Why US Travel Warnings make no Sense

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The US media, Hollywood, and the US government have always done a great job at making the world look like a threatening place. Log into the US Department of State’s travel advisory page and observe the new color-coordinated travel advisory system to get the latest of this narrative. Here’s how the 4-tiered system looks.  

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The intention of this advisory is to give US citizens a look at the dangerous parts of the world to, therefore, deter them from traveling to them. It makes sense, a large developed country warning its citizens about potential dangers abroad….



The website states, “As terrorist attacks, political violence (including demonstrations), criminal activities, and other security incidents often take place without any warning, U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness when traveling abroad.”

The caution goes deeper in,

“Terrorist groups including ISIS, al-Qa'ida, their associates, and those inspired by such organizations, are intent on attacking U.S. citizens wherever they are.”

It continues on where the extremists aim to strike: 

-hotels, clubs, and restaurants
-places of worship
-schools
-parks
-shopping malls and markets
-tourism infrastructure
-public transportation systems
-airports.



So basically most places tourists go. 



This caution appears to be directed towards countries with high levels of instability and terrorism, perhaps Libya or Afghanistan. Places where things get blown up regularly and civilian murders are at all-time highs. But that’s not the case. The new Worldwide Caution from the US State Department applies not only to Libya or Afghanistan but to every country in the entire world! And this includes Switzerland.  



I can only imagine sitting at a posh Swiss café in the Alps drinking hot chocolate… the conversation is flowing smoothly, but as the one American in the group can’t engage fully with everyone else. Instead, I’m exercising “high levels of vigilance” and keeping a close eye on my “situational awareness,” as I scan my surroundings for external threats anxiously while wearing a whip-cream mustache.   



There’s a very clear narrative in the Worldwide Caution. The world is a dangerous place and America is the one place US citizens can relax from hyper-vigilance and situational awareness. The one place to breathe in the fresh air without anxiety.

 In a cafe in Shiraz, Iran.

In a cafe in Shiraz, Iran.

The fear continues…



“In multiple regions, terrorists, guerrilla groups, and criminals seek to kidnap U.S. citizens to finance their operations or for political purposes. The Department also remains concerned that terrorists could again seek to down aircraft using concealed explosives or hijack commercial flights.”

I think of the Americans who want to travel abroad but have little experience outside US borders. They want to take their family on a trip to spend quality time together, expand their horizons, and learn about the world. After a quick breeze through of the US State Department’s website, who in their right mind would want to bring their family anywhere?



With that said, there are some solid warnings on the website like Libya, or Afghanistan that make sense, but there is also some serious BS… Turkey for instance.  


Turkey is classified as a level-3 country, which means, “Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security.”


Istanbul is one of the world great megacities that has a similar homicide rate as Baltimore, USA.  The only thing is Istanbul is roughly 30x bigger than Baltimore.  Statistically, Istanbul is a very safe city. (Video at the end of story)

What I’ve noticed over the years with government warnings/cautions/advisories is they quite often align with political relations.  



In 2003 a phenomenon happened when the Turkish government didn’t allow the Americans to stage bombing raids from bases in Turkey directed at Iraq.  Almost overnight, Turkey was considered a dangerous country to travel to by the US State Department.  



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US/Turkish political relations are horrible right now, and again these threat levels have risen even though travel in most of Turkey is very safe. More things have been blown up or gunned down in Manchester, London, Barcelona, Las Vegas, or New York in recent years than Istanbul.  



But a way to hurt a country isn’t always through violence, it’s through economics. Tourism is a meaningful percentage of Turkey’s GDP at roughly 12% and vital to its economy. 



So it’s a very effective political screw to turn on a country.  



The worst case of this is Iran, which is the most pro-American country I’ve been to, and one of the safer countries on the planet to travel to. Iran receives a red level 4 “Do not travel” and a stern warning, “We want you to know the danger of traveling to high-risk places and to strongly consider not going to them at all. Traveling to high-risk locations puts your life, and possibly the lives of others, in jeopardy. Traveling to high-risk areas puts you at increased risk for kidnapping, hostage-taking, theft, and serious injury.”



Travel to Turkey or Iran doesn’t mean someone likes their governments or agrees with their political policies. As people of the world, we have the choice to connect with the true voice of a country, its people, instead of the loud and manipulative voice, its government.  



 Iranian political propaganda

Iranian political propaganda

Apart from this arbitrary worldwide caution, here are some facts:



More British citizens were killed in homicides in the USA than Turkey (2012-2016). This statistic factors in population sizes and quantity of travelers.  



Statistically, a British tourist has less of a chance of getting murdered in Turkey than the USA.



The country with by far the most murders on the planet, Brazil, is categorized at a level 2.



September 11, 2001, NYC was a very dangerous place.  But did that mean people needed to evacuate Boston?



I live in Ukraine now, a country technically at war. But the front line is far from the capital Kyiv, and more people were murdered in Chicago last year than killed in the war here.  



This isn’t an anti-American rant. It’s an anti myopic worldwide caution rant. 



The problem with these warnings is they don’t account in all of the other factors of crime and danger that are often regionalized. Giving entire countries an X mark crossed through them is a lazy and unjust way to warn a citizenry about travel to a particular country. I’m sure there are some good people with good intentions behind this worldwide caution, but there’re also others with a political agenda. 

The sad part about the worldwide caution is that it promotes fear and isolation instead of openness and connection.   



For those Americans looking to travel abroad… look deeper into the numbers, the objective data, and question where the information is coming from. Yes, there are real and credible dangers in the world. But a majority of the world is not how this worldwide caution depicts it. Most of the world is open, friendly, and ready for you with open arms.

 Cool group of Iranians I met in Tehran

Cool group of Iranians I met in Tehran


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