The US State Department has been issuing travel warnings for various countries since 1978. The premise was to protect US citizens from being harmed, robbed, or killed while traveling abroad.

The problem is that State Department warnings can be discouraging and difficult to understand since they encompass entire countries and last for long periods of time. Clever travelers can learn to read between the lines before they nix an entire trip.

  • Read The Entire Travel Warning – State Department travel warnings encompass a country even if there are only problems in a few cities or a remote region. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office issues warning that specify against travel to an entire country (Iraq) or only to certain parts (Philippines).

  • Check The Date – State Department travel warnings are updated every 3 months. Next to each listing is the date a warning was issued. If a warning is a week away from expiration or an update, wait to review it. Travel warnings are issued based on information from a variety of sources and the few days is worth the update.
    • “Then the Bureau of Consular Affairs??and, occasionally, other agencies??weighs in, with the final decision coming from the office of the Undersecretary of State.
  • Consider Politics – Although the State Department won’t admit it, many of their travel warnings are based or influenced by the relations the US has with that particular country.
  • Keep In Mind Your Travel Mates – Iran is on the State Department’s list of countries US citizens should avoid, but if you’re going with an Iranian friend you’ll have an easier time no matter where you go. Whether you’re meeting a companion or family any local can best help you stay out of trouble and enjoy your time.
  • Compare Sources – Aside from the UK, most other reputable governments around the world post reliable travel warnings and advice. Compare the specific warnings posted by a few other nations to get a better idea of the most likely dangers. Do research online, read travel blogs, and Google major newspapers to get the latest.
  • Don’t Overreact – A travel warning can be issued in response to a high-profile event, such as a kidnapping or political unrest. In general the particulars of what prompted a particular warning aren’t posted so don’t be scared off if you read about a vague disappearance of an American a few years back.
Is Guyana Safe?

State Department travel warnings are at best a small piece of a pre-travel plan. No matter where you travel to you’ll get better service, a friendlier response, and be safer in general if you blend in. Don’t be disappointed if a particular place is too dangerous at the moment, leave it on your list – it may be OK in a decade or so.

[photo by: Lst1984]