Getty Images, watching the eclipse from Tahiti during World Cup
Upon realizing my US Passport had expired and realizing too it was going to cost me $110 to renew it (it expired a year ago) I took the opportunity to look around the US State Department web site to see where I should not be planning a vacation. Wow, it's pretty scarey out there.
Chad, Haiti, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are all prominently displayed on the front page in plain site as places where the US warns travelers not to go. A vacation to Haiti or Chad really isn't in the cards for most Americans anyway and Gaza probably isn't the first choice for a Club Med experience. However, a lot of Americans would dearly love to travel to Israel and indeed continue to do so despite the warnings. So we checked out the drop down for some other vacation ideas.
Somalia looked like fun: "The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Somalia, including northern Somalia." Words such as "terrorism, pirates, militias, gangs of roving and kidnapping" fill the several paragraphs of text laid out by State. And if you do go there since there is no US presence in Somalia proper you are encouraged to register with the consulate in that place with the great name for a city, Djibouti.
The Philippines seems touristy enough. Not for State though: "The State Department warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to the southern Philippine islands of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, and urges extreme caution if traveling there." Again those ominous words such as "terrorist, violence and kidnap-for-ransom-gangs" keep popping up.
How about the exotic Mali (as opposed to Bali): "The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Mali and continues to recommend against all travel to the north of the country due to kidnapping threats against Westerners." And this does include the region of Timbuktu. Another one of those great names on the map. The usual applies here although there is a new phrase which says this is one "of the most remote places on earth" and if an emergency happens there "the Embassy would have extreme difficulty rendering assistance." In other words in the immortal statement of the preacher in "Blazing Saddles" as he held up a bullet riddled bible, "Son, you're on your own!"
Then there is Eritrea: "The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Eritrea and recommends that U.S. citizens defer all travel there because of Eritrean government restrictions on travel outside the capital city of Asmara, an increased number of U.S. citizens arrested without clear justification, and heightened tensions along Eritrea's borders with Ethiopia and Djibouti." Vacation spot? I don't think so.
What about closer to home?
Mexico: "The Department of State has issued this Travel Warning to inform U.S. citizens traveling to and living in Mexico about the security situation in Mexico, and to advise that the authorized departure of family members of U.S. government personnel from U.S. Consulates in the northern Mexico border cities of Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros has been extended. " Wow! State does go on to say that millions of Americans go to Mexico each year safely and the Mexican government is trying to make things safer but the warning still exists. It should be noted: "Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major drug trafficking routes. Nevertheless, crime and violence are serious problems." So in other words, Club Med? OK, but stay away from the bars in Juarez.
Some of the other hot spots we are warned not to travel to these days include Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan (if you do go there make sure you buy a drink for an American soldier-non alcoholic by the way as these are still Muslim countries), Burundi, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Uzbekistan, Colombia, Lebanon, Georgia (the country not the state so you can travel to Atlanta any time you want), Algeria and about a dozen others.
Where can Americans go on vacation? Russia? No problem although State is increasing Visa fees by $9 there. Rwanda? No warnings there. Italy? Nothing out of the ordinary for travelers although this was kind of strange "Avoid doorways, bushes, and alleys." "Bushes?" Okay. Vatican City has the same warning but to be honest I don't remember any bushes in Vatican City outside of the Vatican Gardens and there is always a security guard there. Sierra Leone? No warnings there either.
Of course you can always go to Tahiti. "Welcome to the Consular Section of the American Embassy in Suva, Fiji. We are geographically the largest consular section in the world serving Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the French territories of French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis & Futuna." Well that is a real welcome. Although there is one little caveat on the site about French Polynesia "If an American citizen is involved in a serious accident, in distress, or dies, please call our 24-hour number (679) 331-4466 and ask for the Duty Officer."
It's tough to be an American tourist these days.