Know Before You Go — Travel Advisories and What They Mean

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Stapleton Airport in the 1970’s. Admittedly, travel has changed a lot since then. Source

Safety is always a major concern when traveling abroad, but recent travel warnings released by the US State Department for countries frequented by American travelers have caused some people to rethink their vacation plans. On any given day, there are dozens of active travel warnings advising against travel for several countries and regions throughout the world, including popular destinations like Mexico, Russia, and France. Travel warnings can seem daunting, but they don’t necessarily mean you should rethink your travel plans.

The US Department of State releases travel advisories to advise citizens in their international travel plans. There are a few key reasons that the government may trigger a travel advisory for a country, city, or region. Political unrest, increased violence, threats of terrorism, and destruction from natural disasters are all reasons the US Department of State may advise against travel to a country.

There are 4 levels of State Department travel advisories. The first level instructs travelers to“exercise normal precaution.”This level is the safest level, but the government recommends that you remain aware of your surroundings and use common sense to avoid petty crime or theft. Level 2 advises to“exercise increased caution when traveling.A country can receive a level 2 advisory for a variety of reasons, ranging from terrorist threats to issues with crime. France currently has a level 2 travel warning because of recent terrorist events. When traveling to a country with a level 2 travel advisory, it’s important to keep up with local news and be aware of your surroundings, particularly in touristy areas. A level 3 travel advisory recommends that you “reconsider travel” to that country. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t visit a country with this level of warning, it can be dangerous, depending on the situation.

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While Colima — a Mexican state in the western part of the country — is undoubtedly beautiful, it’s presently under a Level 4 advisory due to crime.

If you can’t postpone your trip, I recommend visiting the State Department’s Travel Advisory website to prepare yourself for the conditions in the country you’re visiting. The final advisory level is“do not travel,” and it’s fairly self-explanatory. Only a handful of countries currently have a level 4 advisory, including North Korea, Haiti, and Syria. While some may be tempted to ignore these warnings and proceed with their travel, it’s important to remember that in some cases, the government would not be able to help you if something were to happen. On each country’s State Department page, the government recommends different safety measures depending on the situation in the area. These safety measures can range from hiring a tour guide in areas where infrastructure is unpredictable to making contingency plans to leave the country should civil war erupt near you.

Travel warnings have made headlines recently, as popular destinations for American travelers like regions of Mexico have been issued level 3 and 4 travel warnings. The State Department released a level 3 travel warning against travel to Russia this year, yet thousands of visitors recently headed to the country for the 2018 World Cup. Official travel warnings combined with negative media attention can make international travel seem intimidating and dangerous. 

Despite the warnings, almost 67 million Americans visited other countries in 2016, according to data from the National Travel and Tourism Office. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide whether the risk is worth the reward when traveling, but you shouldn’t let minor travel warnings deter you from experiencing other countries and cultures. However, when it comes to major travel advisories, it may be worth the wait to postpone your trip until a safer time. Ultimately, it’s incumbent upon the traveler to keep up to date with relevant news, warnings, and basic facts to make an informed decision about when and where to go. 


Article by Elizabeth Rhodes. Find her on TwitterInstagram, and her website.  Also, check out our article on traveling in style.