What’s the Difference Between a Travel Alert and a Travel Warning?

During my morning commute, I heard on the radio that a travel alert was issued by the U.S. Department of State for any Americans planning to attend the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia next month.

The games are scheduled to occur 7 February 2014 – 16 March 2014.

It got me thinking – how many of us really understand what this travel alert means, let alone when an alert versus a warning is issued?

Similar to tornado alerts and warnings, or winter alerts and warnings – an alert is less severe than a warning.  Alerts are issued to call attention to a sudden change in a country’s political, economical, or security framework that may cause heightened risk for American travelers.

As a matter of standard protocol, the U.S. Department of State typically releases similar alerts prior to any major, public international event.  This particular Russia travel alert contains valuable information on how to reduce becoming a target of crime and terrorism by avoiding large public crowds, demonstrations, or certain cities during a visit.  It also provides contact information for Embassy officials who can provide assistance if required.  Alerts often have an expiration date at which point the alert is either re-issued or cancelled.

A travel warning, on the other hand, is like pulling the card in Monopoly where you go directly to jail without passing GO and collecting $200.  Per the U.S. Department of State website:

Travel warnings are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government’s ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff.”

Currently, the list contains 36 countries under a travel warning.

Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean you are prohibited from traveling to these countries; however, visitors who choose to travel to these countries – and selected areas within them – need to fully understand the risks and how to properly ensure their personal safety.  I should mention that there are some countries to which travel altogether should be avoided.  This includes countries such as North Korea and Iran, among others.

So, for any of my readers who are traveling to Sochi to enjoy the games live and in person – be smart, be safe, and have a great time! 😀

(For a quick refresher on travel safety tips when out and about, make sure to read this post!)

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