Healthy Travel Tips »

Healthy Travel Tips » Stay safe on vacation

What You Need to Know About Travel Warnings and Alerts

Should you reconsider your travel plans in light of the latest advisories?

U.S. News & World Report

What You Need to Know About Travel Warnings and Alerts

Traveler using a cellphone at the airport

In some countries, including many places across Europe with no current or imminent threat, it's best to keep your plans and take necessary precautions rather than canceling or postponing your trip.(Getty Images)

You've read the latest travel warnings and alerts and have decided it's best to rearrange your itinerary and take the destination you're interested in off your bucket list, at least for now. Are you making a smart choice, or are you basing your decision off of incomplete information?

The U.S. State Department issues travel warnings for a variety of reasons, including an unstable political climate, terrorist attacks, a civil war or recurring instances of violence and crime. While some destinations have travel warnings in place for extended periods of time, others feature warnings until the environment changes, to help Americans understand the risks involved with traveling to these destinations.

After reading such advisories, you might be hesitant to visit any place that has a travel warning issued by the State Department. But when you take into account that there are currently 37 different travel warnings and six travel alerts in effect, and realize that some destinations pose more dangerous conditions than others, you might want to reconsider putting your travel plans into motion.

What You Need to Know About Travel Warnings

Some warnings are easy to understand. North Korea, Afghanistan and Syria, for example, are a few places with repressive dictatorships and active warzones, meaning they are generally not the most welcoming vacation destinations for U.S. citizens. But what about countries that welcome millions of American travelers each year? Some of these countries offer some of the finest all-inclusive resorts in the world, modern infrastructures and first-world comforts. If you think you won't find any travel warning or alerts associated with those places, think again.

Mexico has had an ongoing travel warning for years that seemingly encompasses the entire country. Yet, if you pinpoint the particular advisory in place, you'd find that the warning is only tied to some very specific areas in certain regions of the country. After all, Mexico is a big place.

Fortunately, vigilant travelers seem to understand that many destinations across Mexico are safe. Despite the broad travel warning, word of mouth from past travelers to Mexico, as well as feedback from American travel agents on their clients' visits, have resulted in millions of Americans traveling to the country each year.

The same logic can be applied to many countries across Europe. The European continent is home to hundreds of millions of people and the European Union counts 28 member countries across a continent encompassing 3.9 million square miles. And Europe is an immense tapestry of different nationalities, cultures and histories, yet the U.S. State Department issued a sweeping travel alert for the entire continent of Europe in the wake of the Brussels attacks. While a travel alert doesn't carry the same weight as a travel warning, a sizable part of the continent is included in the same short-term alert even though some destinations are considered much safer than others.

What You Need to Know About Travel Alerts

The State Department issues short-term travel alerts for a variety of reasons. Some instances for issuing an alert can include a health alert, a belief or evidence that there is a higher chance of terrorist attacks or an unstable election season, with a higher risk of disturbances, demonstrations or attacks. While such advisories are a short-term measure, it's still important to assess the specifc risk associated with the destinations you want to visit. Take Europe, for example. Why cancel or postpone a trip Slovenia because of a situation in Belgium?

The Bottom Line

Instead of delaying or halting a trip altogether, evaluate the State Department's travel alerts and warnings for what they are: resourceful alerts and safety precautions. Heed them, acknowledge them, make informed choices and take necessary safety measures, but ultimately know that the world offers welcoming and safe places that broaden your cultural understanding and perspective and are worth seeing for yourself.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.