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, but plan ahead.
On November 8th, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines as a Category 5 with winds at 147 miles per hour, causing unimaginable damage and devastation to the region. But the people of the Philippines are as resilient as ever—10 days after the storm, the country's Department of Tourism issued a statement ensuring travelers that popular destinations like Boracay, Cebu, Bohol, Iloilo, and Bacolod, were still open for business. Visit the out-of-this-world Chocolate Hills in Bohol, see the Banaue Rice Terraces (a 2,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site), swim among the whale sharks in Donsol, dive at the Tubbataha Reef National Marine in Palawan, check out the nightlife in Manila, or treat yourself to the ultimate beach vacation in Cebu or Boracay. The country's tourism board stresses that their main tourist destinations have remained intact and accessible to visitors despite the storm. If you wish to help with recovery efforts, please consider donating to organizations like the American Red Cross or the Philippine Red Cross.
To Go or Not to Go: Go, but be aware that some areas, especially the Philippine city of Tacloban, are still recovering from storm damage.
While the country is known for its vast history and culture, impressive temples, the iconic Taj Mahal, and for holding a must-see spot on most people's travel bucket lists, in recent years, it's also made news for being a hotbed of violence and aggression towards women. According to this article by the New York Times, visits in 2013 by female travelers declined 35 percent in early 2013 after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old New Delhi student in December 2012. In 2013, an American tourist and a Swiss tourist also reported being gang-raped, and a British tourist reportedly jumped off her balcony in Agra after feeling threatened by the hotel's owner. Last summer, American student Michaela Cross shared her experiences with CNN in a tell-all article about her study abroad trip that resulted in a mental breakdown and diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder upon her return. Cross explains how parts of her trip were "both beautiful and traumatizing," describing how objectified she felt as men stared at, reached for, stalked, and made inappropriate gestures towards her in public—she also describes reaching the end of her rope after two attempted rapes within a two day period. The reactions to her article sparked a worldwide debate about the behavior of men in India and expressed an urge to treat women in India better—comments on the story itself brought sympathy from other female travelers who had had similar experiences and others who encouraged people to remember that India is just as safe—or risky—as any other country, urging people not to make sweeping generalizations about the entire country based on the experiences of some. Despite such bad press, India is taking measures to crack down on violence and harrassment torwards women. According to a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, the three men responsible for gang-raping the American tourist mentioned earlier were convicted and soon after, the six men who were found guilty of attacking the Swiss tourist were sentenced to life in prison. It's a step in the right direction, but we'd still suggest traveling with a group or at least taking a self-defense course if you decide to go to India anytime soon.
To Go or Not to Go: Go, but exercise extreme caution.
Beautiful beaches, brilliant culture, and a delicious culinary repertoire are usually what comes to mind when you think of Thailand, but in recent weeks, large political demonstrations and protests have become increasingly unpredictable in the days and weeks leading up to the country's parliamentary elections, set to take place on Feb. 2nd. Although the activity has been primarily occuring in and around Bangkok and Chiang Mai, the demonstrations have generally been centered around major tourist sites and attractions, popular shopping malls, and other areas where visitors frequent. The U.S. Department of State issued a Travel Alert on Jan. 19th, urging travelers to allow for extra time when traveling to and from airports, as protests may cause road closures, and to avoid even peaceful demonstrations, since they tend to become confrontational and could escalate—according to the Travel Alert, gunshots and, in one case, explosions have been reported at several protests since November, and only time will tell what happens when the elections actually do take place next week. Best to wait until things calm down a bit, we say.