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Do you pay attention to government travel warnings?

lauracatherine

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  • Added on: July 17th, 2011
I just got a frantic phone call from my mother who is now forbidding me to go to Colombia (where I'm starting a vagabonding journey in September) because she just looked at The US government travel advisory website. According to her, there are "bombings and kidnappings all over Colombia". I checked the US site myself (http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_ ... _1090.html), which does concern me a bit.

Because I'll be traveling on my Irish passport, I checked here: http://www.dfa.ie/home/index.aspx?id=450
And this does concern me, but not as much as the US one-surprise surprise.

I also checked the Australian page, just for fun, and found that they aren't as concerned as the first two were: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/ ... e/Colombia

On the other hand, I have you lovely people, saying nothing but relatively good things about visiting Colombia. I've heard it's the "dark horse favorite" of South America and of heaps of people who've come out unscratched.

As I'm wondering how safe-or unsafe-it really would be for me to visit Colombia, I can't help but consider how many people ignore these warnings and go ahead where they want to visit anyway. How many of these warnings I've ignored in the past as well.

So, where have you gone even though government warnings told you not to and lived to tell the story? And, because I feel this audience is more competent than my mother in determining the general safety and my own in Colombia: do I really need to reconsider my plan?
"i'm on my way, don't know where i'm goin..."~Paul Simon, Me and Julio

Arre

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  • Added on: July 17th, 2011
I check them, but I don't use them as my be-all-end-all barometer for deciding where to go. Instead, I pay more attention to reports from people who have recently been there. Googling something like "is it safe to go to xyz" usually seems to give a much more balanced picture than travel warnings- the US ones, at any rate.

Still, I take the government travel warnings more seriously than I take scary-sounding info in the country-specific information section. They need to put some sort of parent filter on that so my mom can't log on and fear for my life when she sees something like

There is an overall increase in violence and a continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout Turkey. Terrorist bombings over the past several years – some causing significant numbers of casualties – have hit various targets in Turkey. Some attacks deliberately targeted U.S. and Western interests. Terrorists claiming association with al-Qa'ida were responsible for suicide bombings in Istanbul in 2003. These incidents show a willingness on the part of some terrorist groups to attack Western targets. The possibility of terrorist attacks, from both transnational and indigenous groups, remains high.
http://sierralights.blogspot.com/ -> blog about living in Turkey and Palestine

Fluffy_bunny

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  • Added on: July 17th, 2011
I have been to Colombia. I live in Iraq. Before this, i was evacuated from Yemen. I have been to Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir just to name a few. So in short, no. I think the travel warnings are a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense.
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busman7

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  • Added on: July 17th, 2011
As far as I am concerned government travel advisories are mainly CYA (Cover Your A$$) warnings so in case something bad happens to you, they can say I told you so.

Bali is one case that comes to mind, with there still being warnings because of the bombings almost 10 years ago, Hat Yai Thailand is another, as is taking the train from the eastern border of Malaysia/Thailand to Bangkok. Have done all these with absolutely no problems.

Have yet to travel to Columbia but from trusted sources it seems to have been safe for a couple years now.

That said I would tend to give more credence to warnings in the Middle Eastern Arab states in light of the present circumstances there. Would definitely do some independent checking before traveling in that area. Basically just use common sense in making the decision.
"Being normal? Ugh. I can't imagine how awful that must be" unknown

2wanderers

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  • Added on: July 18th, 2011
busman7 wrote:As far as I am concerned government travel advisories are mainly CYA (Cover Your A$$) warnings so in case something bad happens to you, they can say I told you so.
CYA is half the story, the other half is politics. Countries that people are intuitively comfortable with or have a mass tourism industry come off the warnings list much faster than the more foreign or adventurous destinations. A country like Egypt usually loses its warnings within a few months of an incident because, well, millions of people visit every year, and something bad only happens to a small handful. Even at the height of the IRA bombings, you would never have seen warnings for England like you see for destinations of similar risk that aren't so culturally similar.

Government warnings are a flag to look further into it. But in the end, it's the experiences of people that have visited recently that drive my travel decisions.

