BUDGET TRAVEL ADVICE
To Go or Not to Go: 2013
Some of the world's most beautiful and historic destinations are, at least temporarily, off-limits because of natural disasters, crime, or political unrest. Here, we warn you away from the real trouble spots—and debunk some of the bad press.
To Go or Not to Go: Go.
With some of the world's holiest sites, sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, Israel is a one-of-a-kind destination. From the ancient streets of Jerusalem to the nightlife of Tel Aviv, this is a place where the past rubs elbows with the present like no other. Unfortunately, all that elbow-rubbing comes with a downside, and Israel has been the scene of religious tension, terrorist attacks, and flat-out war over the course of its 60+ years. The U.S. Department of State strongly warns Americans not to visit the Gaza Strip and most areas of the West Bank (other than Jericho and Bethlehem), due to ongoing tensions and risks that can range from rock-throwing to rocket fire. On the other hand, major cities such as Haifa and Tel Aviv are as safe as any in the world, and Jerusalem, as long as you observe some common-sense rules, is an unforgettable experience that shouldn't be missed. While in Jerusalem, avoid street protests and approach religious sites with caution on holy days, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays because of potential congestion and security restrictions. As with any troubled region, you will feel most supported and informed if you travel with an experienced tour operator and stay in touch with the staff at your hotel about the potential for political and religious demonstrations.
To Go or Not to Go: Go, but avoid the West Bank and Gaza.
Yes, millions of U.S. citizens visit Mexico safely each year, but as the U.S. Department of State points out, it's best to stick to major cities such as Mexico City and popular resort areas such as Los Cabos and destinations in Quintana Roo such as Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and Tulum, where the crime rate can actually be lower than in some U.S. cities. But more adventurous travelers should spend some time at state.gov reviewing the warnings about visiting border regions and some Mexican states (including Tamaulipas, Michoacan, Sonora, Chihuahua, and others) that have seen heavy drug-trafficking activity, including daytime gun battles, carjackings, and kidnappings. Regardless of where you travel in Mexico, be prepared for the same risks you might encountering when visiting any American city.
To Go or Not to Go: Go, but only to major cities and resort towns.
2012 saw an increase of 30 percent in tourism to Japan over the preceding year, according to the Japan National Tourist Organization. It's no wonder people stayed away in 2011: In March of that year the nation was rocked by the largest earthquake in its history, a magnitude 9 quake that destroyed buildings and triggered a tsunami on the island's northeast coast, causing the deaths of thousands and a meltdown at a major nuclear-power plant, including a release of dangerous radiation. But millions have returned to Japan in the past year, buoyed by the nation's swift recovery efforts. Today, major destinations such as Tokyo are completely safe and 2013 may even set a record for visitors.
To Go or Not to Go: Go, as long as you avoid the area around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant.
The political unrest that rocked Egypt two years ago, including public uprisings against then-president Hosni Mubarak, certainly put Egypt front-and-center on the world stage, and inspired some to delay travel plans to the north African nation. But sites such as the pyramids and Great Sphinx at Luxor, museums and historical sites in Cairo, and the beauty of the Lower Nile (now enjoying a resurgence in river cruises) still inspire waves of visitors, and the U.S. Department of State does not explicitly warn Americans away from Egypt. It does suggest that you stay away from public demonstrations, which can be unpredictable and sometimes turn violent. Visiting Egypt with an experienced tour guide, or staying in a major hotel whose concierge regularly monitors the potential for unrest, is your best bet.
To Go or Not to Go: Go, but, for now, stick with well-trod tourist sites such as Cairo and Luxor.
There's no sugar-coating it: The economic downturn and austerity measures have inspired strikes and public demonstrations in Greece, especially in major squares in the capital city of Athens. While they are usually peaceful and pose no threat to the democratic government, some demonstrations have turned violent, including fire-bombings and vandalism. It's best to avoid ogling demonstrations because of their potential to turn ugly. Americans visiting Athens should be aware that anti-migrant sentiment can make some visitors targets of aggressive behavior—and even police sweeps. The U.S. Department of State especially cautions Americans of African, Asian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern descent to be on guard because they may be mistaken for migrants. All Americans should carry a copy of a passport or photo ID at all times. That said, tourism to Greece is still a booming business—major hotels in Athens, resorts on the islands, and other destinations with knowledgeable staff and on-site security are not only safe but among the most rewarding vacation spots you could choose.