Can you safely rely on travel advisories?

The trip was booked and I was looking forward to it. In my head, I was already picturing all the incredible historical landmarks I was going to see.

And then, for some reason, it occurred to me that I should check the travel warnings.

The Great Sphinx with the Pyramid of Khafre behind it. Pictures: Michael Turtle

The Great Sphinx with the Pyramid of Khafre behind it. Pictures: Michael Turtle

"Reconsider your need to travel" is what the Australian government was recommending - the second-highest level of alert after "Do not travel".

I was a bit surprised. I wasn't heading into a war zone - I was just going to Egypt, one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. Sure, things have been a bit unsettled over recent years but was it really going to be that dangerous?

Well, having now recently returned to Australia after a three-week trip in Egypt, I can tell you that, no, it did not seem dangerous at all.

I walked around the pyramids, marvelling at the engineering of the ancient architects and the persistence of the modern vendors. I climbed through temples carved with millions of hieroglyphics, lamenting that our alphabet doesn't look as cool. And I cruised along the Nile, waving at the farmers who stood on the shore and beamed at us.

The Temple of Philae in Aswan has the last example of carved hieroglyphics in Egypt.

The Temple of Philae in Aswan has the last example of carved hieroglyphics in Egypt.

The whole time, it rarely crossed my mind that I might not be safe there. At least, not in the way that the travel warnings suggest.

Sure, I took my life into my own hands every time I crossed the road, dodging cars with drivers who see ''fast and furious'' as a mantra. And dealing with the vendors and the touts could easily have turned into a blood sport if I had shown any interest in buying that sphinx statuette or taking a camel ride.

But real danger, the kind that deserves a travel warning? No, I never thought about that.

Sailing on a traditional felucca on the Nile at Aswan.

Sailing on a traditional felucca on the Nile at Aswan.

The Department of Foreign Affairs mentions two specific reasons why they have such a high warning for Egypt: terrorism and kidnapping.

It's not completely unreasonable. After all, there was a bomb attack near the pyramids in Giza in December that killed foreign tourists. And, of course, there was the bomb attack on the Metrojet flight leaving from Sharm el Sheikh in October 2015. But do these incidents justify a permanent warning when the experience for most people is completely fine?

Because of the Australian government's travel advisory, I was unable to use my usual travel insurance and needed to get special coverage. There aren't many countries where that's the case. At the moment, DFAT lists 15 countries with the advisory to reconsider your need to travel. They include Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and Sudan (and, sadly, Sri Lanka since the attacks a few weeks ago).

On top of that, there are 13 countries that have the highest level of warning, do not travel, but they are generally not surprising - places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Venezuela.

The incredible temples of Abu Simbel were moved in the 1960s to avoid floodwaters.

The incredible temples of Abu Simbel were moved in the 1960s to avoid floodwaters.

I wonder whether including Egypt among these countries is fair. Certainly on paper there is an argument for a warning. And if there was another terror attack aimed at tourists when there was no serious travel advisory, there may be criticism aimed at the government. But such a high-level warning just doesn't seem to reflect the experience the average tourist has in the country.

I spent my time there engrossed in the sights I was visiting, not thinking about isolated terror events. I focused on visiting Abu Simbel, the incredible ancient temple cut into a cliff face that was painstakingly moved to save it from the floodwaters of the Aswan dam. I got lost in the endless stacks of books that fill the 11 cascading levels of the new Library of Alexandria (the second-largest library in the world after the one at the US Congress). And I felt like I was seeing another world when in the desert I found fossils of 40-million-year-old whales that still had legs.

Perhaps the Australian government is basing its travel warnings on specific information that is not publicly available. Perhaps it is just being cautious based on previous events. It's certainly hard to criticise it when the aim of a travel advisory like this is to protect tourists.

The Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in the historic part of Cairo.

The Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in the historic part of Cairo.

But it just seems rather incongruous to then travel to Egypt and safely explore the streets of Cairo, sail in a felucca on the Nile, and discover the greatest temples of the Ancient World. There are tens of thousands of tourists in Egypt every day and they are enjoying their holidays just like millions before them.

If a warning doesn't match your own experience, then you start to question your trust in it. There are lots of countries where you really should reconsider your need to travel. But if you start to assume they're in the same category as somewhere as popular as Egypt, does the advisory system lose its integrity?

  • The writer travelled to Egypt as a guest of G AdventuresMichael Turtle is a journalist who has been travelling the world full-time for the past eight years. He writes about his experiences at timetravelturtle.com.au