You’ve probably seen travel advisories in the news, and they go something like this: U.S. State Department issues travel advisory for (insert country). The alerts can instantly inspire fear and bring travelers to question future plans, or ones they’ve already booked. This raises one question: what do U.S. State Department Travel Advisories actually mean, and should you be worried about travel plans to a country that has one?

All destination countries are broken up into four tiers. The lower the number, the safer the United States feels the country is to visit. The key with these advisories is to note them, read them and behave like a logical tourist. The U.S. State Department Travel Advisories go like this…

In short, Level 1 means that the destination is as safe as travel can ever be. Normal precautions effectively means, you shouldn’t act like an oblivious tourist. If you go out trying to buy drugs at 2AM, you’ll probably get robbed or worse. If you wear flashy jewelry for a night out in the worst part of town, you guessed it – you’ll probably get robbed too. Think as logically while traveling as you do while taking care at home and you’ll be fine.

Level 2 warnings are interesting. Know this: they do not mean “don’t travel”. They simply mean be extra cautious. Many countries you wouldn’t ever imagine to be on an increased warning list are featured in level 2 and in the grand scheme, are perfectly safe. Think: Maldives, Italy, Turks & Caicos, Spain, United Kingdom, India and even the Bahamas. These are countries where there’s a slightly increased risk of terrorism or civil unrest. For example, the USA often fits a similar level to a level 2 warning on many other countries reciprocal travel lists. When you see Level 2, just read “why” here, and register for free safety updates with STEP, the smart traveler program.

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