When you Actually Want to Listen to the Government
There are good and bad parts to every city and town in the world, even domestically, and wherever you travel with your family it’s important to know about the latest travel advisories and recommendations for how to best keep you and your family safe while traveling abroad.
The U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs (click here) website is your one-stop shop for all official travel recommendations. Here you will find every worldwide travel advisory issued by the U.S. government along with a country-specific detailed report of the advisory. Official travel advisories are issued from a four-tiered system:
Level 1 – Exercise normal precautions:
General pickpocketing and theft of unattended items, tampering with credit card machines and ATM’s to obtain card numbers, etc. Many international cities have a Level 1 alert and you should be aware of this, but safety issues can typically be prevented by exercising a normal level of caution and awareness, just like domestic travel.
Level 2 – Exercise increased caution:
Increased violent crime against tourists, increased threats of terrorism, attempted robberies, authorities sometimes prohibiting travelers from leaving the country, organized criminal activity; more serious activity than what you’d find with a Level 1 advisory. Make sure you are knowledgeable about your destination and know what areas and neighborhoods to avoid. Stick with tourist areas and don’t wander off alone.
Level 3 – Reconsider travel:
Violent crime and/or terrorism to the point where it presents a legitimate safety concern for tourists. Some countries also fall under Level 3 when there is unrest and armed conflict between domestic ethnic groups and there is danger of tourists getting caught in the crossfire. It is also common for countries with a Level 3 alert to lack the police assistance or emergency services to U.S. civilians in trouble. Unless you are traveling for a specific reason, like visiting family, and are very familiar with the country and areas to avoid, you might want to find another destination for your family vacation.
Level 4 – Do not travel:
If you really want to hear any further, here we’re talking about kidnappings for ransom, hostage taking, homicide, arbitrary arrest, armed robberies, rape, suicide bombings, illegal road blocks, military combat operations, and landmines. I’m not even going to get into emergency preparedness for a country with a Level 4 alert because you really shouldn’t be traveling here period, let alone with your children.
Travel advisories at levels 2-4 contain clear reasons for the level assigned:
- C – CRIME: widespread violent or organized crime is present in some areas of the country
- T – TERRORISM: terrorist attacks and/or specific threats against civilians or other groups may exist
- U – CIVIL UNREST: political, economic, religious, and/or ethnic instability exists and may cause violence, disruptions, and/or safety risks
- H – HEALTH: health risks, including disease outbreaks or a crisis that disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, are present.
- N – NATURAL DISASTER: a natural disaster, or its aftermath, poses danger
- E – TIME-LIMITED EVENT: short-term event, such as elections, sporting events, or other incidents that may pose safety risks
- O – OTHER: potential risks not covered by previous risk indicators
Don’t be surprised or alarmed to find most countries worldwide have at least a Level 1 travel advisory and sometimes a Level 2, even for countries you would think to be “safe”. Don’t let the advisory alone scare you from traveling, though; you should be using “normal precautions” no matter where you travel. Each country has a different reason for its alert, so take the time to research the specifics and decide whether or not you feel it’s a safe place for you and your family. Mama bear knows best!
If you can’t find the country you are looking for initially, make sure you try adding ‘The’ in front of the country name. For example, technically it’s ‘The Bahamas’ and not just ‘Bahamas’.