Stay safe in this post Bin Laden world. There is sure to be some backlash; work on your Canadian accent 😉
— A friend offers us some advice in light of recent events.
We’ve lived outside of the United States for almost 10 years, with more than four of them on this around-the-world journey. In that time, we’ve consumed our share of U.S. State Department travel warnings.
So what do those advisories mean to me? Do I pay attention to them? As an American traveling abroad, am I frightened?
I got to thinking about this because this morning I received a note from my mother suggesting that we be extra careful while we’re in Bali (making reference to the terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2005). She followed up with an article about the recent State Department travel warnings issued after the announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Ah, warnings. Mothers in general tend to worry about these things. My mother also happens to be a former diplomat. Considering all this, she’s usually exceptionally good about keeping travel safety concerns in perspective.
So when she asks me to be especially careful, I pay attention.
Navigating State Department Travel Warnings
Then there are all those State Department travel warnings are regularly released – some general, some country specific. Do we pay attention to them?
As I see it, these travel warnings are a service. And as with any service, I consume them in tandem with other data from different sources on the ground and in the environment around me.
So we went to Myanmar in the spring of 2008, despite the general advisory in effect there after the Saffron Uprising. The word on the street from travelers at the time was: “All good.” And indeed it was as beautiful – and safe – a time as any to be there.
Afghanistan, fall of 2007. Advisories seem like a permanent feature in this poor country. We could have dropped into the north while visiting Tajikistan, but we opted not to. Not so much because of the advisories, but for what our friends in the journalism, counterintelligence and NGO communities working in Afghanistan had to say. They unanimously responded: “Now is not a good time.” We listened.
Note: Some travel and health insurance companies will not cover you or certain events if you travel to a country under a travel advisory. Before embarking on such a trip, check with your insurance company.
What about now?
Are we afraid? Not any more so than usual. Which is to say, not really. Threats and risks play tricks with our minds. Am I really any less safe here in Ubud, Bali than I was a few days ago? (When I watch the motorbikes whizz by with increasing speed, sometimes I think so.) But from the standpoint of being a target of terrorism, am I any more in harm’s way than if I were on American soil?
I don’t think so. In a world with or without Bin Laden, I actually feel more anxious for my family and friends in the United States than I do for us. Perhaps one’s perception of safety changes with distance.
So we’re not sitting in our hotels, frozen. Yes, we’re careful. But, we’re out there doing what we always do.
I hope you are, too.
What about you? Do you follow your country's travel warnings?