Safe travels: what to know before you go

I register with the U.S. State Department before international travel to an area whose safety status is unknown to me.

The free STEP – Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – automatically transmits pertinent advisories and alerts that mesh with my itinerary. That’s in addition to an online map of the world that shows risky areas for traveling.

The map is updated daily, based on the impact of natural disasters, terrorism, civil unrest, piracy or other crimes.

Vigilance is good, but don’t let it be paralyzing. If I had shied away from travel because of the world’s troubles, I’d have never seen much of anything on this planet. As it is, I’ve traveled safely to Egypt, Israel, Thailand, South Korea, South Africa and elsewhere – returning with wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.

Soon I head to the Canary Islands, which are a part of Spain. Here is what I am to expect: “Exercise increased caution in Spain due to terrorism.” That doesn’t spook me.

“Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Spain,” the State Department warns. “Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas.”

This advisory is a Level 2, which is not unusual for this time in history.

Level 1 is “exercise normal precautions.” Level 2 is “exercise increased caution.” Level 3 is “reconsider travel,” and Level 4 is “do not travel.”

In spring, my phone “pinged” shortly after I landed at the airport in Prague. A security alert from our State Department advised, for all of the Czech Republic:

“The U.S. government remains concerned that terrorists are intent on targeting U.S. citizens, including children. Terrorists may employ a variety of tactics, such as violent assaults and kidnappings. In the past they have used knives, guns and vehicles as ramming devices. They may target schools, hospitals, churches, tourist locations, transportation hubs, and other public venues.”

Under actions to take:

“Stay alert in public places, including schools, hospitals, churches, tourist locations and transportation hubs.

“Review travel routes and times to reduce time and place predictability.

“Keep a low profile

“Be aware of your surroundings.

“Review your personal security plans

“Report social media threats to local authorities.”

Think that’s scary? Here’s something else to think about: The United States makes the travel advisory list in countries that you might not expect.

Pauline Frommer, of the Frommers Budget Travel guidebook series, was keynote speaker at the annual Society of American Travel Writers conference in late September. At that time, she asked what these countries had in common: United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Germany, Canada, the Bahamas, France, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Answer: All advised caution when traveling to our country:

“Something to keep in mind when someone asks you if Mexico (etc.) is dangerous,” my colleague Ed Wetschler of New York posted on Facebook.

Why declare the U.S. potentially dangerous? Everything from hurricanes and the Zika virus to mass shootings at concerts, nightclubs, schools and churches make the difference.

From the United Kingdom’s foreign travel advice page:

“US media are reporting that a number of suspicious packages and devices have been sent to prominent locations in New York City and Washington DC in the last few days, including the CNN offices at the Time Warner Center and the homes of former Presidents Clinton and Obama. The FBI continue to investigate, but there is currently nothing to suggest that there is a specific threat to British nationals. You should continue to follow the advice of the local law enforcement authorities.”

The world is wary. Travelers need to stay smart and alert – but avoid paranoia because that is a part of what narrows our attitude and tolerance toward each other.

That trip to Prague? It was sunny and lovely, but I probably walked a little more briskly and hung onto my tote bag a little tighter because of the State Department advisory.

Is that a bad thing? Nope – and I’m eager to begin again, passport in hand.

To sign up for STEP registration before traveling, go to

To see a world map that shows risky areas for traveling, go to The map is updated daily.

To receive pertinent alerts and advisories while traveling:

The list can change from day to day, but these countries recently got “do not travel” status from the U.S. State Department.



Central African Republic


North Korea






South Sudan

Under Level 3, “reconsider travel,” recently:


Burkina Faso



Democratic Republic of the Congo








El Salvador