For the record, we are not encouraging you to visit places where your health and safety are at risk. But ‘travel advisory warnings’ can be misleading. While some apply to an entire country (i.e. Syria or Niger), others stem from security concerns isolated to a particular region or city. Meanwhile, the rest of the nation is perfectly suitable for international travelers.
What the U.S. government says: “Access to borders, airports, roads, and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning. Public demonstrations occur frequently with little warning and have the potential to become violent. Family or neighborhood disputes often escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with little or no warning.”
Why you should go: Yes, the political climate in Lebanon has been somewhat unstable in recent years (apparently they have some sort of beef with Israel), but tourists who visit the tiny Middle Eastern country typically encounter friendly locals, vibrant nightlife and breathtaking natural scenery. Furthermore, Lebanese society is much more relaxed about Islamic customs than other countries in the region; Western dress is acceptable, and the country’s wine is world-renowned.
Safety tip: Before you depart for Lebanon, register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy (located in Beirut) and fax them a copy of your travel itinerary. If you drastically change your plans, contact the embassy by phone.
What the U.S. government says: “Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidentally, have been subject to arrest and long-term detention.”
Why you should go: But I can’t travel to North Korea, you might protest. As a matter of fact, you can – and according to those who have visited the troubled nation since the ban on American tourists was lifted in 2010, the experience is highly rewarding. U.S. citizens can currently visit NOKO either as part of the Korean Friendship Association and Choson Exchange (a state-run tourism agency) or private tour companies. By most accounts, the (non-military) citizens are friendly, funny and highly curious about life outside their isolated communist state. The country also offers delicious cuisine, a surprisingly active nightlife and some truly wicked hiking that rewards climbers with breathtaking views.
Safety tip: Tourists must remain with their tour group for the duration of their stay in North Korea. Breaking this rule can lead to highly undesirable consequences.
What the U.S. government says: “The U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya. Terrorist acts can include suicide operations, bombings, kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Kenyan ports.”
Why you should go: Tensions are high near the Kenya-Somalia border, where numerous kidnappings (and a few deaths) have been reported in the last 18 months. Thankfully, Kenya is a huge country with many destinations where the surroundings are relatively safe (unless you’re a zebra). National parks are the real treasure of Kenya, where visitors can engage in anything from rock climbing to birdwatching to hanging out with Masai tribespeople.
Safety tip: Keep your money, passport and other precious belongings safe if you make it to Nairobi, Mombasa or other urban centers in Kenya. Pickpockets run rampant in African metro areas.
What the U.S. government says: “U.S. citizens should exercise extreme caution if traveling to the island of Mindanao in the Southern Philippines. Throughout Mindanao, criminal groups have clashed sporadically with the Philippine Armed Forces, particularly in rural areas, and terrorist groups have kidnapped international travelers and carried out bombings that have resulted in injuries and deaths.”
Why you should go: While the Mindanao archipelago might not be the best place to travel these days, two nearby locales – Cebu and Boracay – remain top travel destinations, thanks to their idyllic beaches, myriad of tourist activities and unbelievably low cost of just about everything. If you dig more serene surroundings, head up to Camarines Sur in the Luzon archipelago – the black sand beaches and shimmering coral reefs will make you never want to leave.
Safety tip: Keep an eye on your luggage at all times; the Philippines serve as a major thoroughfare for drug traffickers from all over the world.
What the U.S. government says: “No one is safe from kidnapping, regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender, or age. In recent months, travelers arriving in Port-au-Prince on flights from the United States were attacked and robbed shortly after departing the airport.”
Why you should go: We’ll just go ahead and say it – tourists should hold off on that Haitian vacation for now. But the country, still struggling nearly three years after an earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people, is in great need of volunteers – and anyone so inclined to help out with the Haiti effort can do so with relative ease. The Haiti Volunteer Network is a good jumping-off point for these types of opportunities.
Safety tip: Haiti’s hospitals and clinics are pretty deficient, so travelers are urged to purchase some evacuation insurance in case of a medical emergency that necessitates a stateside return.
By Brad Nehring
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