Photographer: David Williams/Bloomberg

Travel Warning or Alert? State Department Aims to Clarify System

Americans weighing travel abroad used to face a confusing array of warnings, updates and alerts when checking with the U.S. government about their destination of choice. A new system unveiled Wednesday scraps all that.

The U.S. State Department published boiled-down travel advisories on Wednesday giving every country, along with Antarctica, a number from 1 to 4, ranging from “exercise normal precautions” to “do not travel.” A handy map of the globe accompanying the advisories overlays color shades -- blank, yellow, orange and red -- to correspond with each category.

“Over the years, we’ve come to recognize that sometimes our various documents were not readily understood,” Michelle Bernier-Toth, acting deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizen services, told reporters. “And frankly, I personally was tired of explaining the difference between a travel warning and a travel alert even to some of my colleagues. ”

Specific advisories give more detail on how the State Department arrived at each designation. What the department dubs “risk indicators” include terrorism, civil unrest and natural disaster, among other things. The advisories will be updated every several months, Bernier-Toth said.

The world map reveals no major surprises. North Korea, Somalia, Libya and Yemen are among those in the red “do not travel” category. Australia, Mongolia and Chile get the “exercise normal precaution” designation.

And Antarctica? That’s a 2 -- “exercise increased caution” -- for “environmental hazards posed by extreme and unpredictable weather,” according to the State Department.

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