Travel advisories (and why you should read them)

You trawled through guidebooks to choose your destination, did your research to get the cheapest flights, and nailed down a travel insurance policy. Many people think that’s where trip planning ends, but there’s another important aspect that’s often overlooked.

Throughout the world, political and environmental situations change with little or no notice. To make sure you stay safe, you should research your destination more – and I’m not talking about skimming through your copy of Lonely Planet again. Travel advisories and local media research should be a vital step of your trip preparation. Here are my tips for why and how to find travel advisories.

WHY SHOULD I BOTHER?

INSURANCE COVER

You know how you’ve forked out your hard-earned money for travel insurance? Well if your destination is somewhere your government deems unsafe, you may not be covered.

For example, here is an extract of the “General Exclusions of this Policy” section from my latest travel insurance policy:

23. Events related to a governmental or official authority directive, restriction, prohibition, quarantine, or detention, including border closures and seizures by government authorities.

24. Riot or civil commotion unless You have already left New Zealand
prior to the riot or civil commotion, and You promptly take steps to
avoid related risks.

25. Events where a travel advisory risk rating of ‘High’ or ‘Extreme’ has
been published on the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and Trade website (www.safetravel.govt.nz), prior to Your Start
Date of Journey, except for cover as provided under section 2-1
if the travel advisory risk rating ‘High’ or ‘Extreme’ was published
after Your Start Date of Insurance but prior to Your Start Date of
Journey.

26 You travelling to a country engaged in war, invasion or civil war,
whether declared or not.’

27. Acts of foreseeable violence or involving military operations.

If the New Zealand Government rates somewhere as “High Risk” before I get on the plane, I’m not covered for anything that goes wrong. If something does go wrong, it can get very expensive very quickly.

CONSULAR ASSISTANCE

Political situations can change rapidly, and this can affect diplomatic relations between countries. Travel advisories will often list if your local consulate or embassy has closed or relocated (or expelled), and where to go for help if you require it whilst travelling. Note down the relevant contact details and take a couple of copies with you.

IT HELPS YOU STAY SAFE

Even if you’re insurance company will still cover you, Government advisories will provide extra information to keep you safe. Some places are more dangerous for one nationality than another, or there may be some political or diplomatic problems that only the government (and their networks of information) can foresee. It comes down to arming yourself with relevant information to keep yourself safe on your travels.

WHERE TO LOOK FOR INFORMATION

TRAVEL ADVISORIES

Most governments provide destination-specific travel advisories outlining various dangers their citizens should be aware of during travel. At the bare minimum you should check your own government’s website, but I would recommend a more comprehensive check by reading advisories from other governments too (for example, if you’re a Kiwi you could also read Australian, British and Canadian travel advisories). Here are the places I look for advisories:

NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Canadian Government Advisories
US State Department

LOCAL MEDIA

Before heading to your destination, you should also seek out any English-language local media such as news websites, blogs, and online magazines. This gives you another, local perspective of what’s happening. Whilst also allowing you to avoid trouble spots, it will give you some inside knowledge that can give you a deeper understanding of the place you’re visiting. I find knowledge of local news is a good way to start conversations with locals, and can even ease the culture shock upon arrival.

WHEN TO LOOK FOR INFORMATION

The process of checking travel advisories and local media should start before you choose your destination and continue until you return home. This includes whilst you are overseas. Obviously don’t spend your travels hunched over an iPhone looking for the latest update, but check in every now and again to ensure things haven’t changed.

This can seem a bit overwhelming, but you’ll make better decisions about your travel and your safety if you are informed (just make sure you don’t swing to the “I’m so paranoid I’m not ever leaving the house again” end of the spectrum).

Do you check advisories and local media? Have they helped or hindered your travel plans in the past?

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