One challenge of traveling to so many different countries – we’ll visit 29 – is keeping track of all the potential threats. Whether natural disasters in Costa Rica, localized demonstrations in Athens, or large-scale conflicts in Syria, it helps to know what is going on before entering a country or region.
The U.S. State Department sends out alerts via the STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) to those who subscribe to this free service. If you plan to venture outside US borders, it’s worth checking out.
There are 4 Travel Advisory levels:
- Exercise normal precautions
- Exercise increased caution
- Reconsider Travel
- Do Not Travel
These alerts are then further delineated into different categories such as crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health, natural disaster, or time-limited events (e.g. elections or sports event).
While currently in Greece, we just came from Israel which is classified as Level 2, except for the Gaza Strip which is Level 4 – Do Not Travel.
My general rule is to avoid all Level 4 countries and to not worry about Level 1 or 2 while still watching for localized issues. For Level 3, I conduct further research. For example, Lebanon is classified as Level 3 primarily because of their unstable neighbor, Syria. Since we were visiting family, we spent time talking with them to assess the risk. Eventually we felt comfortable going and are glad we did. Our only threat was gluttony as the food was so good we couldn’t stop filling our stomachs. Well, there was the driver next to us that had a little road rage and shot at the truck in front of him, and us. Hearing three gunshots was a little unnerving.
On the other hand, Turkey, which was on our original itinerary, was a Level 3 when we had to make our Go/No Go Decision. This decision was made easier when Turkish visas were only issued from US soil. These restrictions have since been relaxed but we still feel it was wise to stay away given the unrest and diminishing relations between our two governments. Both Audrey and I had been to Turkey and loved it. Decker was bummed as he wanted to go.
We have spent time in regions classified between Levels 1 through 3 and have always used STEP as one data point to easily evaluate our risk. The State Department tends to, from my perspective, take a conservative approach so I always read other sources.
While these tend to outline the threats that often hit the news, both Audrey and I strongly believe that there is a greater risk of injury crossing the road or driving in a taxi than a terrorist activity. The statistics back up this claim.
So, if you plan to travel, sign up for STEP and indicate the country you will be visiting. It’s a great resource and one that has helped us out these past 10 months.