Travel Warnings are more serious in that the situation is not expected to get better within a few months. Travel warnings often come as a response to civil war, endemic violence, or outbreaks of life-threatening diseases like Ebola.
Travel Warnings and Alerts are sometimes issued by governments if they think a threat is imminent, around elections for example, but the situation may never really amount to anything that would endanger a tourist. At other times, as with the political upheavals in Egypt that started in January 2011, a travel alert was issued way too late, and tourists were happily flying into a situation that resembled all out war. The key is to monitor the travel warnings, discuss your options with the tour operator and airline, and keep watching the news.
Planning A Trip to a Country That is Under a Travel Advisory
If a Travel Advisory has been issued for an African country you plan to visit, you need to take the information seriously. If you are a US citizen, enroll in the State Department's Smart Travel program. That way you can be contacted in the event of an evacuation. Read the warning or alert carefully and discuss your options with your travel agent. Make sure you get insurance coverage that will allow for emergency evacuation, or trip cancellation based on safety issues (not just medical). Most policies in the US do not cover "political disturbances and riots", under "trip interruption", but may do under "trip delays". Do your homework.
Remember, a "Travel Alert" is issued for an immediate situation, so things can get worse, or better in a short period of time. The travel alert usually has an expiration date. While you should keep your eye on the news, if the alert expires and all seems calm before your actual departure, no action is necessary.
While most countries under a Travel Warning are not tourist hot spots, Kenya has been on the US Department of State list for several years. This may come as a surprise to many planning a safari. It shows you that every "travel warning" is unique and cannot be seen as a blanket statement for people to avoid all travel to that country. Some warnings include specific geographic locations , such as borders between two countries, where unrest is likely to occur. Warnings may state that all but essential travel is ill advised, others may warn of crime within particular areas of a city. So, read the travel advisory carefully. Your travel agent can help tell you exactly where in the country you will be visiting, what cities you may expect to be spending time in, and where the airport is in relation to the perceived threat. Get as much information as you can from a variety of sources so you don't cancel your vacation needlessly, nor put yourself in a situation where a vacation turns into a nightmare.
Can I Get a Refund On A Paid Trip if A Travel Alert or Warning is Issued?
A tour operator or airline is not obliged to give you a refund if an alert or warning gets issued. This is why it's important to read the Terms and Conditions before you pay for a trip. It's also why I'd recommend you always purchase travel insurance. As much as a tour operator would like you to enjoy your trip, they also do not want to be responsible for any harm or danger you may face. In the case of a travel advisory, most tour operators will consider an exchange, a partial refund, or a reschedule of your trip.
My Tour Operator Insists It's Safe to Go Despite a Travel Advisory
Tours and flights are not automatically canceled once a Travel Advisory has been issued. There are cases when a tour operator will insist it is safe to travel, despite an official travel advisory. Given the fact that they have colleagues "on the ground", they may be correct. But, they also have money to lose and it's not good marketing to say a destination is "unsafe". It is up to you to make your own decision. Read the news, find out exactly where you are going and check travel forums to see what people are saying who are at the location you are planning to go to. Remember, governments generally do not issue a Travel Advisory unless something fairly serious is going on. If you are not sure, check on advisories issued by other governments (see list below), see what they advise their citizens to do. It's a smart way to take some of the politics out of the game.
Whatever the advisory suggest, whether to not travel at all, or travel with caution, you want to make sure that your embassy or consulate in the country is open for business. If the situation gets worse, they are the ones who can help you get out.
What To Do If You Are on Vacation in a Country that Comes under a Travel Advisory?
If riots break out, or there is a sudden attack while you are enjoying a vacation in Africa, your first call should be to your embassy. For US Citizens your embassies are listed here: For UK citizens you embassies are listed here.
If you are a US Citizen you can contact the US Department of State emergency line at: 1-202-501-4444. If you have access to the internet check your local Foreign office or Department of State web sites. They will have the latest information on flights out of the country, contact numbers and more.
Your government will be monitoring the situation and have plans for evacuation if the need arises. Evacuations will get you to a safe country, not necessarily home, that will be your problem to deal with. Contact your tour company and find out if they can reschedule your itinerary, or get you back home if the situation warrants it. Talk to the local staff at your hotel, they will be able to tell you exactly what is going on and give you the background of the situation.
Current Travel Advisories