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Friday, December 8, 2023

What Americans Should Keep in Mind While Traveling this Holiday Season after ‘Worldwide Caution’ Alert

As the holiday season approaches, the U.S. State Department’s recent “Worldwide Caution” travel advisory has sparked concerns among Americans planning international trips. While the advisory emphasizes the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests globally, experts assert that, for the most part, the travel landscape remains familiar.

James Hess, a professor specializing in counter-terrorism and global security at the American Public University System, acknowledges the current fragility of the global security landscape, citing the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East. However, he expresses confidence in Americans’ ability to navigate these challenges, highlighting the economic significance of international travel for many countries.

Travelers rushing through one of Chicago O’Hare airport’s terminals. (iStock)

The “Worldwide Caution” advisory, initially issued after the Gaza Strip conflict outbreak and reiterated recently, urges U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution due to heightened tensions in various locations worldwide. With the upcoming holiday season expected to witness a surge in tourism, post-pandemic travel interest, coupled with the flexibility of remote work, is likely to contribute to the increased movement of people.

Hess underscores several ongoing global situations that could impact American travelers, including the Ukraine-Russia conflict, concerns about North Korea, and the evolving relationship between China and the U.S. The recent attempt by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group to carry out an attack in Brazil underscores the global nature of regional threats.

Protesters march through the city during the national protest to demand a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war Nov. 18, 2023, in Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The advisory’s relevance is further emphasized by the closure of a U.S. consulate in the Turkish city of Adana in response to anti-Israel demonstrations, illustrating the potential risks associated with geopolitical tensions. This marks the 23rd “Worldwide Caution” advisory since 2008, reflecting the persistent challenges in the international landscape.

Dr. Chuck Roussel, an expert in Criminal Justice and Human Justice, warns that countries with strong Arab populations may harbor hostility toward Americans perceived as supporters of Israel. He notes the anti-American sentiments expressed during anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian demonstrations in various countries, emphasizing the need for caution, especially in regions with large refugee populations from the Middle East.

Roussel highlights that Americans, often seeking relaxation and escape from worldly troubles during vacations, must balance this desire with awareness of their surroundings. Travelers are advised to stay informed through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and social media updates from the State Department.

Sunbathers enjoy Forum Beach as tourism returns to the city during Holy Week April 3, 2021, in Cancun, Mexico. (Medios y Media/Getty Images)

Hess suggests examining individual countries’ travel advisories, as not all destinations may have heightened concerns. For instance, Peru carries a level 2 “Exercise Increased Caution” advisory, while Nicaragua has a level 3 “Reconsider Travel” advisory. Hess emphasizes that the primary concern for travelers is often criminals rather than terrorists.

Blending in and avoiding the appearance of a tourist is recommended, although Hess acknowledges the difficulty for less experienced travelers. He also points out that carrying local currency, using VPNs to protect digital information, and being cautious with electronic devices can mitigate the risk of attracting criminal attention.

A view of the Trevi Fountain square in Rome June 3, 2022. (Andrea Ronchini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In conclusion, while the “Worldwide Caution” advisory may raise concerns, experts emphasize that Americans can still travel safely by staying informed, being aware of specific country advisories, and adopting precautions to minimize risks. As the holiday season beckons, a balance between relaxation and vigilance becomes crucial for those embarking on international journeys.


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