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U.S. State Department issues a world-wide travel warning…what does that mean?

The U.S. State Department has issued a World-Wide Travel Warning….but what does that really mean to you?

While this sounds rather ominous, Travel Advisories have become the norm for the U.S. State Department, especially since the pandemic.  In the beginning stages of the pandemic the State Department issued a “Worldwide Caution” warning that was lifted in August 2020.

The current warning comes amidst major geopolitical tensions over the war in the Middle East, and, of course, the ongoing war in Ukraine.

These advisories are numbered according to importance, with Level 1 (Exercise normal precautions) ranging up to Level 4 (Do not travel).

The current advisory is not advice to avoid travel. Rather, it’s advice to exercise increased caution and “stay alert” in locations that are frequented by tourists. In most cases where travel to another country is involved, that is always good advice regardless of any travel warnings.

You can find the various warnings on the U.S. State Department website here.

The State Department is also advising all travelers going abroad to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts in case of an emergency.  This can help in many ways, such as arranging evacuation flights in some cases.  Canada and other countries have similar programs.  Bear in mind there are no guarantees, as independent travelers coming home from Israel will testify (evacuation flights were not available and most had to buy their own tickets at fairly high prices).

Of course, if you are traveling with a group such as Select International Tours, and if problems should arise,  and you need to return home, you can rely on their team of professionals to make those arrangements for you.  This was the case most recently for several of their groups traveling in Israel….and they all made it home safely.

Those of us who travel often….and especially tour operators….have been through this before.  We’ll never forget the chaotic days of 9/11 when troops were stationed in airports as the burning Twin Towers were being shown on the TV screens all over the airport.  Since that event, it goes without saying that travel has changed significantly. Today, we tend to check out locations a bit more carefully than before (realizing that the news media will always try to find the worst stories possible).

Well, our decision is to keep traveling….with certain precautions in mind.  Traveling with a group is a pretty good idea…..most everything is handled for you and a lot of the details are up to them.  And, of course, certain destinations may not be advisable.  For now, Israel trips have been cancelled by almost all tour operators.

But if you want to travel to Europe there are good options:  The one we like best at the moment is Poland…a traditional Catholic country that has survived Communism and kept the Faith.  And, of course, river cruises are another great choice.

Finally, for those in the U.S. and Canada who might wish to stay on the North American Continent, we suggest Mexico (yes, it is in North America).  Although parts of the country are not safe, tours to Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine and the area around it pose little threat to pilgrims.  The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe makes a great pilgrimage.

Like everyone else, we continue to monitor the situation and pray for peace.


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Thinking of cancelling your trip to Israel? What about refunds?

With the current war (we’re not calling it “unrest” any more) in Israel, most tour companies have postponed their trips to Israel for at least the next few weeks…..while others have cancelled all scheduled trips remaining in 2023.

We do not expect a quick resolution to this conflict, so we certainly agree with those decisions.  Here is what we have been able to find out so far….but you need to check with the tour operator for exact terms and conditions.

Will I get a refund if I cancel my trip to Israel?

If the tour company cancels the tour to Israel, then you should be entitled to a full refund in most cases.  Postponement is something different, you are not likely to  be offered a refund, even if the dates are not convenient for you.  Most of the tour companies we have looked at will offer to transfer the funds you have paid and apply them to a trip to a different destination or to Israel on a different date in the future.

If you cancel, you probably won’t get all your money Back.    The situation there is so volatile that we are not sure how things will develop.  If you do decide to cancel, will you get a refund of what you have paid?

Most tour companies have cancellation policies that go in to effect almost immediately after you make your first payment and get steeper the closer you get to your departure date.  Let’s face it, most people don’t read the fine print regarding cancellation policies.  So, if you decide to cancel, you may get a partial refund depending upon that companies cancellation policy, and whether you have paid a deposit or the full amount.  You will need to check with your tour company for the exact terms and conditions.

This is not because the tour companies are greedy, but they have to put deposits down with various suppliers that are likewise subject to cancellation fees.

What about travel insurance….won’t that cover my cancellation?

Some time ago, we put a page on our website titled “Travel Insurance….don’t leave home without it!”

That is still good advice…..but not all travel insurance policies are the same.  There are various terms and conditions that must be met in order to get a refund, and, (the cost of the insurance itself will not be refunded).

Even if you have travel insurance, you still might not get a full refund if you decide to cancel.

Under most travel insurance policies, war, acts of war, and political unrest are excluded from cancellation coverage, meaning any resulting claims likely will not be paid.  The problem is that most travel insurance policies typically do not have specific definitions for war.  These are very vague terms, and give the insurance companies plenty of latitude to deny a claim.  We’re not beating up on travel insurance companies….just stating our observations.  Certainly what is going on in Israel right now would be considered a war by most people, but that doesn’t mean that the insurance companies will look at it that way.

