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Making sense of State Department travel warnings

Traveling to a truly dangerous place is never a good idea, but not planning or canceling a trip to a country just because it has a government travel warning is unfortunate, too. The U.S. State Department currently lists travel warnings for approximately 30 countries. Many of these warnings are legitimate, and travel to such places warrants careful consideration. Yet the State Department has been accused on many occasions of using travel warnings for political purposes, and for being alarmist following isolated incidents abroad.

Here are some tips for figuring out what you should do if a potential destination has a travel warning:

  • Read the warning carefully: Often a warning will be specific to a particular city or region, or apply to a certain time period, such as national elections. If this is the case, avoid those areas or time periods, or conduct further research to determine the scope of the threat. Check Google News or another media source for recent news about the country.
  • Look for information from other countries: One of the best ways to determine the seriousness of a threat is to check the government websites of other countries like the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. See how much of a consensus you find.
  • Talk to travel providers: Ask a tour operator or other travel provider that works in the area about safety issues. Oftentimes a provider with recent on-the-ground experience can advise you on the seriousness of a threat and offer practical advice on how to avoid trouble should you decide to go.
  • Talk to other travelers: Use online message boards and other communication tools to ask others who have visited recently (this is a requirement) about their experiences. Get multiple opinions.

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