Understanding the State Department’s Travel Advisories

Safety is a top priority for anyone planning any trip anywhere. But what’s the best way to gauge the general safety of somewhere you might not know much about?
The US State Department issues Travel Advisories for each country of the world to help keep Americans informed about situations abroad. They also determine a level of general safety for each country based on a variety of factors, including things like crime and terrorism, but also the population’s health, natural disasters, and short-term events like the World Cup or notable elections. (Read more about the State Department’s process and messaging systems here.)
Each country is rated according to one of four levels:

  • Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk.
  • Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security.
  • Level 3 – Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security.
  • Level 4 – Do Not Travel: This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks.

As helpful as these appear at first glance, they make it easy to generalize the climate of an entire country when it’s often merely specific areas that might be risky. It’s likely similar to where you live: There might be areas that you avoid, but plenty of places you feel safe at any time of day.
To truly understand the climate in any given country, we suggest starting by reading the full advisory. Educating yourself about the current events is a wise step too, but don’t forget to look beyond the American news media to respected international sources.
If you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to ask your Tour Manager. Our global network of colleagues and contacts can likely give you a local’s opinion, which might present a clearer picture for a specific area. Also, there are likely ways we can plan your tour in a way that makes you more comfortable.
If you’re looking for guidance on approaching this topic with your group members and families, read these tips from the Tacoma Youth Chorus Managing Director, Martha Leonhardt. As you go about your planning, you can consider enrolling in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), which is a free State Department service allowing US citizens and nationals to connect with their nearest US Embassy or Consulate.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember there is always risk in any travel, just as there is risk in driving your car to the grocery store. There are many places in the world which have a bad reputation, but in reality carry no unusual risk to travelers, and are wonderful places to visit filled with people eager to meet you.