Planning your first big trip? Advice and humor to get you through the process.
Government Travel Sites with Too Much Info
The CDC, State Department, and CIA all mean well, but ...
Vietnamese cooks. Venezuelan kidnappers. Greek volleyball fans. These are all deadly threats you could face on your next trip, according to U.S. Government Web sites. Though you wouldn't want to ignore warnings from the State Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CIA, you may want to put their advice in perspective -- or you'll be too afraid to leave the country.
For a basic National Geographic-style report, start with the country Background Notes. Here you'll find information on everything from the geography to the economy to current relations with the U.S. A little envelope button in the middle of the page lets you sign for e-mail updates to the site.
The International Travel page is packed with useful information, divided by topic or by country. This section covers topics such as passport and visa requirements for individual countries and tips for living abroad. Under the individual country pages, you'll see listings for "Safety and Security," "Crime," "Information for Victims of Crime," "Criminal Penalties." Here, you can quickly scare yourself out of visiting any country.
Also, you may wonder how much of the material is politically motivated. For example, the entry on Venezuela, a nation that we've had a touchy relationship for years, mentions twice that the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world. I visited and wasn't murdered or even shot at. If you've done any international traveling, you may wonder: have these guys at the State Department ever had a day of fun in their lives?
The site is divided by destination and topics, such as Vaccinations and Safe Food and Water. Again, if you follow all the recommendations, you might as well stay home. Under the entries for Vietnam and Cambodia, the CDC recommends against eating food purchased from street vendors. On a recent trip, I purchased meals from noodle stalls and street hawkers and never got sick. Here are our recommendations for how to avoid food poisoning.
A couple of pages on the site to visit only if you have a strong constitution: - The Diseases Related to Travel page lists almost 60 diseases you could encounter traveling, ranging from hanta virus to river blindness to viral hemorrhagic fever. - At the bottom of the useful Traveler's Diarrhea page, there's a color-coded map highlighting the areas of highest risk.
Just for yucks, check out the CIA site. A drop-down menu near the top of the page, lists countries in alphabetic order. Select one, and you'll find much of the same basic country info as the State Department site, plus some juicy tidbits. For example, we learned that South Africa is the world's largest market for Quaaludes.
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