Monday, March 11, 2013

Travel Warnings

Survival in foreign countries can be complicated by internal strife or a political falling out between that nation and the United States. If you happen to find yourself in one of those countries at the wrong time, you might be on your own.

The U.S. State Department maintains a list of countries that merit official travel warnings. To quote their site, “warnings are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government’s ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff.”

The current list of Travel Warnings, dating from September 2012 until now (mid March 2013), includes some countries that are expected, but also some that might surprise you. In fact, the surprise might not be confined to the nations that are on the list, but alos those that are not.

That Libya, Syria, Iran, Algeria, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iraq are on the list is no surprise. But the fact that Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia are also on the list made me sit up and take notice. Personally, I love Mexico and I love the Mexican people — at least the nice ones. I wouldn’t think twice about my safety traveling to Mexico. Of course, I would no sooner visit the border towns than smear myself with blood and walk into a lion’s den ringing a dinner bell. Some places are not to be visited. But then there are areas of Los Angeles and Detroit and Chicago and other major U.S. cities I wouldn’t visit either, unless I had a death wish. Which I do not.

Discovering that Cuba and Venezuela are not on the list made me wonder about the wisdom of the list-makers. It would seem to me that traveling to those troubled countries might be considered imprudent for Americans, to say the least.

The current Travel Warning list includes 34 countries. The vast majority of them are in the Middle East and Africa. The safety issues are no longer simple things like “don’t drink the water.” In today’s world, the risks run the gamut from “normal crime” such as pick pockets and break-ins to steal from your hotel room, escalating to more violent acts such as abduction, rape, murder, forced marriages, and more.

To help with these problems, the State Department offers security seminars for the private sector (non-government personnel and their families). They call it Private Sector SOS — for Security Overseas Seminar. For more information, go to

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