Visiting Travel Warnings List Countries

This item appears on page 40 of the September 2015 issue.

Jeff Carrier of Naples, Florida, had the following request for subscribers (Jan. ’15, pg. 68): “I would like input from readers who have traveled recently to any of the nearly 40 countries that are pretty much always on the US State Department’s ‘Travel Warnings’ list, which appears monthly in ITN. How did they do it and what were their experiences?” A number of responses were printed in last month’s issue. The remainder appear below.

Note that, due to the unstable nature of countries on the warnings list and recent changes to the list, itself, certain countries mentioned below may be more dangerous or less dangerous than when these travelers visited them. For up-to-date information, visit For the current Travel Warnings list, see page 62 in this issue.

Some countries that do not make the Travel Warnings list still earn precautionary notes from the State Department. Visit, click on “Country Information,” type a country’s name in the search bar and, on the page that comes up, click on “Safety and Security.”


I’ve made five trips to PALESTINE/ISRAEL (referred to as “Israel/West Bank/Gaza” in the “Current warnings” list in ITN’s “News Watch” section), the first in 2008 and the rest since 2012.

Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv is the major gateway to that part of the world, and most travelers from the US and Europe pass through seamlessly (though rarely can a Palestinian-American visit his or her homeland, even with a US passport). At passport control, the workers are trained to find out who you are and what you are doing there.

As a gray-haired Caucasian woman, I’ve never had a major problem entering Israel through Ben Gurion Airport, but as someone who has friends in Palestine, I could be defined as an “activist” and subsequently be denied entry. This is something that is very much on my mind every time I go there.

When I went in as an Ecumenical Accompanier in 2013, I was not questioned at all. However, many of the 31 people on my team (representing 13 nationalities and ranging in age from 21 to 75) were questioned and one (a Finnish woman in her 50s) was denied entry.

On my trip in October-November 2014, before being granted admission I was questioned about why I would return after spending three months in Palestine in 2013. My response was that I liked the country and wanted to return, just as I had made frequent trips to the UK and other countries I like.

Once through airport security at Ben Gurion, I always found travel to be easy. I could take a shuttle to Jerusalem or pretty much anywhere else in Israel, and going through a checkpoint from Jerusalem to Bethlehem or from Jerusalem to Ramallah or anywhere else in Palestine was not difficult.

When people learned of my travels in that area, often I was asked, “Weren’t you afraid?”

My standard response has been, “Only when an Israeli soldier pointed his gun at me and demanded my passport.” This happened when I was working as a human rights observer at a school checkpoint and the soldier apparently didn’t want me there.

I was never afraid of the Palestinian people, among whom I lived and worked from February through April of 2013; they were the kindest and most hospitable people I’ve ever met. (An American friend who has spent much time in Palestine says that, in her experience, the biggest danger from Palestinians has been becoming overcaffeinated due to the numerous cups of tea and coffee they serve to all visitors, whether meeting socially or on business.)

While I understand the US State Department’s warnings about Israel/Palestine, I won’t be deterred from returning.

Dee Poujade, Portland, OR


In my quest to visit every country on Earth, I was compelled to go to the most dangerous. Here are notes on two countries in this category.

• I was able to get into YEMEN with Spiekermann Travel Service (Eastpointe, MI; 800/645-3233, during a rare travel window in January of 2014, shortly after a new government was installed and had resumed issuing visas. 

It was rather scary, even for an adventurer like me, with every Yemeni man wearing a huge, curved dagger strapped to his abdomen, many tribesmen running around the countryside brandishing automatic weapons and RPGs [shoulder-fired weapons], militias running impromptu checkpoints on the roads, and hundreds of red-and-green Arabic signs stenciled on walls proclaiming, “God is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. Damn the Jews. Power to Islam.”

The Dar al Hajar, or Rock Palace, in Wadi Dhahr, near Sana’a, Yemen. Photo by Al Podell

I left the country the day after two foreigners were kidnapped in Yemen; it was the 10th and last day of the tour. Today Yemen is a center of violent al-Qaeda activity, and you put your life in their hands if you go there. 

I have kept in touch with the owner of the high-walled guest house where I stayed, and in January 2015 he told me you still cannot leave your hotel in safety for even a minute without an armed escort and a bullet-proof vehicle. The situation in Yemen became so dangerous that both the guide and driver that I used emailed that they were trying to leave the country with their families.

