Travel warnings can add value to your trip, but in the short term they often prove frightening and annoying.
Remember that one of the first rules of budget travel is to never sacrifice safety for savings. Whether your planning on spending a month in an unstable country or an overnight in a dodgy neighborhood, you must weigh the risks carefully. Most times, the risks simply don't justify the benefits.
Is it better to postpone the month-long trip until conditions are safe, even if the costs later are greater? Is it wiser to pay more money for a room in a safe neighborhood? Make some inquiries. Get good information. Base decisions on facts and reason, not just bottom-line prices.
But it's also important to avoid becoming overly cautious or emotional. For example, some people are swayed too much by news footage. Sometimes, violence and unrest exists in isolated areas you would never visit as a tourist. For example, veteran travelers to Israel tell stories of returning home to North America only to find out friends had been worried about problems reported in the media. The travelers didn't even know about the problems, much less encounter trouble in-country.
So, how does a budget traveler go about making good decisions about safety? There are no simple formulas, and every situation presents its own unique set of variables. But there are steps you can take to remain safe and receive good value (in that order of priority).
Know the financial alternatives
Before booking, get written confirmation that refunds will be made for potentially dangerous destinations. Many times, if an airline or rail company puts its people at risk and delivers the service, there will be little chance of pleading a successful case for refunds if you decide not to travel. Consider paying more for the services of a company willing to guarantee refunds. Invest in a good travel insurance policy that will cover cancellations.
Consider multiple sources
A good journalist seeks multiple sources when writing a story, and a good editor runs that story only if satisfied those sources have credibility. Travelers should adopt the same perspective. Never depend on just one source for information about the safety of a destination. The travel operator might have ulterior motives for painting a picture of complete safety. A government web site might err on the side of caution and paint with too broad a brush. Its best to consider information from a variety of sources. The best information will come from sources with nothing to gain or lose if they provide honest answers.
Gather fresh information
Does a certain cruise port-of-call have an unsafe reputation? If so, how was that reputation earned? Many times, incidents from many years ago create a ripple effect that continues to speak of danger that no longer exists. The same can be true of a place with a clean reputation earned years earlier that no longer applies.
Larger nations with extensive diplomatic networks will post warnings to their citizens about potentially unsafe travel destinations. But those warnings are posted on the Internet, so it's possible for all people to read them. Four of the most-consulted English-language warning sites are operated by governments of Australia, Canada, Great Britain and the United States.
Australia advisories are posted on the SmartTraveller site, and include an alphabetical listing of nations as well as a separate page with current hot spots.
Canadian Government Warnings also include country-by-country information for international travelers. There is a four-stage "warnings and recommendations" standard, which ranges from "exercise normal precautions" to "avoid all travel."
Great Britain provides Foreign & Commonwealth Office Warnings. These are organized by continent, with an A-Z directory of links to country reports.
U.S. State Department warnings list countries where there are immediate concerns. Drilling down into the site will provide nation-by-nation reports and the date on which they were updated. Some say State is far too cautious. Disregard the advice at your own risk.