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Decoding Travel Advisories

In this article, we’ll look at what different types of travel advisories mean and how they can be influenced by political and cultural ideas.

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This year, I have the opportunity of a lifetime: to travel to Germany and perform with a choir. I am deeply in love with my choir and with Germany, so this trip is one that I have been anticipating for a very long time. Imagine my surprise when, while researching for this article, I discovered that the US Department of State is currently issuing a level two travel advisory for those looking to visit Germany.

I lived in that country for over a year. I couldn’t imagine what would require me to “exercise increased caution” on my trip. While the culture, cuisine, and language differ from my home country, I had never felt any less safe in Germany. The reason for this warning is listed as terrorism; I was immediately worried for my friends who lived there. Were they aware of the danger so close to them? I found myself wondering if I needed to reconsider my trip due to this serious threat.

If this has ever happened to you while planning trips abroad, then keep reading. In this article, we’ll look at what different types of travel advisories mean and how they can be influenced by political and cultural ideas. While caution should always be exercised when traveling to unfamiliar places, travel warnings don’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to cross a country off your list of dream destinations.

Travel Advisories Explained

What do different travel advisories mean? The US Department of State has four levels of advisories that relate to the safety risks in other countries.

Level 1: Exercise normal precautions. This advisory recommends that a US citizen should act with about as much caution as they would in their home country. This doesn’t mean that no crime is possible but that it is unlikely to be worse than normal experiences.

Level 2: Exercise increased caution. This level does not mean travel to that country should be avoided, but there are heightened risks and a higher probability of certain crimes or safety concerns.

Level 3: Reconsider travel. The risks of traveling to these countries are serious, especially in regard to personal safety and security. Countries that have this advisory are likely to be involved in some sort of political or social upheaval.

Level 4: Do not travel. This advisory is mainly applied to countries experiencing active warfare. The US government might have a very limited ability to assist its citizens in emergencies.

At first glance, these levels seem like serious parameters for categorizing international travel destinations. While they are good guidelines, they can be influenced by the United States’ perspectives and opinions. Let’s look at travel advisories from other countries that warn against traveling to the United States and see if they have their own perspectives.

What’s the Interpretation?

So how do these advisories change tourist destinations? While it’s obvious that countries with conditions extreme enough to warrant a level four advisory should be avoided, there are some instances where the data doesn’t add up.

Consider Mexico. The country usually has a level three travel advisory. Currently, the US Department of State has an extensive page about the safety and security risks of travel to Mexico: Among which are high crime rates, protesting demonstrations, financial scams, and kidnapping. Despite these constant advisories, the country remains one of the top destinations for US tourists, with over 50 million visitors in 2021.

The year 2021 was also a time when COVID-19 regulations were still heavily enforced. Many countries, such as the United Kingdom, were assigned a level four “do not travel” advisory. However, the data shows that, although travel did decrease during that time, the United States was still one of the top three visitors in the UK.

Germany has been given a level two travel advisory because of suspected terrorist attacks. While that statement is concerning, I’ve conducted some research to understand what brought about this warning. Most of the recent news reports of dangerous incidents come from Berlin. which is a city that I’m not planning on visiting.

The travel advisory could also be in place because of the country’s proximity to the war in Ukraine. Germany has opened its borders to Ukrainian refugees from any country, a policy that differs from the United States. Overall, after considering the information I unearthed, I am still excited about my trip and feel confident that I can exercise the appropriate amount of caution while traveling.

Political Perspectives

The United Kingdom’s official government website lists advisories for prospective travelers, similar to the US Department of State’s website. In the section about the U.S., there is a high-level alert for the threat of terrorism. UK citizens are warned that “terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the U.S.A.” Farther down, in the crime section, the website says that “protests are very common and can become violent.”

The Australian government warns its citizens about the same threats and highlights the higher number of crimes related to gun violence, especially as they relate to hate crimes directed towards members of the LGBTQIA+ community and those from “diverse cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious backgrounds.”

Compared to the UK and Australia, statistical data confirms that the US experiences a higher frequency of such threats. Those of us who grew up in the US, however, don’t tend to consider an advisory like that when traveling around the country. When I take a road trip to visit my family in Washington, I don’t feel the need to prepare for the worst; I trust myself to rely on my common sense and understanding of the place I’m visiting.

Serious issues, such as gun violence and violent protests, do occur in the US but not as spontaneously as the above-listed travel advisories make them seem. Laws and political opinions are often debated in those instances, and from an outside perspective, those threats could seem like an extremely common occurrence.

Ultimately, you are the person who is responsible for your own safety when traveling, and a great way to stay safe is to conduct research and make smart decisions. If you see a travel warning against a place you are planning to visit, take a few minutes to search for articles with reasons for that warning. Keep in mind that different organizations, writers, or bloggers will have different perspectives that could be influenced by biases.

Travel Smart

Are the travel advisories assigned to foreign countries enough to stop a stalwart traveler? It seems that despite some warnings from the Department of State, globe-trotters are not deterred.

The takeaway here is that we should be researching our prospective destinations. Travel advisories set by United States intelligence agencies should always be considered, especially level three and four warnings. But it is also important to understand how politics, stereotypes, and cultural differences influence those warnings.

If you’re planning your next vacation and a travel advisory pops up, don’t panic! Conduct your own research, take into account cultural and political perspectives, and remember to travel smart.