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Tracking Threats Around the World

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:

  1. Exercise normal precautions
  2. Exercise increased caution
  3. Reconsider Travel
  4. 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.

Bryan Gillette

Bryan Gillette is the founder and principal consultant for The Summiting Group focusing on Executive and Leadership Development. He has traveled extensively for both work and personal visiting over 50 countries and 30 United States. He is an avid runner and cyclist and ran 200 miles around Lake Tahoe in 76 hours as well as cycled across the United States. Currently spending one year traveling the world with his family.

This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Great post, Bryan! You remind me that we need to update our location status with STEP! We’re in the midst of a statewide protest in Sucre, Bolivia that has shut the city down (including the airport and bus stations, trapping some tourists trying to leave town) – all streets are blocked off, businesses and schools closed, mass demonstrations in the street. The State Dept. warnings are useful in these situations. (www.epicrtw.com)

    1. We had similar, but less drastic, issues in Bolivia. There seems to be constant demonstrations and road closures from experience in (and getting to) La Paz. Good luck.

  2. This came in timely as my goddaughter is off to Africa and Thailand for 2 months and according to her mom has done no planning or research other than “what do I pack?” I’ve always checked the State Department’s warnings when planning and told mom we couldn’t go out and about in Nairobi (1991) because there were blanket terrorist warnings. I won’t quote her exact words but I had a hire car and driver at the flea market. Are you ready to get back into the routine of home life? Will watch for the winner on the soap count! Safe travels!

  3. Good stuff for our future international travel, Bryan. I appreciate your perspective on this. We will put it to good use!

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