Here’s the Real Difference Between a Travel Alert and a Travel Warning

That one word can make a big difference.

Airline travel rarely goes without a hitch, but all the checkpoints and the delays you run into are simple costs of running a gravity-defying system. If you don’t have one of the 7 pre-screens that will speed you through security, a day with perfect weather, or a suitcase that won’t get flagged by the TSA, the small delays and long lines can really add up.

Two restricting safety precautions you may be familiar with are the “travel alert” and the “travel warning,” which seem near-identical. But there is a difference between the two and it could affect your decision making. 

Travel Alert

According to the U.S. State Department, a travel alert is issued when “short-term events” occur in a country that you may be traveling to. Dangerous weather—think hurricane season—is a common cause for travel alerts. Travel alerts are used to make you aware of the situations but aren’t necessarily telling you to cancel your plans altogether.

Dave Connell, Senior Vice President at Kinetic Global, a traveler’s safety app, encourages travelers to enroll in the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. “This allows U.S. citizens to register to receive information when in the country so that in the event of an emergency or a developing situation, they can receive up to date communications and the U.S. Government can get a better view of the exposure to U.S. Citizens,” Connell told Reader’s Digest.

Travel Warning

Travel warnings and advisories are issued when a situation is considered to have a more indefinite end date or is a greater cause for concern. Ongoing issues, like a civil war or spikes in crime, will often lead to the issuing of a travel warning. In these situations, the State Department wants travelers to to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all. These warnings are rated by the Department of State by severity ranging from “1 – Exercise Normal Caution” up to “4 – Do Not Travel.” “These advisories are valuable, as not only do they give a view over the local climate based on a number of categories from crime to public health and geo-political risk but they focus on how this relates to U.S. citizens. In addition, they will typically contain useful in-country information such as locations of embassies and contact details,” Connell added. Here are some examples of dangerous places the U.S. government advises you don’t travel to

In addition to the State Department’s ongoing list of travel alerts and warnings,  you should also keep in mind the CDC’s travel health notices. And, on the flip side, check out some of these “dangerous” countries that are actually safer to travel to than you thought.

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Isabel Roy
Isabel Roy is the newsletter editor at Reader’s Digest. She writes and reports on home, culture, and general interest stories. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse in 2017 with a B.A. in Rhetoric and Writing.