Many travelers with an upcoming trip to Egypt, Jordan, or Lebanon are wondering how to proceed with their plans. As the Israel-Hamas war stretches past the one-month mark, efforts to evacuate more civilians from Gaza are increasing. And the Rafah Crossing, on the border of Gaza and Egypt, has been sporadically opening to hundreds of evacuees, most of whom are foreigners or dual nationals and their descendants, according to Reuters.
The initial deluge of tourists seeking to evacuate Israel and Palestine has subsided, and most travel companies have postponed tours of Israel until at least spring 2024. Indeed, the current guidance says to postpone upcoming trips to Israel, but what should travelers do about their travel plans to countries that border the conflict zones?
After violence first erupted on October 7, the State Department issued a regional security alert throughout the Middle East on October 8, advising US citizens in certain countries to take caution. “Individuals should follow local government advice to increase their security awareness, avoid areas around demonstrations, and check local media for updates and traffic advisories,” the security bulletin stated. On Thursday, October 19, the department expanded that with a worldwide travel advisory.
Travelers have digested that advice in a number of ways—some canceling, and others staying the course. One luxury tour group, Red Savannah says that all trips they have arranged for clients in Egypt and Jordan are continuing as normal. “We have had only two cancellations, one of which was from a client based in Israel,” says CEO George Morgan-Grenville. “We have also had new bookings.”
Likewise, popular travel company El Camino hasn’t canceled its scheduled trips through Egypt and Jordan. “Trips are continuing cautiously and with a close eye on what's taking place in these regions,” says Dave Dennis, a risk management consultant who works with El Camino. “Organizations rely heavily on their local partners that live, work, and raise their families in tourist areas to provide valuable insight on evolving situations. This is true within the Middle East but also across the globe on an ongoing basis. It's these critical partnerships that help make sense of broad government travel warnings and how these updates may relate to a specific itinerary, activity, or stability in a specified area.”
For some travel companies, interpreting those nuances means canceling or postponing certain tours in the surrounding area. “From the time the Israel/Hamas war started we received cancellations and inquiries if we were still going to conduct our tours,” in the Middle East, says Jerry Sorkin, a travel specialist with Iconic Journeys Worldwide.
If you’re deciding whether to go ahead with a trip planned in the area, there are a few factors to consider. “First, it's important to understand that every person has their own level of risk tolerance—the level of risk that they are willing to take for the activity they want to pursue,” Dennis says. “What's reasonable for one person might not be the same for another.”
Here’s the latest information travelers should know about traveling to Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt in the near future—including what the situation on the ground is, how travel agents are advising their clients, and how you can monitor the ever-changing situation from a travel perspective.
Should you travel to Jordan right now?
The US State Department has so far kept Jordan under a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” travel alert that it first issued on July 13. The only regions that travelers are instructed to avoid are the country’s borders with Syria and Iraq, its refugee camps, and Zarqa, Rusayfah, and the Baqa’a neighborhood of Ayn Basha due to ongoing safety concerns, according to the department’s guidance.
Most tours through Jordan are operating as scheduled, visiting highlights like Petra, the Wadi Rum desert, the Dead Sea, and the capital Amman. Red Savannah says its trips to Jordan are continuing as normal, as are El Camino Travel’s and Intrepid Travel’s tours.
Even so, about 50 percent of hotel reservations throughout Jordan were canceled in October and about 60 percent of confirmed reservations have already been canceled for November, the Jordan Hotel Association told the Jordan Times.
For travelers who choose to reschedule their visit, United Airlines is offering a travel waiver for its flights into Amman. Customers booked to fly into the Jordanian capital through November 30 can change the date of their flight to any day through the end of the year (they also have the option of changing the destination to Athens instead), or they can cancel and receive a full refund. (United is the only US carrier that flies to the destination.)
Should you travel to Egypt right now?
Trips throughout primary tourist regions of Egypt are continuing to operate as usual. The country’s alert level from the State Department also hasn’t changed since July 13, and remains at a “Level 3: Reconsider Travel.” Tourists should continue to avoid travel to the Sinai Peninsula, the land bordering Israel and Gaza and to the east of Cairo, as it is a “particularly dangerous area” according to the department.
There have been demonstrations in Cairo and across Egypt that the US Embassy has warned Americans to avoid. “We know it’s a fast-moving situation, and the Mediterranean ring is under a lot of pressure now,” says Matt Berna, president, The Americas, for Intrepid Travel. “We are seeing an increase in cancellations in Egypt over the last 2 to 3 weeks so that’s worrying for the people of Egypt, not worrying for us because people tend to rebook somewhere else.”
Intrepid is making some small adjustments to its Egypt itineraries as the situation there continues to develop, including recent explosions in the Sinai Peninsula. “Following incidents involving projectiles in Taba and Nuweiba on October 27, 2023, travel advice levels for some areas of the Sinai Peninsula have changed,” Berna says. “We have made changes to Jordan & Egypt Express and Jordan & Egypt Uncovered to avoid these areas. Customers traveling on these trips are advised of these changes. All other Intrepid trips in Egypt & Jordan are running as scheduled.”
