Vestiges of Roman roads remain, but Americans face a confusing new lineup of visa rules—not to mention safety issues—to begin in a place like Iraq. They will find it impossible—or at least gravely unwise—to cross the Syrian border. Following the Euphrates to Turkey, they will need a $30 e-visa ahead of time plus a confirmed flight reservation onward. From Turkey to London, a traveler might cross 10 borders, most of them EU countries without border control but subject at any time to passport checks and searches.
Europe remains Americans’ favorite overseas destination, but terror attacks have changed the landscape. The State Department’s travel alert system (revised early this year with a new four-part, color-coded system) designates nearly all of Western Europe yellow, meaning “exercise increased caution.” Tanks greet tourists in Brussels outside the European Parliament, and rapid response units are now a common site at European train stations.
The State Department map shows Turkey—another favorite destination for Americans—in orange stripes, meaning it contains areas of higher security risk so “reconsider travel.”
NICARAGUA ON THE MAP IS ORANGE but without the stripes for added risk, even though the State Department issued a new travel advisory on June 8. Visitors are likely to find it much less safe than Turkey.
For Heidorn, State Department guidance wasn’t a prime factor as she weighed concern for her teams’ safety. First for her was monitoring violence using her own contacts, and realizing clashes were moving closer and closer to her group’s mission base. She followed daily news of the U.S. embassy closures. And she monitored transportation, as roadblocks meant it would be hard for teams to move easily and difficult to evacuate if necessary. A final factor, she said, was the role of police: Ortega’s police and paramilitaries are the ones killing protesters, with no check on their power.
“It was all those things together,” Heidorn said. “If someone needed to go to the hospital, we could not get there due to roadblocks. If we had a problem, the U.S. embassy was closed. And we could not call the police if we had a problem, because the police are the problem.”
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to,” warns the journeying Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.
For some, overseas travel is obligatory, made essential by work, ministry, or distance from family. Others only long for it, yet find it unaffordable or impractical. And for some, travel is a last option, to be avoided if possible. But everyone hopes for assurance of safety and success when they step on the plane. Living with uncertainty and being flexible—no matter what the State Department or tour guides may say—is part of the secret to making the most of a trip.