Travel Warnings

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Vacation Plans: Travel warnings, State Department advisories, travel advisories, and other official scary documents designed to leave the impression that the boogeyman lives in your chosen vacation destination

Every time I read State Department travel advisories (see below) and other safety statistics, they start making any place sound like a terrifying death trap, and Missouri starts sounding nearly as unfriendly as Myanmar.

Take just these excerpts from the State Department's consular information sheet on one European nation, the name of which I will bleep out for the moment:

"There have been occasional episodes of politically motivated violence in [country], most often connected to [country's] internal developments or social issues.

"At various times, [country] authorities have found bombs outside public buildings, have received bomb threats and were subjects of letter bombs. Firebombs or Molotov cocktails have been thrown at buildings or offices in the middle of the night. These incidents have all been attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements.

"Americans were not targeted or injured in these instances. However, demonstrations may have an anti-American character. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful have the potential to turn into confrontational situations and possibly escalate into violence.

"U.S. citizens traveling or residing in [country] should take common sense precautions and follow news reports carefully in order to avoid demonstrations and to be aware of heightened security and potential delays when they occur.

"[Country] remains largely free of terrorist incidents. However, like other countries in the Schengen area, [country’s] open borders with its Western European neighbors allow for the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.

Which hotbed of anarchy and anti-Americanism with perilously porous, terrorist-infested borders is that about?

Italy—of course!

Before you even bother clicking over to the the State Department's scary lists of where they'd advise you not to go (see below), realize this: The only European country currently on the Travel Alert list (as of winter 2009/2010) is Germany, and that's only on there because "...over the past few months, Al Qaeda has released videos threatening to conduct terrorist attacks against German interests."

Really? If Al Qaeda hating a country and wanting to attack it constitutes the issuance of a Travel Alert, then I guess we'd better avoid travel in the U.S. at all costs, because Al Qaeda's grievances toward Germany are peanuts compared to the level of hatred the have repeatedly said (and shown) they have for America.

Get a second opinion when it comes to safety warnings

Incidentally, the United Kingdom—the country most closely allied with the U.S. and also the victim of several recent terrorist attacks—posts on its own travel advisories site the following warnings about travel to Italy:

  • Italy shares with the rest of Europe a threat from international terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate and against civilian targets. There continue to be isolated cases of domestic terrorism in Italy by extreme left wing and secessionist groups, which are aimed primarily at official Italian targets.
  • There is currently a risk of unannounced wildcat strikes by municipal transport workers in cities across Italy. See Local Travel below for dates of pre-planned strikes.
  • High sea temperatures have caused abnormally high growth of toxic algae off of a limited number of Italian beaches. Where this happens the local authorities might ban swimming temporarily.

So after reminding us that there are terrorists around who don't like us, this warning moves rapidly to the fact that Italian train workers strike a lot, and by item three you learn you might not be allowed to swim at some beaches.

Frankly, I would have inserted the fact that there are loads of pickpockets around, especially around train stations, before the toxic algae thing, but that's just me.

Whatever you do, don't stay at home

I reiterate what I've said elsewhere: September 11 happened here, in the United States, not in some far-off and foreign land. It happened in Manhattan, in Washington D.C., and in a field in Pennsylvania.

Staying home is not the answer to avoiding terrorists.

The only way anyone in this world will learn to stop hating those who are different is by meeting people from other cultures, learning who they are, and putting a human face to every race.

That's a big part of what travel is about. You learn about them. They learn about you. Barriers are broken down and friendships are formed.

As the great Mark Twain wrote in his first book, Innocents Abroad—which, I might point out, is a travelogue:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

Official travel advisories, travel warnings, and consular information sheets

Ever wonder what your government really thinks about all those foreign countries? Here are where some of the main English-speaking nations keep their official lists of disapproved countries and travel warnings—not just the U.S., which uses travel advisories as part of a larger anti-terrorism propaganda machine, but those of other, sometimes more level-headed nations.

Oh, by the way, New Zealand considers the U.S. to be a country with "some risk" for travel, and New York City to be at "high risk" (which means they "advise against all tourist travel and other non-essential travel").

  • U.S. State Department travel advisories ( - Everything that's fit to scare you. In the "International Travel" section of this site, the U.S. State Department publishes frequently updated Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts (same thing, only without the evacuation of essential Embassy personnel; they used to be called Travel Advisories and Public Announcements), and—for every country, regardless of perceived safety status—consular information sheets.
  • British Foreign & Commonwealth Office ( - Click on "Travel Advice" to find out which of four categories most countries in Africa and the Middle East fall into: advising against all travel to, all but essential travel to, travel to parts of the country, and all but essential travel to parts of the countries in question. Again, Russia is the only European nation that makes any list.
  • Canadian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (
  • Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (
  • New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (

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