When NOT to Visit a Country
It’s an age-old question for us travelers. When should you cancel a trip — if ever? This year has been a chaotic one for the world. There was a coup in Thailand, Iraq fell back into chaos, Honduras was once again named the murder capital of the world, Syria continues to unravel, Ukraine lost the Crimea, riots abound in Greece, and so on.
It’s not rare to find yourself in a position where you have the ticket, you have the itinerary, you’re all packed and ready to go, and then… something happens that makes you go, “Hmmm. Is this a good idea?”
There are those who won’t travel to anyplace with a State Department warning against it. But if you listened solely to the State Department (or the news, for that matter), you’d probably be best just staying home. Consider this advice issued recently by the Foreign Office of the United Kingdom against the United States: ”There is a general threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by foreigners. You should monitor media reports and remain vigilant at all times.”
Us! Dangerous! Can you imagine? But it’s true. We are quite dangerous. And so is everywhere, really. Yes, there were attacks in Kenya over the past year, but that isn’t a reason not to go. The government is still functional, the police are visible. And if Al-Shabaab had its way, there’d be attacks every day, but there are not as many as school shootings in our own country. Unlike, say, Nigeria’s response to the Boko Haram insurgency, which just makes it seem incompetent.
And so my feeling is, if you take precautions and weigh the situations individually (how corrupt is the place? Will there be gangs of unemployed, uneducated teenage boys roaming the streets looking for something to do? Is there a police presence? Is there a noncorrupt police presence? Is there recourse to the law?), most places are fine and welcome tourists and travelers.
Kenya, Africa (Photo: daameriva/Flickr)
But then there are times when they are really not fine. In my experience, there are three big reasons to cancel your ticket and not go, and it’s all about (real) safety concerns, moral objections, and health.
1. Civil war.
Never travel to a country that is in the midst of a civil war — or what amounts to one (like the Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria). This may sound ironic, as I traveled to Iraq in 2011 and was in Mali (accidentally) at the outset of its civil war in 2012. But the risks of a civil war are different than being in an international war zone. In a non-civil war, there are usually green zones and some sort of protection (not that I am advocating this — I was in Iraq on assignment). In a civil war, the lines are blurred and things move very quickly. There is no assured safety, and the only advice I have if you get stuck in a situation like the one I was in in Mali is: GET OUT. ASAP. Now is not the time to see Iraq. Or Syria. Or Ukraine.
Zimbabwe, Africa (Photo: Alan/Flickr)