There are certain things every traveler should do before booking a trip abroad: Make sure your passport is up to date, check a country's visa requirements and research the safety situation in your destination.
Individual country profiles on the U.S. Department of State website are a great source of information about everything from safety, to entry and exit requirements, to information about transportation, health and local laws. You should absolutely consider the Department of State's travel warnings before you book a trip, but just because a country has a travel warning listed, does it mean you shouldn't go? In short, no.
The problem with the State Department's travel warnings page is that it basically lumps every country onto one list, and leaves travelers to read between the lines. Reasons for warnings can vary from all out war in the entire country to narcoterrorists targeting tourists in a single region. But reasons can also be that one bomb went off or even that a single neighborhood of a city is serving as a hub of violent crime.
Would you tell someone it's unsafe to come to the U.S. because of a public shooting spree or because Newark, N.J. isn't super safe to walk around? Probably not.
We've gone ahead and pored through every one of the State Department's current 42 travel warnings (as of date of publishing) and decoded them for you. Check out the interactive map below to see just where the government thinks you should and shouldn't go, and why.
*Information under map is listed in reverse chronological order of warnings, which range from January 2016 to January 2017.
In reality, there are roughly six levels of warnings that the State Department gives out (actual wording varies):
- Avoid travel to an entire country (basically, don't even think about going here, and if you're already here, get the heck out)
- Avoid non-essential travel to an entire country (basically, go if you really have to, but be very careful)
- Avoid travel to various parts of a country (know where you're going and plan carefully, because there are certain sections of this place you should absolutely not visit)
- Avoid travel to a small portion of this country (most of this country is safe; it'd be like saying, if you go to America, be careful in the south side of Chicago)
- Consider the risk of traveling to the entire country (this place isn't the most stable, and there are safer places to go, but you're an adult so we leave the decision to you)
- Consider the risk of traveling to various parts of the country (same as above, but most of the country is totally safe)
The State Department revisits its warnings every six months or so, or if a major incident occurs in a country, so it's important to consider this a starting place and do your own research.