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See the world, but know what’s going on where you’re going | Travel Views

By: Joyce M. Davis

Published: Apr. 06, 2024 | PennLive

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a monthly column on travel and tourism that will provide news and information on destinations close to home and abroad.

The year 2024 is promising to be a banner year for international travel. And where in the world is the most popular destination for Pennsylvanians this year? You guessed it, Italy.

At least according to Places to Travel, which conducts travel research, thousands of Pennsylvanians are online, looking into where they will vacation in the coming months. And Italy is emerging as this year’s top destination. Many Pennsylvanians will head out on a packaged tour to Rome, Venice, and Florence, but other intrepid travelers will strike out on their own to explore Italy at their own pace and on their own schedule.

Some may even dare to rent a car and drive.

However you plan to travel abroad this year, you need to prepare. You need to now what’s going on where you’re going. It can make the difference in whether your trip is a dream vacation or a nightmare.

Preparation doesn’t mean just packing a suitcase with enough deodorant, underwear, and t-shirts. It means doing some serious research into where you’re headed. It includes learning something about the history, culture, and climate of your destination. It’s important to know the weather, yes, but it’s also important to know the political climate where you’re going. Is there civil unrest? Protests in the town square? A deadly virus? Threats of terrorism?

Too often, Americans head overseas without checking with the U.S. Department of State about whether it has issued travel advisories or even stay away warnings about serious danger.

In these times, with wars raging in Ukraine and now spreading in the Middle East, every American should go to the U.S. State Department’s Country Information to check for travel warnings, including for places considered typical tourist destinations like Italy.

As it turns out, Pennsylvanians heading to Italy may be surprised to know it’s under a Level 2, or heightened travel advisory, due to global instability and the increased threat of terrorism.

The State Department ranks travel advisories in four stages:

Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions.

Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution.

Level 3 – Reconsider Travel

Level 4 – Do Not Travel.

Due to increased concerns over terrorism associated with the fighting raging in the Middle East, several European countries now fall under Level 2, including major destinations like France, Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom. You can still go and have a good time but be alert to potential issues due to serious global instability.

Countries like Pakistan, Egypt, and Haiti can be delightful tourist destinations, but not now. They are at Level 3, with Americans warned about serious risks in traveling there. And where are the places to absolutely stay away from? You guessed it right again, Russia.

Putin has imprisoned two American journalists: Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir service; and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. Both are being held on what the State Department says are bogus spying charges aimed at hurting the United States for its opposition to Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Ukraine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Syria as well as a good swathe of the world are to be avoided due to wars, civil unrest and animosity toward Americans and Europeans. It’s a shame, too, because all of these countries have incredible history, culture, cuisine, and mind-blowing architectural and natural beauty. They’re definitely worth visiting, but not now.

The point is much of the world is volatile these days, and conditions in any country can change quickly. In addition to checking the State Department advisories, it would be wise for overseas travelers to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) through the State Department’s website:

The program helps the State Department keep track of Americans overseas and lets the closest embassy know you’re there, so they can help you if you need it.

STEP also sends updates on safety issues to American citizens enrolled and allows travelers to get direct information on any potential dangers, including natural disasters or health emergencies. It’s worth taking the time to enroll. And it’s worth checking out the State Department’s Traveler’s Checklist: It offers specific guidance for certain types of travelers, including those with faith-based groups, women, students, seniors and even journalists.

For Pennsylvanians headed to Italy this year, relax, you’ll have a great time. And it’s clear you’ll have thousands of fellow Americans at the Uffizi with you. Turns out Italy is the most popular destination for people in 10 other states. You just may hear more English than Italian in Rome this year.

Joyce M, Davis is PennLive’s Outreach & Opinion Editor, as well as an author and former foreign correspondent who has lived and worked around the globe.

Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @byjoycedavis.