Know Your Travel Alerts and Warnings

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The government-based travel alert systems to pay attention to.

On November, the U.S. Department of State ( issued a worldwide travel alert that urged Americans to “exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation.” Beyond the message, the advice drew attention to the government’s alert-and-warning system, which assesses risks on a scale from caution to alert to warning, roughly equating to a green-yellow-red stoplight.

“We don’t have a double standard on safety and security information,” says Rachel Crawford, a citizens services specialist at the State Department. “If we share it with staff, we share it with the traveling public.”

Alerts relate to weather, natural disasters, health emergencies, labor strikes, election protests, and other security threats. They expire in 90 days, triggering a review, and can be canceled anytime.

Based on severe circumstances such as an unstable government, civil war, frequent terrorist attacks, and intense crime, warnings recommend avoiding travel. These are reevaluated at least every six months. At press time, the list had 38 entries, including places spotlighted in these pages: Lebanon, Iran, and parts of Turkey.

Safety experts and tour operators do consider State Department advice, but some advocate independent research. “You have to watch what your government is saying,” says Jim Berkeley, president of California-based Destinations & Adventures International. “But I put more trust in statements by the British High Commission, as they have been doing it longer and I find them more balanced and evenhanded.” 

See our complete special report, Traveling in Troubled Times »