In light of recent attacks in Paris and what the State Department deems continued credible terror threats, U.S. citizens were urged to take caution when traveling in a newly issued worldwide travel alert. The alert expires on February 24, 2016, at which point, the situation will be reassessed. The State Department monitors worldwide terror threats and informs citizens abroad and at home about threats to security. The current alert warns citizens to “exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation.” The alert continues warning for citizens to stay away from large crowds and to exercise particular caution during the “holiday season.”
November and December are popular travel months for Americans. In 2014, AAA predicted 98.6 million Americans would journey at least 50 miles from home, a four percent increase from 2013 (AAA). According to the department of transportation, travel across distances more than 50 miles increases by 54 percent during the holiday season. Travel by car accounts for 91 percent of this travel, while only 2 to 3 percent of holiday travelers fly. The reason for travel is family and friend visits for 53 percent of all Thanksgiving holiday travel and 43 percent of Christmas holiday travel. Travelers during the holidays are statistically younger than travelers the other months, with an average age of 34 years (USDT). All in all, the holidays are a time when Americans travel more frequently. This new alert affects the Americans who engage in holiday travel and also those who attend holiday events at home.
The warning from the State Department explicitly informs citizens why the travel alert is in place:
“Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da’esh return from Syria and Iraq. Additionally, there is a continuing threat from unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis. Extremists have targeted large sporting events, theatres, open markets, and aviation services. In the past year, there have been multiple attacks in France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey, and Mali. ISIL/Da’esh has claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt.” –U.S. Department of State
The warning from the State Department also informs citizens about steps to take to stay safe. “Monitoring media” is suggested along with Smart Traveler Enrollment (STEP). Enrolling in STEP is easy and enables travelers to receive direct messages by email and/or text from the State Department in the event of a threat or emergency. To enroll, travelers simply visit the STEP website and enter personal information as well as travel destinations and dates. The alert also suggests all travelers inform family members about travel plans.
The alert goes on to reassure that foreign governments have taken steps to control this terror threat, including conducting “raids” against terrorists. The alert ends with the message:
“We continue to work closely with our allies on the threat from international terrorism. Information is routinely shared between the United States and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.”
While the decision to travel remains a decision for the traveler, there are no current restrictions to general travel. A list of country specific travel restrictions is available on the State Department website. What the State Department wants from Americans is vigilance and caution. This does not mean that Americans should not travel, but if travel is desired, it should be done with extreme awareness in this time of uncertainty. Travelers can help the State Department defeat terrorism by reporting all suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities. If travelers are going abroad, it is a good idea to plan ahead with an emergency plan.