Evaluating a Travel Warning
Not all travel warnings are created equal. When deciding how seriously to take a particular travel advisory, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
1. Is the entire country affected? In many cases, violence, unrest or natural disasters are confined to a particular region while the rest of the country is still safe and welcoming to tourists. For example, in recent years Britain has cautioned visitors against traveling in Gulf Coast states of the U.S. during hurricane season. And while Mexico’s recent struggles with violence are well publicized, government warnings apply only to select states; many popular tourist destinations such as the Mayan Riviera have remained safe.
While your safety always comes first, keep in mind that the fallout from an isolated act of violence can affect an entire country’s tourist industry — and have a disproportionate effect on the economy of a developing nation.
2. What’s the danger? For travel advisories dealing with violence or terrorism, pay attention to what kind of attacks are taking place and who the targets are. Assaults that specifically pinpoint foreign tourists should raise a bigger red flag than civil unrest among locals. If violence generally happens away from primary tourist locations, there may be less risk for visitors.
3. How long ago was the warning posted, and when was it last updated? If you’re looking at a warning that’s more than a few months old, it may be worth doing a little research to check the current situation on the ground and see if there’s been any improvement. The Web sites of international newspapers are often a good source of accurate and up-to-date information.
4. Is the warning corroborated by other governments? To get a fuller story on what’s happening in a particular country, check travel warnings from multiple sources (see our links below). Critics have speculated that some advisories are unduly influenced by politics, so checking a U.S. advisory against a Canadian or an Australian one can give you a fresh perspective — or confirm that a threat is cause for a change in your travel plans.
5. Is there a safety net? Find out whether your home country has an embassy or consulate in the place you want to visit, and make sure it’s fully staffed and functioning. If the worst happens, you don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country without an embassy to help with emergency evacuation or to get you in contact with family and friends at home.
6. Is travel insurance an option? Keep in mind that travel insurance may not cover you in all countries or circumstances. According to TripInsuranceStore.com, most policies do not cover acts of war, riots or civil disorder. Other exclusions apply too, so read your policy carefully before purchasing.