Red Savannah’s Egypt trips, which visit sites like the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the Valley of the Kings, and Karnak Temple in Luxor, are continuing as normal.
Nile River cruises throughout the country are also continuing to operate as planned. The only changes at this time are cancellations of post-cruise land packages through Israel—most lines have removed these add-on tours from itineraries for at least the next few weeks.
“We monitor world events very closely and make operational decisions based on informed advice from a number of sources,” says a statement from Uniworld updated on November 3. “Our Jerusalem post-cruise extensions departing through December 31, 2023 have been suspended. Guests booked on these affected extensions will be contacted directly by the Uniworld team. The suspensions only affect Jerusalem, Israel, at this time and our cruises/tours in Egypt and Jordan are running as scheduled. We will continue to monitor and provide updates if any further changes are required.”
“Our hearts and thoughts are with everyone in the affected areas,” Uniworld’s statement added. “The wellbeing of our guests and team members is always our top priority.”
Should you travel to Lebanon right now?
“Cross-border skirmishes” between the Israeli Defense Force and Hezbollah militants have continued as recently as November 10, according to CNN. The clashes so far have been limited to the border region between Lebanon and Israel.
As of October 17, the US State Department has a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” warning for the country “due to the unpredictable security situation related to rocket, missile, and artillery exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah or other armed militant factions.” The State Department advisory adds that it has “authorized the voluntary, temporary departure of family members of U.S. government personnel and some non-emergency personnel from US Embassy Beirut due to the unpredictable security situation.”
As the violence has continued, the State Department’s travel warnings have become more stringent for the country. “The State Department recommends that US citizens in Lebanon leave now, while commercial flights remain available, due to the unpredictable security situation,” says a security alert from the US Embassy in Beirut issued on November 4.
Additional tips for considering travel
It’s good to remember that the standard guidance in the travel industry is that in harrowing situations, postponing a trip is usually a better option than canceling, if you can swing it. “We highly recommend postponing or rebooking to another region than canceling all together,” says Berna. "More than ever the world needs intrepid travelers. We want travelers to do and see incredible things, and for those experiences to have positive social and economic impacts and the host communities they visit.” Many travel industry workers based in impacted countries will also urge travelers to postpone their trips, and rebook when it makes sense to do so, as opposed to skipping the destination altogether.
One benefit for travelers post-pandemic is that the majority of travel operators now offer flexible changes and postponements. “Since COVID-19, we have seen a trend towards rebooking flexibility in the travel industry,” says Christina Tunnah, general manager Americas for travel insurance provider World Nomads. “Many US-based airlines retained the credit and rebooking policies from the peak of COVID-19 that can still be tapped into today. If you booked with a tour provider, contact customer service to understand what kind of policies may apply in this type of situation.”
Some tour companies allow cancellations within a certain window or will give a voucher toward a future trip if you’d like to postpone. “We offer to apply 100% of their funds towards a future tour to the same destination, so they can make their decision knowing this,” says Sorkin with Iconic Journeys Worldwide. But travelers who want to cancel their trip within 30 days will have to rely on travel insurance to receive their money back. “If they did not take out travel insurance, they did so at their own risk and signed a document when booking with us that they had declined to take out travel insurance,” Sorkin says. These types of cancellation policies are standard throughout the industry, which makes understanding travel insurance policies all the more important.
“We always recommend purchasing travel insurance as soon as you invest in your flights, accommodations, and other travel costs,” says Tunnah. “All policies are different, so be sure the policy you select offers the coverage you are most concerned with, such as trip cancellation or trip interruption. And always be sure to read your policy details.” For instance, trip cancellations due to war, invasion, or hostilities between nations are generally excluded from travel insurance policies, but some may offer coverage for terrorist incidents that occur in your departure or destination city, according to Tunnah. (World Nomads’ travel insurance policies for US residents offer trip cancellation coverage in the event a terrorist incident occurs within 30 days of the scheduled departure date, for instance.)
If you decide to go ahead with your trip, there are still precautions to take to ensure you’re as informed as possible. “If deciding to travel, research the areas visited, purchase travel insurance and talk to them about coverage and emergency support options, and consider contacting the local providers for insight,” says Dennis, the risk management consultant.
In your research, try to include international sources for the most holistic picture of what’s happening in the area. “It's important to seek out information from multiple sources to find a balanced understanding of regional safety and security,” Dennis says. “This may include reviewing US, UK, Canadian, and even Australian State Department travel warnings, local embassy updates, and if available, gaining access to information from professional security organizations. Each resource may have slight variations of information depending on the audience they serve, so it's important to gather as many perspectives as possible for a balanced approach.”
As a precaution, US tourists on international trips should always sign up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important safety alerts from the US embassy in the country they are visiting. Enrolling is free, only takes a few minutes, and will help the embassy contact you in the event of an emergency.
More than anything, making these difficult travel decisions is about building up a sense of personal intuition for what feels safe, and enjoyable. “Travel is wonderful, rewarding, and can be life-changing, and you can still have an amazing travel adventure even in areas outside of the immediate area impacted,” says Tunnah.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler