To travel or not to travel? That is the question

Government travel advisories cover all sorts of national and individual concerns of travelers to a foreign country—from epidemics to civil unrests to terrorist plots. Although most of these threats to security and safety are legitimate in hindsight, you should still consider these warnings with a grain of salt.

ItineraryCredit: Some rights reserved by Gabriel WhiteAlmost every country has an agency that releases travel advisories on certain countries and destinations. Often the advisories are disseminated through government-owned publications and the national media. Frequent travelers are advised to subscribe to their government’s email alerts which can be checked on a regular basis.[2] But the usual audience of a government travel advisory includes first-time travelers or those who do not have enough time to plan ahead.

First-time vacationers are easily cautioned towards traveling right after reading government travel advisories about their destination. This prevents them from making the most of the experience and leaves them feeling anxious about their security. Others would just cancel at the last minute.

Meanwhile, those who are going on a business trip would need to reschedule or alter their itinerary over government warnings which could significantly affect business productivity. Not to mention, most travel insurance companies based their policy exclusions on government advisories which discourage some travelers to go because their insurance would not cover what their policy would usually cover elsewhere.[2]

Are they reliable?

A lot of travelers are skeptical of these advisories.  The usual questions go like these: How do governments formulate them? How reliable are the sources? What are the factors considered to assess if there is a security threat?

In Australia, travel advisories are based on several factors but the weight of the assessment is derived from diplomatic missions across the globe done primarily to determine the local security conditions in a particular country.[2] Advisories are also based on reports coming from the country’s consular or embassy. But some of the more vague ones are usually based on intelligence reports, especially when bulk of the information is classified.[1]

Advisories are different from one country to another because assessment procedures and the basis of security threats vary. For example, the United States would issue travel warnings on certain countries that Australia is not particularly concerned about simply because the US warning is based on issues or threats that do not apply much on Australian citizens. On the other hand, government travel advisories of other countries may also influence the ones issued by the US and vise versa.[3]

Another source of travel advisories is the government of the destination country itself. It only makes sense that if a government is concerned about the safety of its people, visitors from other countries should likewise be warned.

Types of government travel advisories

The government would classify advisories based on levels of security and safety threats.

  1. Exercise precaution. The more lenient government advisories would not directly advise against travel but would tell you to practice caution and pay attention to possible risks.
  2. Reconsider traveling. A higher level of risk would be a factor to advice travelers to reconsider traveling. Often these are based on terrorist threats or other security situations that are hard to predict. Those who are already in the country or area are advised to leave.[2]
  3. Do not travel. Although the government cannot prevent anyone from traveling sans a legal reason, some advisories would directly tell you not to travel due to extreme security situations in your destination country or area.[3] The mention of terrorist attacks and violent crimes in these kinds of travel advisory could really scare travelers from continuing the trip.
  4. Emergency messages. Another kind of travel advisory does not require government approval and would usually come directly from the embassy or consular. These emergency messages are acted on immediately because of the urgency and short-term character of the threat.[1]

There are travel experts who consider these government travel warnings to be quite alarmists but for others, it is understandable since the job of the government is to protect its citizens wherever they may go.[3] As for travelers, it is a necessary precaution to always check government travel advisories but that does not mean you should follow them blindly when you could always find other sources to confirm whether or not it is really safe for you to travel.