Verboten vacations: 9 reasons forbidden is “in” this year

By | January 18th, 2009

When it comes to travel, forbidden is in.

Cuba, Iran and North Korea — long off-limits to most American visitors — might be added to the “allowed” list under an Obama administration. Other destinations that were considered too dangerous or hostile to Americans are becoming fashionable again as travelers jettison boring “staycations” for something more exotic.

“People who love to travel will take their chances,” says Glenn Strachan, a wireless communications consultant in Annapolis, Md. He’s been to several “forbidden” places, including everyone’s favorite no-no vacation hotspot, Cuba, as well as Vietnam and Cambodia when they were still closed to Americans.

“Had we been caught,” he says of his visit to Cambodia years ago, “we likely would have been killed.”

That’s the thing about these verboten vacations: They can be risky. The State Department publishes a list of travel warnings that shouldn’t be ignored. They range from Cote d’Ivoire, which is experiencing periodic episodes of political unrest and violence since a failed coup a few years ago, to the Philippines, where Americans are at risk from terrorist attacks.

Never mind the health hazards of vacationing somewhere that’s off the beaten path. Or on the war path.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes health advisories for most countries. If you’re traveling to Somalia, for example, you should consider vaccines for yellow fever, Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies and polio. Going to Myanmar? Add a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis and take your malaria pills, please. “We very rarely tell people that they should not go to a particular country,” says CDC spokeswoman Shelly Sikes Diaz.

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So when they do, you might want to heed their warning.


Still interested in going off the grid on your next getaway? Here are nine tips.

1. There’s no such thing as safe
Even if you decide to travel somewhere familiar — or at least government-sanctioned — there’s no guarantee you’ll come back alive. “Let’s face it,” says Joy Thrun, who owns Classic Travel, a travel agency in Okemos, Mich., “there is no safe place.” Curiously, some of the destinations that are thought to be dangerous, including Israel, Nepal, Kenya, Colombia Sri Lanka, Haiti, Syria and the Philippines, are not as hazardous to your health as the government would have you believe, she adds. “I would not hesitate to travel there,” she says. “They’re wonderful travel destinations.”

2. Ask around
That’s the advice of Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet, and author of “Bad Lands: A Tourist on the Axis of Evil.” “It’s very interesting to compare the U.S. Department of State advisories with the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office advisories and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade,” he told me, adding that the British ones are generally the “most measured.” When he visited Afghanistan and Iraq a few years ago, he remembers the British advisories essentially saying, “This bit is really bad, this bit is probably OK, take care anywhere,” he says. “They didn’t simply say ‘don’t go.’”

3. Remember, you’re not the first American
Brandon Wilson, author of “Dead Men Don’t Leave Tips: Adventures X Africa” says if you want to go somewhere forbidden, odds are other Americans have already been there. “Fortunately, there are some great fellow-traveler resources, such as blogs and forums, where folks can address your concerns,” he says. “Tap into their knowledge and see how they may have skirted around the needless bureaucracy.”

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