BUDGET TRAVEL ADVICE
To Go or Not to Go: 2013
Some of the world's most beautiful and historic destinations are, at least temporarily, off-limits because of natural disasters, crime, or political unrest. Here, we warn you away from the real trouble spots—and debunk some of the bad press.
Intrepid travelers like to push their limits—they'll test their stamina, language skills, and culinary daring in far-flung destinations around the globe. But we don't like to see anyone risk their personal safety on an ill-researched sojourn. So, each year Budget Travel gives you the lowdown on some spots that should, at least for the near term, stay on your "don't bother" list, some that are a definite "maybe," and a few that you may be surprised to hear get a definite "yes."
Sure, you know that Superstorm Sandy hit the New Jersey coastline last fall, tearing up boardwalks, hotels, vacation homes, and beaches. What you may not know, however, is that "the shore" will be open for business this summer. In fact, Lori Pepenella, Long Beach Island's destination marketing coordinator, recently told the Newark Star-Ledger, "As businesses are investing and rebuilding, we're getting the message out that we're open right now." While rebuilding post-Sandy is a challenge, especially for areas such as Seaside Heights, whose boardwalk sustained serious damage, New Jersey's $38 billion hospitality industry depends on a thriving shore and everyone is sprinting toward a successful Memorial Day weekend. For those of you who thought this might be the summer to skip New Jersey's miles of family-friendly beaches, legendary boardwalks and amusement parks, and notorious party scene, local boosters are working hard to change your mind: Atlantic City is telling anyone who will listen that contrary to rumor, its boardwalk was not destroyed by the hurricane, and Long Beach Island has produced a video to promote its open-for-business status at visitlbiregion.com. There's no quick fix, and the reopening of seaside businesses is only part of the to-do list (for the shore to truly roar back, neighboring vacation homes and hotels will have to be in good repair as well), but if optimism and hard work can carry the day, you should probably start making your Memorial Day weekend reservations... now!
To Go or Not to Go: Go.
For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, the question may still seem fanciful: Want to visit Cuba? But whereas the Caribbean island was once off-limits except to the most adventurous of American travelers (who would typically enter Mexico or Canada before flying to Cuba), it is now possible for U.S. citizens to see this amazing country by booking with a licensed tour operator that performs "people-to-people" trips. A package will include interaction with Cubans and classes in Cuban culture and history and should also include a visa, airfare, hotel, meals, and an experienced tour guide. They don't come cheap—week-long trips are often more than $2,000 per person—but are the best way to ensure that you comply with U.S. law and that you see the island in the safest way. While accurate crime statistics are not available from Cuba yet, the U.S. Department of State cautions visitors to be alert for pickpocketing, purse-snatching, and burglaries, but traveling with a licensed people-to-people tour guide will help minimize any danger.
To Go or Not to Go: Go, if you can afford a U.S.-approved people-to-people tour.
It's a sign of the economic times that a nation of Spain's stature could even make our list of questionable destinations. The final quarter of 2012 saw Spain's economic output drop 1.8 percent compared with last year, its worst performance since the global economic meltdown of 2009. As the country embraced an austerity program to bring down its budget deficit, demonstrators took to the streets, often meeting an aggressive response from the police. In Barcelona, some demonstrators even demanded independence. It's important to keep all this in perspective, though: The U.S. Department of State has not issued a warning against visiting Spain, and the country still poses only the crime threats one might expect in any developed region: You need to be as aware of the potential for pickpocketing, mugging, and break-ins as you would when visiting, say, Italy or France. In addition, some of the advice the State Department has issued for visiting places like Greece and Israel, where the potential for spontaneous public demonstrations is high, should be heeded when visiting Spain: Stay away from demonstrations (they are not spectactor sports, and passersby have been swept up in police actions in Barcelona), and check with your hotel's concierge for updates on the potential for unrest in your destination.