastern Countries should be carefully considered prior to purchase. The tour and cruise operators are informed and knowledgeable of the situation on the ground and have proven to be responsible in openly and honestly sharing the risk with consumers and offering options to the travelers if they are uncomfortable in continuing with their travel plans after booking.

That said, the travel community, those who make a living on travel or travel-related products, is starting to speak up about travel in general and if it is safe or not.

“At the same time, it is very important that U.S. travel leaders take the lead in supporting the return of Americans to these important destinations. The industry must support these destinations as tourism is often the number one economic driver and thus, the more jobs created by tourism, the better the security situation will be. It’s a global economy and these situations impact all of us both in the travel industry and outside of the industry.”

Warnings continue to disrupt travel, cancel plans of many

Warnings continue to disrupt travel

The State Department today advised Americans not to travel to Yemen and said those in the country should consider leaving today as warnings continue to disrupt travel world-wide.

“The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest. Piracy in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean is also a security threat to maritime activities in the region.” the Department of State said in today’s travel warning.

A Sunday incident where suspected al-Qaida ambushed and killed four Yemeni soldiers distributing food to other troops in a remote, mountainous region of Yemen is blamed for the warning.

Travel organizations are modifying vacation plans of clients booked everywhere from Bahrain to Mexico. Yesterday, Costa Cruises dropped Bahrain from the itinerary of its two ships operating cruises from Dubai as European governments implemented travel advisories against Bahrain. Several cruise lines also have dropped Matzatlan Mexico from itineraries based in part on similar security warnings.

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Egypt as the U.S. Embassy in Cairo remains on ordered departure status, with only emergency personnel remaining. All family members and non-emergency personnel have evacuated. Last week they warned U.S. citizens of the risk of travel to Mali, and continued to recommend against travel to the north of the country due to the kidnapping threats against Westerners.

Last month Gadling reported a travel warning addressing the ongoing struggle in Libya, advising Americans to steer clear of the country, and especially of “gatherings” there. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time:

“‘U.S. citizens in Libya should minimize overall travel in-country, exercise extreme caution when traveling, and limit all travel after dark,’ the US said in a travel advisory. It said demonstrations, violence and looting were all possible over the next several days, and urged US citizens to stay away from any gatherings.

‘Even peaceful ones can quickly become unruly and a foreigner could become a target of harassment, or worse,’ according to the State Department advisory.”

Today, negotiations between senior British officials and senior opposition leaders continued in an effort to free eight British special forces troops detained in eastern Libya reports CNN. Keep up with all current travel warnings at the U.S. Department of State website.

Flickr photo by Al@ce

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Guatemala travel alert: road to Lake Atitlan closed until year’s end due to mudslides

The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City is asking that travelers defer visiting Lake Atitlan until January for safety reasons, due to an increase of crime during the holiday season, and closure of the main road due to mudslides. The stunning volcanic lake in Guatemala’s Highlands is a popular destination for travelers in search of a low-key, off-the-beaten-path holiday.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the road from the Department of Solola to the lakeside town of Panajachel will be closed until the end of the year, and that “alternate routes to Panajachel by road or boat involve risk.”

For updates, go the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

[Photo credit: Flickr user alq666]

State Department not budging on European travel warning

The State Department’s terror alert for Americans traveling and living in Europe is alive and well – and nobody cares. Even though there are concerns of a terrorist plot for a “Mumbai-style massacre,” according to Fox News, the State Department isn’t budging and Americans aren’t paying attention. But, the good news is that at least the British haven’t changed their level, which is “severe,” giving us at least some validation and a friend just like us.

Targets being watched include: the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, luxury Hotel Adlon near Berlin‘s Brandenburg Gate and Berlin’s Central Station.

According to Fox News:

State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin told journalists in London on Thursday that the American government’s position on the issue has not changed.

“We don’t view the conditions as warranting us rescinding the (travel) alert,” he said.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, the current U.S. alert is only a step below a formal warning to us to stay out of Europe.

[photo by geoftheref via Flickr]

Travel warning for Europe–U.S. government asks citizens to be on alert

The U.S. government will issue a travel warning today for its citizens going to Europe. The warning is in response to intelligence regarding plans by terrorists to launch Mumbai-style commando attacks in European cities.

The attacks in Mumbai in 2008 were carried out by small groups of heavily armed terrorists who attacked several spots in the city simultaneously. They killed at least 173 people and injured hundreds more. US and foreign intelligence officials say that Al-Qaeda is planning similar attacks in the UK, France, and Germany. Details of the plans were leaked to the press last week. Nobody has been arrested but officials say several European citizens of Asian origin are under surveillance.

The travel warning, which is not as serious as a travel advisory, will tell U.S. citizens of the heightened threat level and request them to be extra vigilant when visiting Europe. No specific countries will be named in the advisory.

So how best to deal with warning? It’s impossible to know where terrorism will strike next, and these vague reports from anonymous officials don’t really clear things up. For some good safety advice check out this post by former Gadling blogger Abha Malpani, who was in Mumbai at the time of the attacks.

[Image courtesy U.S. Navy]