Travel Warnings: often not as bad as they sound

The United States Department of State issues travel warnings when dangerous, long-term conditions lead to a recommendation that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to certain countries around the globe. They also issue warnings when the U.S. government’s ability to assist American citizens is compromised by the closing of an embassy or consulate or a reduction of its staff. Still, seeing a country’s name on the list does not necessarily mean all travel to a given country should stop.

Mexico is a good example of a country where there have been issues of concern, a travel warning has been issued, but not all travel there is unsafe. Since 2006, the Mexican government has battled drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity. Still, a lot of Americans travel to Mexico safely.

“Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day for study, tourism or business and at least one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico” states the Department of State in their current travel warning for Mexico.

Still, the Department of State notes that violence along Mexican roads and highways in the northern border region make that area off limits to U.S. government employees and their families, good advice to consider for travelers as well. Often, common-sense advice is given for those who must travel

“If you make frequent visits to border cities, you should vary your route and park in well-lighted, guarded and paid parking lots. Exercise caution when entering or exiting vehicles.”

Some travel warnings go back quite some time too, like travel to North Korea where entry requirements are strict and explicit official permission plus an entry visa are required from the government of North Korea.

“Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea without proper documentation, even accidentally, have been subject to arrest and long-term detention” warns the Department of State.

Again, following some common sense tips for safety when traveling abroad are given by the Department of State including:

  • Dressing for the part– Do not dress in a way that will make you look like an affluent tourist. We got that same recommendation from a friend before our recent trip to Italy who urged avoiding bright colors or designer clothes.
  • Travel light– You can move quickly and have a free hand that way. On our recent trip it was a backpack and a small carry-on for each member of our traveling party.
  • Limit the valuables you take and plan places to conceal them– Inside pockets, money belts worn under clothing and the like are good places for credit cards, passports and cash. Leave the jewelry at home.
  • Keep essentials with you– eyeglasses, medicine and other not easily replaceable items should be kept with you when traveling or locked in a hotel safe.
  • Tag your luggage carefully– Put your name, address, phone numbers inside and outside luggage. Tags on the outside of luggage should be difficult to read from a distance, like standing in line at a foreign airport, where your identity or nationality could make you a target.
See more on these and other tips for traveling abroad at the U.S. Department of State website and don’t forget their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) that provides most current information about the country where you will be traveling or living.

Flickr photo by Håkan Dahlström

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