Ask any seasoned globetrotter what they think of travel advisories issued by the U.S. State Department and the answer is almost always a shrug of the shoulders accompanied by a dismissive, “Meh.” It’s an understandable reaction to a system that may have sounded the alarm too many times to be very effective. A year ago the State Department issued a timidly worded Worldwide Travel Caution, and did so again this February. This month they ratcheted things up another notch by swapping the travel caution for a bonafide Worldwide Travel Alert. That alert included some serious verbiage about the portent of terrorist plots and general unrest throughout the world. This new global alert serves to fill in the gaps around the 36 countries listed under existing travel alerts and warnings. That’s a lot of concern for traveler safety. How is a traveler to digest that kind of ominous foreboding?
Travel advisories have always been met with a dubious reception and not because of the countries that deservedly reside on the Travel Warning list. A quick glance through that list serves as a travel guide to Sketchville. Pakistan, Somalia, Iran, these are not places many people have on their bucket list for immediate getaways. There are also some real chin scratchers on the list. Most noticeably are countries like Columbia and Mexico. You could certainly take an accounting of Americans who have had tragic experiences in Mexico, but offsetting that number is a much bigger digit. Last year more than 50 million Americans traveled to Mexico without incident, an that’s a country on the warning list. It’s also a bit confusing when countries like Iran are on the alert and warning list at the same time.
To complicate matters, even the State Department suggests you assess their advisories with your own level of comfortability. Alerts can be issued simply because a country lacks the consular resources to assist travelers in a minor jam. They can also be issued as a response to serious outbreaks of illness or severe weather. If these dangers seem like something you can work around, then travel on. The reality is, these cautions, alerts, and warnings don’t restrict your ability to travel to these places, and now with a worldwide travel alert in effect, they may be less helpful than ever. Even though Des Moines now falls under this global alert, chances are it’s probably a safe destination.
Back to the “meh” of the savvy traveler mentioned earlier. The reason experienced travelers are so quick to dismiss travel advisories is because they are no substitute for doing careful research and applying your own judgement accordingly. That being said, maybe the latest Worldwide Travel Alert is a good thing and should be a permanent status. Keep up with your current events, do your due diligence, and make smart travel decisions. We could probably replace the entire State Department Travel website with just that advice alone.