‘Reconsider’ a war zone? Is Smartraveller giving the right travel advice?


The ducks are lining up in the case of travel to Jordan. The US State Department says “Exercise increased caution”, the UK’s FCDO says “See our travel advice before travelling,” and from Smartraveller, “Exercise a high degree of caution”. Qatar also gets a green light from all three but in its advice for the United Arab Emirates, Smartraveller says “Exercise normal safety precautions” while according to the US State Department travellers should “Exercise Increased Caution”, one step higher up the threat level. However the State Department applies the same travel advisory to the UK and most of Western Europe, although not to Australia and New Zealand. This comes against the backdrop of a “Worldwide Caution” issued by the State Department on November 7, 2023, warning its citizens of the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations or violent actions against US citizens due to increased tensions around the world. Meanwhile, the UK says it is currently “very likely” there will be a terrorist attack in the UAE.


The ruling military junta calls it Myanmar, as does Australia, but to the US State Department, it’s still Burma. On the State Department map, the whole of Burma is coloured red, which means “Do not travel”. That’s the same as the Smartraveller website but here too the UK’s FCDO is more nuanced in its advice. The southern area around Yangon, formerly Rangoon, is a green area on the FCDO’s map, with the guidance “See our advice before travelling”, the rest of the country is either “Do not travel” or inadvisable for all but essential travel.

Do travel advisories matter?

In a small number of cases there are some subtle differences in the travel advice the Australian, UK and US governments provide, but in general all three are singing from the same song sheet. Governments are risk averse and so caution is paramount. The last thing they want is having their nationals caught up in a terrorist attack, or having to negotiate with groups holding them hostage.


Some travellers choose to ignore travel advice when it doesn’t suit them. Earlier in 2023, I was standing at a baggage carousel in New Delhi Airport when I fell into conversation with a fellow Aussie. Where was he heading, I asked? Kashmir, he said, skiing. Goes every year. Kashmir has a “Do not travel” warning from the Australian, British and US governments. Was he worried that he wasn’t covered by travel insurance, I asked? No, the dry powder snow of the Himalayan region made it worth the risk. “No worries,” he said.


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