What Americans should keep in mind while traveling this holiday season after ‘Worldwide Caution’ alert

The State Department’s “Worldwide Caution” travel advisory has Americans on edge ahead of a busy holiday season, but experts advise that little has changed when it comes to typical tourism hot spots. 

“I think it’s appropriate to say any travel internationally certainly should be taken with vigilance,” James Hess, professor at the School of Security and Global Studies at American Public University System, told Fox News Digital.

Hess, an expert in counter-terrorism environments and counterinsurgency, acknowledged the current global security landscape appears more fragile and tenuous due to the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East, but he remains confident that Americans “travel well.” 

“That’s an economic driver for many areas of the world, many countries, even many places within the United States,” Hess said. “So, these are all important areas, and countries want to embrace that” and ensure that Americans feel safe while traveling. 

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The U.S. State Department issued a “Worldwide Caution” advisory shortly after the outbreak of the conflict in the Gaza Strip, issuing the advisory again last week. 

“Due to increased tensions in various locations around the world, the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” the advisory states.

The upcoming holiday season will likely see heavy tourism as post-pandemic travel interest, strengthened by the flexibility that remote work provides, will likely increase. AAA estimated some 112.7 million people would travel over 50 miles or more during the peak holiday season from Dec. 23, 2022, to Jan. 2, 2023, a 3.6 million bump over the previous year and closing in on pre-pandemic numbers. 

Hess pointed to several tense global situations that draw American interests and could put Americans in the crosshairs of bad actors. The Ukraine and Russia conflict remains ongoing. North Korea “is still a concern.” And the relationship between China and the U.S. remains in flux even after President Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for what appeared to be positive talks for both nations. 

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The Iran-backed proxy terrorist group Hezbollah attempted an attack in Brazil earlier this month, showing how global some of these regional threats can be. 

“When you’re traveling and there’s a concentration of Americans, and you’re in an area where suddenly erupts some sort of mass protest … in response to something that’s going on in in Gaza, that does put Americans at risk,” Hess argued, stressing he found the “worldwide” advisory warranted and “well served.”

Spanish news outlet EFE reported in October that the U.S. closed a consulate in the Turkish city of Adana due to the ongoing anti-Israel demonstrations, which condemned Israel’s strikes in the Gaza Strip as it pursued Hamas targets. 

The advisory is the 23rd such “Worldwide Caution” issued by the State Department since 2008, with the most recent one occurring in 2022 after the death of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to a review of State Department alert archives by travel news outlet Skift. 

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Dr. Chuck Roussel, department chair of Criminal Justice and Human Justice for American Military University and American Public University, suggested countries with strong Arab populations might hold some hostility for Americans who are seen as the enablers of Israel and its operations in Gaza, which has deeply upset Muslim communities across the planet. 

Anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian demonstrations have taken place in Australia, Myanmar, the U.K., Germany and the U.S., and often these protests have included an anti-American element, with protesters seeing little distinction and even alleging that President Biden has “blood on (his) hands” for helping fund the Israeli military and fully backing Israel against Hamas. 

“Many countries in Europe now are like this. … Take Belgium, for example; take Germany, for example,” Roussel said. “I can think of France as one where there’s large segments of populations that came from the Middle East. They were basically like refugee centers, to where being an American, being Jewish … could be very problematic when traveling in those areas.

“If you’re not traveling with, say, a structured group, you really need to know not only where you are, but when you’re going from one location to another, how you’re getting there, what areas you’re going through to get there, because one wrong turn, and you can find yourself in a very, very poor situation.

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“We’re relaxed because we’re on vacation,” Roussel said. “We want to decompress. We want to unwind. We want to let the troubles of the world go away … yet, we also have to keep that safety factor in our minds.” 

The State Department advised that U.S. citizens should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to remain informed throughout trips to any potential dangers and follow State Department updates on social media. 

Hess suggested additionally that travelers should first look at individual countries of interest for their specific travel advisory because they might not have such heightened concerns, such as Peru, which has a level 2 “Exercise Increased Caution” advisory compared to Nicaragua’s Level 3 “Reconsider Travel” advisory. He stressed the primary concern for travelers criminals, not terrorists.

“Then, after that, there’s probably going to be financial/intelligence collection kind of concerns, so those are your bigger threats,” Hess explained. “Then, of course, yes, terrorism is a concern.

“We’ve heard a million times when you travel internationally, you do your best to try to blend in, fit in and get rid of that look of being a tourists. Don’t always carry a backpack and have a map in your hand, you know. But that’s difficult to do,” he added. “Unless you have considerable travel experience, it’s difficult.” 

Hess also noted the urge to carry more money in local currency and the heavy reliance on phones and computers gives criminals access to digital information and makes tourists more attractive to a criminal element. He suggested learning how to use a VPN to try and help mask data and personal information while also turning off automated passwords so that no one can steal them with data theft, and he suggested changing passwords upon returning home. 


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