I got into a conversation about the safety of travel to Egypt with a friend this week; we were on opposite sides, I believe it is safe (at least where tourists would be) and she did not. This got me thinking about how many people believe certain areas are unsafe for tourists, mostly based on the media. “It’s all a matter of perspective, and not allowing the media to influence your decision. Remember that the press affords a disproportionate focus to terrorism because sensation sells” (Heather Cole, Conversant Traveler). I agree with this statement, I do not take what the media says to heart without doing my own research. So I am going to cover a couple different countries in this blog, when I am discussing safety in this particular case I am not including illness (such as Zika), I am talking about terrorism, war, and other violent clashes. I am going to break it down per country but first I’ll define Travel Warning versus Travel Alert as given by the US State Travel website
Turkey has an active travel warning against it; last updated October 24, 2016. The city of Ankara is under a state of emergency, there are restrictions on travel throughout the country, and denial or delays for US citizens to have access to the consular. Turkey has suffered several terrorist attacks in the last year, included attacks targeted at tourists. The cruise lines have stopped porting in Turkey and I feel that is a major sign to avoid.
Recommendation: I would avoid Turkey for the foreseeable future.
Israel has a partial travel warning from the US travel department; it is for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Gaza strip is currently under Hamas, a terrorist organization, control. The West Bank is experiencing political and religious tensions causing violent outbursts without warning. According to the US travel department website, “the government of Israel make considerable efforts to police major tourists’ attractions and ensure security, particularly in areas where foreigners frequently travel” (8/23/2016). This would leave one to believe that most of Israel is safe for tourist travel, but with a bit more research I found that might not necessarily be true. The UK government’s travel site states that there have been numerous violent clashes in Tel Aviv, Eastern Jerusalem and the Old City (particularly near the Damascus Gate area), and Hebron (10/25/2016). There has also been violence from protestors near public transit in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem along with the major roads and near the borders. They also warn against increased tension during the Jewish holidays. Currently there is a high risk of terrorism.
Recommendation: I would avoid unnecessary travel until the present political conditions calm down. Keep an eye on the situation; this is a country that notoriously goes in and out of danger.
Egypt has no current US travel warnings or alerts. The UK is saying the major threats are in the Governorate of North Sinai, which is in the North East, near Israel. The general consensus seems to be that the tourist areas are safe and in the green zone. This includes: the Nile River, Luxor, Qina, Aswan, Abu Simbel, the Valley of the Kings, the Red Sea resorts, Cairo (Pyramids of Giza), and the ancient city of Alexandria. Currently there is a low risk of terrorism but to be safe avoid travel by road between areas, use the domestic air. While visiting Egypt be aware of your surroundings, avoid demonstrations, use common sense, and know how to get to safety (find out where the US consular is and put the phone number in your cell).
Recommendation: Safe for travel to tourist areas, keep to the beaten path and practice smart safe traveling. Keep an eye on the political climate (buy that trip insurance) because it can change quickly. Use your personal judgment, if you do not feel safe going, do not go.
Thailand has no current US travel warnings or alerts. Thailand has been in the news in the last few months in relation to a few bombings in August and some demonstrations. But Thailand is a safe country to visit; their police know how to deal with the demonstrations that occasionally come up. It is important to note that Thailand is under a national state of mourning of the death of their king earlier this month. The mourning period lasts a year, until October 14, 2017, and should be honored by guests along with citizens. If you visit Thailand during this period be extra sensitive, wear darker respectful clothing, and be respectful of the royal family and in public spaces. Keep tabs on local media and follow the advice of the authorities. Be prepared that some entertainment venues will either be closed or operating on shorter hours. It would also be wise to keep an eye on the political atmosphere, the country is going through a change in power and that can cause trouble.
Recommendation: Thailand is safe to visit, practice safe and smart travel. Note the current mourning period and be respectful. Watch the political situation. Maybe wait till next year when they are no longer mourning.
Thailand Visitor guidelines for period of mourning:
There are no active warnings or alerts for Morocco but the US travel department does state that there could be a threat to safety. The largest threats seem to be from demonstrations and street crime (which are usually of convenience), such as pick pocketing and harassment. Morocco’s tourist areas are safe areas, but still be a smart traveler. Be aware of your surroundings, try not to stand out, know the phone number and location of the consular (Casablanca), avoid demonstrations, avoid traveling alone at night (use the red taxis), and know that city buses are not considered safe for tourists. Keep up to date on the current security developments; you can follow the consular in Morocco on Twitter. The US travel department also states to stay away from the Western Sahara area, for it is under tension of which it belongs to. It is important to note that Morocco has suffered less terrorist attacks than France, but a lot of people believe because it is a Muslim country that it is full of terrorist, but evidence supports otherwise. Heather Cole of the Conversant Traveler blog wrote this interesting blog about her travels to Morocco and how she felt completely safe while there: http://www.conversanttraveller.com/is-it-safe-to-travel-to-morocco/ .
Recommendation: Morocco is safe to visit. Be a smart and safe traveler and be respectful of the culture and religion while there.
A lot of people are afraid of Europe right now due the recent number of terrorist attacks in major tourism destinations. Currently there are no alerts or warnings for European travel, the summer alerts have expired by a couple months now (which were vague and with no particular threat backing it). European travel expert Rick Steves, when asked if it is safe to travel overseas, stated: “Travelers should understand the risk of terrorism in a cold, logical, statistical way. Your odds of being killed by a terrorist overseas or in the air are 1 in 20 million (Washington Post and Time). Your odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 10 million (New York Times). Your odds of being killed by gunfire in the United States are 1 in 32,250 (New York Times)” (https://www.ricksteves.com/press-room/rick-steves-talks-about-safe-travel). So that should answer the question if Europe is safe for travel. It is, despite recent events tourists are still traveling to Europe and safely. As with all travel, be aware of what is going on around you and take precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones. Travel has resumed in areas affected by terrorism and if you decide to visit it is important to be sensitive to the area and those that live there. They have suffered a tragedy and deserve respect, Ilana Ander of Emory University wrote a great article on College Tourist Blog about visiting Nice, France after their tragedy this summer, it is definitely worth the read: http://www.thecollegetourist.com/travels-in-nice-after-tragedy/ .
Recommendation: Go! Europe is safe, practice smart and safe travel.
Whew! I know that was a long blog but I felt that these locations needed to be discussed. Feel free to ask about any particular place you are thinking about and I’ll give you my recommendation. But if in doubt do your research, check the US travel department (https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html) or enroll in smart traveler at https://step.state.gov/step/ . I also like looking at the UK’s travel site for a fuller picture, also talk to people that have been there-ask if they felt safe or if they had any concerns. Use your own judgment is my best advice. I can tell you it is safe all day long but unless you feel safe you will not truly enjoy your trip.
P.S. The Global Peace Index has released the 2016 safest countries this week, the top ten are (from #1 to #10): Iceland, Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, Portugal, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, and Slovenia. Lots European options there!
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