Travel warnings are put in place by the U.S. State Department to keep us informed and warned about potentially dangerous countries. They recommend that Americans avoid or highly consider the travel risks before they travel to the country. This seems like a handy resource for travelers, however, it can often wrongfully deter us from visiting a wonderful country. Countries that make the list can also feel a negative impact on tourism which hurts their economy.
What countries comes to mind when you think of “Travel Warnings?” Syria? Iraq? North Korea? Anyone could make a valid case why or why not someone should travel to those countries. But how about The Philippines and Mexico? Are those entire countries unsafe for travel or is that what news reports want us to believe. Let’s take a deeper look at these warnings.
The countries listed below meet the US Department of State’s Travel Warnings
Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of
Republic of South Sudan
Central African Republic
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Israel, the West Bank and Gaza
Congo, Democratic Republic of the
Ignore the Travel Warnings
I am traveling to the Philippines next month and I have not once considered it a threat to my safety. When you hear about a country in the news they are generalizing an entire country. Imagine if every time there was a homicide in the US is was reported as a national homicide and not simply a localized problem in specific parts of the country. I don’t think I would walk out my front door in LA or Chicago if I believed everything I saw on TV or read online.
Every country has safe areas areas and places to avoid, including the United States. You need to do your research and become an informed traveler that makes smart decisions. Do not avoid an entire country because one area has safety concerns.
The State Department warns of of traveling to the Philippines:
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to the Philippines, in particular to the Sulu Archipelago and the island of Mindanao. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated June 14, 2012, and reflects continuing threats in those areas due to terrorist and insurgent activities.
That sounds pretty serious. But take a look at where the Sulu Archipelago is on the map above. That is not a tourist destination. I circled some areas that I plan to travel to on the map as well. They are safe to travel to and I have had many friends share amazing stories from the Philippines.
Remember, when you hear a country is on the “list” be sure to check which part of the country and read about the current situation.
Mexico might have the worst reputation of all of the countries on that list simply because of its proximity to the US. We hear about every single unfortunate event that happens in Mexico.
According to the statistics last published by the Mexican government in late 2011, 47,515 people were killed in narcotics-related violence in Mexico between December 1, 2006 and September 30, 2011
That stat right there is enough to have your mom tell you that you can’t go to Mexico. I was in Mexico three times last year in the Yucatan, Central Mexico, and Baja. I love Mexico for more than just its beaches. I have great friends there, love the food, and the amazing culture that is spread throughout the country. However, warnings like these kill tourism.
Mexico is a very big country. Americans like to refer to other places by the name of the country but break down their own country by states and towns. They forget that when you visit a country, you are seeing a very small part of it. The same can be said for these homicide rates in Mexico.
Where you travel in Mexico makes a world of difference. Most likely you are heading to the beach. The murder rates in Yucatan were 1.3 per 100,000. Baja was 2.98 in 2011 (source: SFgate). Even if you are headed to Central Mexico you will find it is very safe.
Compare those to some US Cities. New Orleans had a rate of 57.6, Detroit was 48.2, and St. Louis was 35.3 per 100,000. You have to go to the bottom of that list to find Lincoln, Nebraska at 1.5 to compare to the lowest murders by state in Mexico.
Looking at Mexico’s most dangerous states and cities it is pretty centralized in Chihuahua with a very high rate of 111 (in 2010). This is not a tourist destination and it is also no place near where you are going to sip margaritas.
The bottom line is Mexico is very safe. Read more than just the negative press when you consider a trip there. If American murders were reported the same way you might not step outside. Generalizing an entire country not only hurts tourism but it misinforms a lot of potential travelers.
When to Use Caution
There are many countries that you could travel to 100 times and have 100 positive experiences. However, you should always be smart. Just like at home you are smart when you are walking home at night in a big city. Apply the same rules to any city in the world. You can be robbed in your neighborhood at home or in a foreign city. Crime is not unique to travel nor is it more common.
Countries like Iran are on the travel warning list as well. I am making plans to travel there in hopes of exploring a beautiful country. Haiti is also on the list where I have traveled to and enjoyed. My safe trip does not mean it is a safe destination and that is not my point. You need to be cautious, do your homework, and be smart.
Carefully read the travel warnings issues by the State Department. Are the warnings specific to one city, potential danger, past danger, or hostility towards Americans in general? Find articles from the incidents and determine the real danger. These are very general warnings issued on an entire country for isolated regions and events. The more you read about a topic the more you may realize it is a safe place to visit.
When NOT to Ignore the Travel Warnings
I would travel to almost every country on this list without hesitation. Not because I am stupid but because there are safe ways to visit any country and enjoy a vacation. An exception to this would be a country at war, in political transition, or highly dangerous. Countries like Syria and Libya have there own sites to see but I will happily wait until a later date to visit them.
There is no need to force a visit to a country. The time may be right later on. If you must visit a country contact people who have been there before and learn how to do it safely. Most countries on this travel warning list can be visited without incident.
How to Determine if Travel is Right for You
Start off reading a lot of forums. Expat forums are a great place to get an inside look into a foreigners perspective. Ask other travel bloggers on twitter and facebook who have traveled there.
When I was planning a trip to San Luis Potosi last year the State Dept. warning was not what I wanted to hear:
San Luis Potosi: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of San Luis Potosi, except the city of San Luis Potosi where you should exercise caution. The entire stretch of highway 57D in San Luis Potosi and portions of the state east of highway 57D towards Tamaulipas are particularly dangerous. A U.S. government employee was killed and another wounded when they were attacked in their U.S. government vehicle on Highway 57 near Santa Maria del Rio in 2011. Cartel violence and highway lawlessness are a continuing security concern.
This warning was put up specifically due to an isolated killing on the highway. While that is very serious it was over two years ago. Reading further you will learn that the agents were targeted and tourists have not been targeted. I have many friends in San Luis and it is a beautiful and safe town. I can’t wait to return there. The highway mentioned, 57D, heads North to Monterrey which is considered dangerous. That is a large part why San Luis is mentioned, however, that is 515 km away! Over five hours by car. If you head South from San Luis you will arrive in one of the safest states in all of Mexico, Querétaro. So yes there is a small risk but is it really worth cancelling your trip? I do not believe so.
Ignore the Travel Warnings
In conclusion all of these travel warnings should be taken with a grain of salt. They are not the say all when it comes to traveling abroad. Do your research, ask questions on forums, and make an informed decision. Don’t listen to the media and the state department. They do not have your best interests in minds. When you do your own research you will realize when it is ok to ignore the travel warnings. So be safe and have fun planning your next adventure!