Travel warnings vs travel alerts

Travel warnings vs travel alerts

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What's the difference?
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Hayley Schultz

You saved your money. You did research. You met with a travel agent. Multiple times. After months or years of dreaming about it, you finally booked a European vacation.

And then the U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert for all of Europe.

What now?

Before deciding whether to go, cancel or postpone a trip, travelers should get a better understanding of the difference between a travel “alert” and a travel “warning”.

Travel Alert

A travel alert used to be called a “travel public announcement”, and is issued by the U.S. Department of State for a short-term event or situation the U.S government wants you to know about before you travel to a certain country or region. This might include a health issue (like the Zika virus), an upcoming volatile election, weather (such as hurricane season in general, a weather event heading for a specific destination, or a storm that has passed through and damaged a specific destination), or an elevated risk of a terrorist attack due to intelligence sources, a significant anniversary or a large-scale event. Travel alerts should be used as a tool to help travelers make informed decisions about their trip and about what to do while they’re there. When the short-term event is over, the travel alert is lifted.

Travel Warning

Travel warnings are issued when the State Department recommends Americans avoid traveling to a country or region altogether due to long-term instability, civil war, ongoing intense violence or when the U.S. government doesn’t have the ability to assist Americans in a particular area (often times due to the closure of an embassy or consulate). Travel warnings are usually in place for longer periods of time; some examples include travel to North Korea where U.S. citizens face serious risk of arrest and long-term detention, and Libya and Iran where extremist groups continue to plan attacks and the U.S. Embassy has suspended operations.

How to Evaluate

When deciding whether to travel to a destination that’s been issued an alert or warning, consider the following:
  1. Will I be traveling close to the impacted area? If the entire country isn’t affected, evaluate if the area you’re going to is still safe and welcoming to tourists. To put it in perspective, if there was a travel alert for the U.S. because of an approaching hurricane in Florida, you wouldn’t necessarily cancel your vacation to Southern California.

  2. What’s the severity of the danger? If the advisory is about terrorism, is it tourists and foreigners who are being targeted?

  3. When was the alert or warning posted and last updated? If it’s been a few months, do a little research on your own to see if things have improved, and what kinds of warnings other countries are issuing.

  4. Is there an embassy or consulate in the place you want to visit? If so, is it fully staffed and functioning?

  5. Are you able to purchase travel insurance that will cover the warning or alert? Not all travel insurance policies do, so be sure to check with your travel agent.

If You Go

If, after weighing the factors above, you decide to go ahead with your travel plans, you should follow basic safety rules, but also take a few extra precautions:
  1. Register your travel plans with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This program signs you up to receive information from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the destination to which you’re traveling, helps the embassy contact you in an emergency, and helps family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency. The service is free and you can enroll here.

  2. Make extra copies of all your travel documents, itineraries and emergency contact information and leave one set with friends or family back home, and keep an extra set with you in case you lose the originals. Scan a copy of your passport and email it to yourself and also take a photo of it from your phone. This way, if you lock your passport up in your hotel but need details from it, you can easily access them; or if it gets stolen, getting a replacement will be easier.

  3. While traveling, broaden your peripheral vision and always remain vigilant about your personal security and surroundings.

  4. Review the escape route in your hotel room.

  5. Confirm visitors with the hotel desk. If someone knocks on your hotel room door claiming to be a hotel employee, call down to the front desk to verify that someone from the hotel needs to get into your room.

  6. Keep your money, credits cards and passport separate. Don’t flash your valuables or money. Keep your cash separate, with some spending money easily accessible so you don’t have to take out your entire money roll every time you pay. Take out your smartphone only when necessary to decrease the risk of having someone snatch it out of your hands and running.

  7. Save emergency numbers and addresses on your cell phone. This includes your hotel, the local emergency hotline, and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

  8. Consider purchasing travel insurance that will specifically cover the event that is the subject of the travel warning or alert.

A travel alert or warning doesn’t mean your long-dreamed-of vacation is automatically cancelled or doomed. Take the time to ask questions, do research, and make appropriate preparations before making your decision to go or cancel. As always, AAA Travel is here to answer your questions and help you with all of your travel needs. It’s a big, beautiful world out there – be smart about travel and you don’t need to miss out on experiencing it.

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