BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS
To Go or Not to Go: 2014
Sure, the world can be a dangerous place, but we're happy to report progress in some notorious trouble spots. Here, the up-to-the-minute scoop on what countries to avoid, where to tread carefully, and where you can kick back and relax!
To Go or Not to Go: Go.
Mexico is making quite a comeback in recent months. The basic facts stay the same: tourists and locals alike are sometimes caught in the crossfire of rival drug cartel battles, or can become the victims of "express kidnappings," when they are held captive until either a ransom is paid or money is withdrawn from a bank account—a scheme similar to the popular "String Trick" in Paris. However, the U.S. Department of State says, "millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day." As of right now, there are no travel advisories in effect for most major tourist areas including Cabo San Lucas and La Paz in southern Baja California, Campeche, San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, San Miguel de Allende and Leon in Guanajuato, Acapuco, Zihuatanejo, Ixtapa, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, Morelia, Lázaro Cardenas, Riviera Nayarit, Oaxaca, Huatulco, Puerto Escondido, Puerbla, Queretaro, Mazatlan, Villahermosa, Tlaxcala, Merida and Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, and in Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and Tulum. Basically, if you stick to major tourist areas or cities that are for the most part not border towns, you'll encounter roughly the same amount of crime you can expect in any other major city. The best part: affordable hotels, attractions, family fun, and beaches are up for grabs. The Riviera Maya is a great spot for taking the family on vacation due to the variety of budget-friendly all-inclusive resorts, while the Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit areas offer similar perks on the Pacific side.
To Go or Not to Go: Go.
Moscow. St. Petersburg. Sochi. Three popular places full of Russian art, history, and culture, and now, Sochi will be playing host to the 2014 Winter Olympics. While the country remains a must-see on most travel bucket lists, visiting Russia nowadays can be an adventure steeped in controversy and bureaucratic red tape—Russia actually made our list of complicated countries to visit because of the dizzying, time-consuming procedures U.S. citizens must go through to gain a tourist visa. Russia also received some bad press recently when President Vladimir Putin implied gay people were pedophiles when he was trying to assure visitors to the Sochi Olympics that homosexuals in attendance would be safe—a Washington Post article says Russia's new laws to prohibit "propaganda of nontraditional sexual practices among minors" sparked international concern from those who support equal rights. As of right now the U.S. Department of State has issued a Travel Alert, mainly reminding visitors to the Olympics to remain vigilant during the events and to be aware that such popular games may seem like a nice target for terrorist-related activity, so pay attention to safety updates if you go.
To Go or Not to Go: Go, but be cautious and keep an eye on travel warnings and updates.
On last year's To Go or Not to Go list, Haiti was designated as a "don't go." This year, we are thrilled to change the country's status to "Go," citing the island nation's recent foray into international tourism that resulted in new flight service to Port-au-Prince from New York City and Fort Lauderdale via JetBlue. Several major international hotel chains have also returned to Haiti—the Best Western Premier Petion-Ville opened in December 2013, and according to this article by Fox News, the Royal Oasis, owned by Occidental Hotel & Resorts, is also a new addition. Marriott International has also started construction in the Port-au-Prince area and is expected to open a new hotel in 2015. The U.S. Department of State still technically has issued a Travel Warning with regards to travel to Haiti, but states that, "Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Haiti each year, but the poor state of Haiti's emergency response networks should be carefully considered when planning travel," and stresses that travelers should obtain evacuation insurance in case of medical emergency since it may be difficult to access proper medical care in-country. It is also recommended, for safety reasons, that visitors have pre-arranged airport transfers and hotels, or have their hosts meet them directly at the airport, as there were two incidents in 2013 where American tourists were mugged shortly after arriving in Port-au-Prince. The country overall seems to be in the midst of a comeback.