Is it safe? That's the question posed to their travel counsellors by countless Americans, as they ponder the choice of a destination. And there's no simple answer to any such question. Terrorists can pop up in the most placid places, violent demonstrations can occur in stable countries, natural disasters may injure or kill the most careful tourist. So I can't guarantee the validity of my own advice--please keep that in mind.
But based on a review of what numerous advisors are saying, and on a recent reading of press accounts, here's my own non-guaranteed response to travel's most frequent question, considered with respect to the following destinations:
ISRAEL AND JORDAN: Both are enjoying heavy tourism, because both are considered thoroughly safe for tourism at present. Indeed, a large number of Israelis pay visits to the monuments at Petra, in Jordan.
TURKEY: With some hesitation, but without any real concern, it's currently believed by most observers that recent street demonstrations against the regime of Premier Erdogan were not so serious as to frighten the tourist. Unless matters change, tourists in large numbers are still vacationing in Turkey.
EGYPT: Its police presence and protection are still spotty (to put it mildly), and numerous desperate unemployed have attempted to extort money from the few tourists still going there. While group trips accompanied by guards (like from a cruise ship) are still regarded as acceptably safe, individual tourism frightens me. I wouldn't go there.
UKRAINE: Until the political situation in this disputed nation is thoroughly calm, it would probably be best not to attempt a trip there.
MOROCCO: Thoroughly safe, in my layman-like view. But Tunisia harbors a number of extremists who might practice violence on a tourist. I would visit Morocco without hesitation, but not go to Tunisia.
RUSSIA: It is highly unlikely that the Russian government would permit antagonistic acts against western tourists, despite the current strained relations with the Putin government. Tourists continue to visit Russia.
VENEZUELA: The level of street crime in Caracas is too high to regard that capital city as safe for tourists. It's best to stay away.
BALI: Terrorist attacks against beach-side nightclubs occurred several years ago and have not been repeated since. Most observers are agreed that Bali is safe to visit.
MEXICO: This is the hard case, and one that has occasioned considerable controversy. Nearly everyone still believes that tourists should stay away from border areas near Texas and Arizona. There's also a consensus that Acapulco and its environs may be the scene of further drug-related violence. Beyond Acapulco and a few other strictly-commercial areas, a large number of journalists and other experts are claiming vehemently that it is entirely safe to visit the colonial cities around Mexico City (like San Miguel de Allende), the Pacific coastline resorts of Puerto Vallarta and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, the resort cities of Baja California, and Cancun and the Maya Riviera. All of the latter are widely considered to be acceptably safe.
You should of course check these recommendations with those of the U.S. State Department and British Foreign Office, which are far more authoritative than mine. And bear in mind that I'm simply a slaphappy travel writer with an opinion.
Photo credit: Pål Joakim Olsen/Flickr