The Truth About Travel Warnings | Each year, governments issue hundreds of travel warnings. Some are obvious while others may seem exaggerated or even unnecessary. However, any traveller who even considers ignoring these bulletins should think twice because the repercussions can be serious.
By Simon Vaughan
Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department issued a ‘Worldwide Travel Alert’ to all Americans. The alert does not advise U.S. citizens against travelling abroad, but it does underscore the potential threat to them by “…ISIL (aka Da’esh), al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups.”
The alert advises U.S. citizens to “…exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places. Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events.”
The commonsense details extend to advising American travellers to monitor news while on the road, to stay in touch with family and friends so that someone knows where they are at all times, and to register with the State Department so that if things get really bad, they might be able to assist.
Sources and Importance of Travel Warnings
Most countries issue similar travel advice, alerts and general information. In Canada, our source is the Government of Canada’s ‘Travel and Tourism’ webpage and in particular its ‘Country travel advice and advisories‘. Not only does the website offer regularly-updated safety and security alerts and warnings, but it also contains a lot of practical and valuable travel information from contact details for Canadian embassies and consulates in every country, to visa requirements and health issues. It’s one of the first places to go before travelling.
While most government travel advisories are prompted by security situations—including natural disasters, economic issues, health problems, political upheaval and war or terrorism—some are created for political reasons not necessarily related to the personal safety of individual travellers. These could include economic embargoes or simply a deterioration in political relations between the two nations and may not reflect any change in the situation on the ground.
For adventure travellers in particular, these warnings can sometimes be a source of frustration. Some are bothered by what they perceive to be an unnecessary delay in lifting a travel warning once things have seemingly normalised, while others believe they know more than the bureaucrats.
Keen trekkers or mountain climbers, for example, might well feel they are better informed about the situation at a particular hiking trail or summit in some remote area of a distant nation than the consular staff know from just a few hundred—or thousand—miles away in the capital.
However, a government’s caution is understandable when you consider that if an individual traveller does get into trouble, there will be those who believe that it is the government’s fault for not telling them not to venture there in the first place. Or those who feel it is the government’s responsibility to help them out or even repatriate them regardless of any logistical problems that may exist.
While governments may be cautious in giving the all-clear to formerly troubled areas, travellers should be even more cautious if not paying attention to government advice. Although it is generally not illegal to go against the travel advice of their government, there can be a price to pay for anyone who chooses to voluntarily defy that travel advisory.
Ignoring Travel Warnings
Firstly, if you do run into trouble you should not expect to receive any government assistance. There will likely be no consular official visiting you in jail or in your hospital bed. Not out of spite, but because the problems that prompted the government to issue the advisory in the first place are likely to be the same problems that prevent that official from getting to you. It’s not to say that you’ll be abandoned, just that the best you might be able to expect would be a visit from a third party.
Secondly, if things get really bad and you are trapped in a war zone or a disaster zone, your government may simply be unable to get you out. Again, not through a lack of desire on their part, but simply because it’s impossible for them to do so.
Finally, if your trip goes against government advice, don’t be surprised if your travel insurance company refuses to pay on any claim you may submit. Many policies have clauses that state that if you go somewhere against the advice of your government—or their government if it’s a foreign insurance company—your entire coverage is null and void. No health, no cancellation no emergency flight out.
Now that’s a high price to pay for not paying attention.