In view of the overthrow of the government by Houthi rebels on Jan. 23, the increasingly secessionist Sunni movement in southern Yemen and the entrenchment of a violent al-Qaeda group in the heart of the country, this lovely land will be a danger zone for Americans for years to come.

SOMALIA, in June 2012, was not quite so dangerous but only because I hired a squad of six AK-47-toting guards and their captain (at $770 a day) to stay with me every waking minute from the moment I exited the sandbagged and barbed-wired airport until I flew home. 

Even though the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab had been driven away from Mogadishu, kidnappings and explosions were frequent and there were machine gun nests at the entrances to many neighborhoods.

Albert Podell
New York City, NY


I think I’ve been to almost all of the countries on the warnings list. Fewer than 15 years ago I traveled to Iran, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Libya, Eritrea, the Philippines, Yemen, Niger and Mali

• In 2007 I went to AFGHANISTAN with Wild Frontiers (Philadelphia, PA; 844/867-4928,

• Also in 2007 I toured ALGERIA with Lost Frontiers (Petaluma, CA; 707/775-4344,

• I visited UKRAINE in May 2009 with smarTours (New York, NY; 800/337-7773,

• There was COLOMBIA in December 2010 with Wild Frontiers.

• I saw EL SALVADOR in February 2011 with Adventures Abroad (US office in Blaine, WA; 800/665-3998,

• In April 2012 I went to IRAQ with Hinterland Travel (39 Clifton Common, Brighouse, West Yorkshire, England, HD6 1QW, U.K.; phone +44 1484 719549, www.hinterland At that time, we were able to travel to the far north and far south, skipping some hot spots. Now they travel only to Baghdad and the south.

• In July 2012 I traveled in LEBANON independently.

• I went to PAKISTAN with Wild Frontiers in October 2012.

• In November 2012 I visited SAUDI ARABIA with Spiekermann Travel Service (Eastpointe, MI; 800/645-3233,

• I traveled to KENYA independently with some friends in March 2013. We had been headed to South Sudan, but when those plans were canceled, we booked safaris from the hotel we were stuck at in Nairobi.

• In August 2013 I visited NORTH KOREA with Lupine Travel (12, Warnford St., Wigan, Lancashire, England, WN1 2EQ, U.K.; phone +44 0 1942 704525, www.lupine

• In October 2013 I visited SUDAN with Explore! (Bloxham, England; phone +44 1252 884 223,

• In November 2013 I traveled to the Democratic Republic of the CONGO with Mango African Safaris (Portland, OR; 888/406-2646, on a tour from Kinshasa to the coast, later crossing over the Congo River to the Republic of the Congo [not on the Travel Warnings list] to see the western lowland gorillas.

• In December 2013 I went to NIGERIA on a good trip with Undiscovered Destinations (Box 746, North Tyneside, England, NE29 1EG, U.K.; phone +44 0 191 296 2674, www.undiscovered-destinations.
. We traveled to the central part, avoiding the north and other places where there was trouble. 

• In the beginning of January 2015 I finally made it to SOUTH SUDAN, visiting tribal villages, etc. The tour was arranged by Native Eye Travel (22 Milton Rd., Lawford, Essex, England, CO11 2EG, U.K.; phone +44 20 3286 5995,

• Following that, I visited CHAD on a trip to the Tibesti Mountains. We had to skip the river trip on the last day because the Chad army was fighting on the Nigerian/Niger borders; otherwise, the trip went off without a hitch. It was arranged by Undiscovered Destinations. 

• Finally, in the first two weeks of March 2015, on a trip also arranged by Native Eye Travel, I visited MAURITANIA, where we traveled along the coast and in the Adrar region. 

Coming up? I hope to go to Djibouti in November.

Doris Neilson, Hanover, PA


With regard to Travel Warnings and Advisories, I have found the US State Department to be rather alarmist. (It has been suggested by some that if the Department wrote an advisory for the US, no one would visit.) 

At the least, in addition to the State Department’s website, I always check advisories of the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office ( and sometimes those from the Government of Canada ( and from the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (

Since I have dual UK/US citizenship, I’m not always traveling on a US passport, but I think Brits are as likely to be targeted as Americans in many Travel Warnings list countries. 