Then, before you go, check your travel insurance and make sure it doesn't have exclusions based on the existence of government warnings. Some do, some don't...it's something to watch out for when you're buying.

busman7 wrote:That said I would tend to give more credence to warnings in the Middle Eastern Arab states in light of the present circumstances there. Would definitely do some independent checking before traveling in that area.
I think this is mostly an example of your predispositions than of any fundamental difference in how warnings are issued. Apply the same logic everywhere...if there's a warning, locate some recent travelers to help guide your decisions. While I get the sense that now isn't a good time to visit some middle eastern countries, there were warnings when we visited in 2006, too, and there was no danger at the time. Also, it's a region where borders are very significant, and it's impossible to generalise about the whole region, and many countries are still perfectly safe to visit.

Fluffy_bunny

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  • Added on: July 18th, 2011
I currently live in Iraqi Kurdistan where things are boring as heck. Nothing new worthy happens here. There are no protests, no bombings, no kidnappings. Yet when i tell people i live in Iraq, they think i have a death wish.

While i was living in Yemen, i had no problems with the protests there. Just the odd traffic jam. It wasn't my decision to be evacuated, it was the State Departments'. Some guy sitting in an office in Washington made the choice, while not fully understand the situation on the ground. And while the news may be focused on Syria, countless travellers are reporting no hassles in the country. So the warnings have equally useless value here.
For tips and storied on Central Asia, the Middle East and Central America, check out my blog
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2wanderers

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  • Added on: July 18th, 2011
Fluffy_bunny wrote:Yet when i tell people i live in Iraq, they think i have a death wish.
That's funny. 5 years ago, I was already hearing of a few adventurous travelers heading for Iraqi Kurdistan, and then just a couple months ago, it was featured in Outpost, making it officially a mainstream destination. I find it hard to reconcile that with "death wish."
And while the news may be focused on Syria, countless travellers are reporting no hassles in the country. So the warnings have equally useless value here.

It was, in fact, Syria I was thinking of. Good to hear that people are still visiting without difficulty, though I think personally I'd still wait until the protests either succeed or die down to visit again. While avoiding protests is generally straightforward, the fatal shootings at them would still make me uncomfortable being in the country.

busman7

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  • Added on: July 19th, 2011
2wanderers wrote:
Fluffy_bunny wrote:Yet when i tell people i live in Iraq, they think i have a death wish.
That's funny. 5 years ago, I was already hearing of a few adventurous travelers heading for Iraqi Kurdistan, and then just a couple months ago, it was featured in Outpost, making it officially a mainstream destination. I find it hard to reconcile that with "death wish."
And while the news may be focused on Syria, countless travellers are reporting no hassles in the country. So the warnings have equally useless value here.

It was, in fact, Syria I was thinking of. Good to hear that people are still visiting without difficulty, though I think personally I'd still wait until the protests either succeed or die down to visit again. While avoiding protests is generally straightforward, the fatal shootings at them would still make me uncomfortable being in the country.


While I haven't researched the situation in Syria, which may differ, but I was in Bangkok during the Red Shirt demonstrations last year, where unfortunately there were some casualties. However at no time did I feel "uncomfortable being in the country" nor was there any danger to prudent travelers.
"Being normal? Ugh. I can't imagine how awful that must be" unknown

seraphim

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  • Added on: July 19th, 2011
I take them with a grain of salt.

After I went to Russia, travelled from west to east by myself with a longer stop at the university of Novosibirks, I read on the Belgian minstry of foreign affairs website that they recommended against solo travel, certainly off the beaten path, which is absolute rubbish. I'm sort of glad I didn't read that beforehand (and neither did my mother ;) ).

I did check out the travel advice before going to Yemen. They said that, other than the north, it was considered safe. And I did feel completely safe in Sana'a, but a few weeks later some Belgian tourists got shot elsewhere in Yemen (not in the north), so I realised that just because they say it's safe, doesn't mean you won't get hurt....

When I went to Ivory Coast to visit my bf's family there, I read the travel advice again. They were pretty vague, saying that non-essential travel to "some places" was advised against, without mentioning where "some places" were. Except for one - the city of Bouaké, which would be pretty much impossible to avoid when coming from Burkina Faso, so I risked it anyway (after doing some asking around and everyone who'd been there saying not to worry). We spent one night there on our way to Abidjan, and another one on the way back to Burkina. The biggest risk there seemed to be dying of boredom... And I would certainly estimate it safer than Abidjan, which was the only place they explicitely said was safe.
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