Kathy Wilhelm, Cary, NC


To finish my quest to visit every UN member state, which I finally did in 2014, I had to visit all of the countries on the Travel Warnings list. Most of my traveling to those countries took place in the last six years, with the majority of the trips taking place in 2013.

Jeff Carrier asked travelers to any of these countries how they did it and what their experiences were. Here are my answers.

First, I contacted tour operators who advertised in ITN who I had either traveled with in the past or who had been highly recommended by fellow travelers. I provided them with the list of countries I still needed to visit and obtained their proposed itineraries.

Second, I asked each about their experiences with local agents in the countries I wanted to visit.

Third, I selected the tour operator who had the longest history with a local agent, that is, the most trips scheduled between them. This step removed several candidates who didn’t have close relationships with agents in the countries I wanted to visit.

 My theory is that a tour operator and a local agent each will not be willing to risk ruining their reputation or even their relationship if they, together, aren’t sure they can arrange a safe visit for a traveler. I want the feeling that the operator and their local agent are confident they are going to keep me safe.

• I visited many of the countries on the list with groups. For example, in 2009 I traveled with Advantage Travel & Tours (Poway, CA; 800/882-2098) to IRAQ (Baghdad and the area of ancient Babylon and into Kurdistan), Jordan [not on the Travel Warnings list], SYRIA and LEBANON. It was a fantastic experience with great local guides.

• Several of the “solo” visits that I made to countries were arranged by Klaus Billep of Universal Travel System (Santa Monica, CA; 310/393-0261, In several of the African countries he arranged to have me visit in 2013, I was escorted by Herb Gobbles, a German who is well known by the locals. Klaus monitored our trip and adjusted our schedule when fighting broke out in MALI.

UTS arranged solo trips to Eritrea, Central African Republic, Libya, Djibouti, Somalia, Chad, Sinai [in Egypt, not on the warning list] and other “safer” destinations. The local guides were fantastic, guiding me away from trouble spots and arranging private tours of sites like Leptis Magna and Sabratha (both in Libya) and keeping me safe when fighting broke out in Tripoli my last night in the country. 

The local agents in these countries also had me stay in nondescript hotels where there weren’t many Westerners, and I rode in unmarked vehicles with dark windows.

Later in 2013 I started a tour with a UTS group but deviated to visit YEMEN. My travel to Yemen’s Socotra Island was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The local guide and driver were great. 

Yemeni men in Sana’a with traditional curved daggers. Photo by Al Podell

My big surprise was that the only other tourists I met in Socotra were two young ladies from Washington, DC, who told me the island was a “dark secret” for female travelers who worked for US agencies because it was (then) considered very safe and an interesting place to visit.

For the record, I think the State Department’s Travel Warnings are aimed at backpackers who like to hitchhike around countries without having made reservations in advance. There are many people who like to travel that way. At 80 years old, I am not one of them.

I was married in Canada and worked six years for a Canadian company, so, to help ensure my safety in several of these countries, I wore a Canadian flag pin and in public talked about my life in Canada rather than stories about the US.

The difficult part of traveling to these places was obtaining visas. It took me 10 years before I was able to visit Libya, and then it was only on a work visa. Eritrea sat on my 2012 request before granting me a visa in 2013. In each case, it was the local agent’s influence that helped get my visa granted.

My recommendation is to visit one of these countries if the trip is arranged by a tour operator like Advantage Travel & Tours or Universal Travel System. If the operator doesn’t think it’s safe to travel to a particular place, they won’t arrange the trip. 

And if their local agent feels he or she can arrange a safe visit, go for it. You will experience outstanding adventure with privately guided tours of fabulous sites. 

You also will get more personal interaction with the local people. The result will be a better understanding of the root cause of the trouble that led a country to be put on the US State Department’s Travel Warnings list. 

In both Eritrea and Libya, for example, the local guide invited me to his home after the paid-for tour was finished and talked at great length about the cause of the trouble in his country, and in each case it was somewhat different than what had been reported in the media.

You’ll also learn that some areas are safer than others. And you’ll see that there is still normal, day-to-day life for the inhabitants in many parts of the country. 

Jeff, go for it!

Ed Reynolds
Woodland Hills, CA