There is a type of travel insurance that will cover this…..”Cancel for Any Reason“.  But hold on….you have to meet certain conditions and some of you may have already lost the opportunity.

In order for a traveler to be eligible for Cancel For Any Reason, many travel insurance companies require that certain conditions must be met. 

According to Traveldefenders.com, there are typically three conditions that must be met to purchase a Cancel For Any Reason Rider:

  1.   Purchase the policy within 10 – 21 days of First Trip Payment
  2.   Insure ALL prepaid and non-refundable travel expenses prior to departure;
  3.   Trip arrangements must be canceled more than 48 -72 hours prior to the departure date.

If you have already passed that first date, then you will most likely not be eligible to purchase a “Cancel for any Reason” insurance policy.  Again, you should check with your insurance provider, since companies may vary in their terms and conditions.

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Travel to Israel Cancelled Due to War

Not long ago we wrote a blog article pointing out how safe it was for pilgrims to travel to Israel. At the time, that was true….pilgrims found, to their surprise, that they were perfectly safe.  Although there have been long-simmering calls for the elimination of Israel by Hamas, there was did not appear any imminent threat.

Airstrike in IsraelBut now, everything has changed….and perhaps permanently.   We seem to have reached a tipping point.  Obviously this will go down as one Israel’s rare intelligence failures.  Mossad, Israel’s Intelligence agency, has had a reputation as perhaps the premiere intelligence agency in the world.  Apparently they were not prepared for a wide ranging attack by Hamas within the borders of Israel, even though this attack took place not only on the Jewish Sabbath, but also on the Festival of Sukkot, which is one of the major feast days and often a time when militants have been known to attack, it would have called for the highest alert on the part of Israeli defense forces….and yet, they were caught by surprise. Our guess is that there will be a lot of second-guessing amongst the intelligence staff of Mossad.

This situation is too complicated to cover in depth in this blog post….there are many parties involved and many moving parts.  Some progress was recently reported in the effort to get Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel…something that would have changed the dynamics in the region significantly. And that may be why Hamas schedule this attack at this time…to disrupt these talks.  And, Iran has been known to fund activities of both Hezzbollah and Hamas….but little is known specifically about the Iran’s involvement in these attacks.

The Israeli military response will undoubtedly result in civilian casualties in the occupied territories, which of course will be held against them…..despite the fact that they were attacked in the first place.  And so the cycle of violence will continue.

The danger of this spreading in what is a volatile region (to say the least) is worrisome.  Already, in Egypt, two Israeli tourists and their Egyptian tour guide were shot dead in Alexandria, apparently by a policeman.

Israel is at War

When you have armed militants in your country kidnapping innocent civilians, executing them at will, then this is now more than just a brief incursion, and must be considered an act of war. as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Sunday October 8.  Just how far things will go we cannot say, but the outlook as of today (October 9) does not look good.  Israel has issued a complete blockade of the West Bank, cutting off water and electricity as well.

Meantime….rockets continue to be launched not only from the West Bank, but…even more worrying….from Lebanon.  The latter threatens to expand the hostilities further than just Israel, Hezbollah (consisting mainly of Sunni Muslims aligned with Iran) controls most of Lebanon and Iran provides Hezbollah with most of its funding, training, and weapons.

And….there are still some fighting going on within Israel between the Israeli Defence Force and Hamas in occupied towns and buildings.


Status of pilgrims scheduled to travel to or return from Israel:

Pilgrims in Israel looking for flights home
Photo courtesy Times of Israel

So far as we can tell, all tour companies have cancelled their scheduled trips to Israel through the end of 2023, and have worked feverishly to bring any pilgrims already in Israel home as quickly as possible You can read one such response here from Select International Tours.

As a side note, many people on various blogs were talking about something happening in October. We cannot say…only time will tell.  In the meantime, please pray for peace in the Middle East.  Events like this have been known to spiral out of control beyond what we see now.


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New European Visa Requirements Starting Early 2024.

New European Visa Requirements Starting Early 2024. Are You Prepared for ETIAS?

Starting early in 2024, US travelers will need a new document called “ETIAS” to enter the European Union. If you are a US citizen traveling to the EU as a tourist, you will need this ETIAS documentation to enter.

While it is being called by many a “visa requirement,” technically, it is a new pre-arrival authorization.

What is the ETIAS?

The European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS, is a new required document for entry to the EU. The online application for tourists and travelers entering the European Union is expected to open in 2024. However, no specific date has been set. Still, we expect this to begin early in the year,

Check out this video from Select International Tours for all the information you need.



So you will want to watch our website and Social Media for more information as it becomes available.

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Latest entrance requirements for Israel

Starting March 1, 2022 there are new entrance requirements for tourists visiting Israel:

1. You do not have to be vaccinated.

2. You must have had a negative PCR test within 72 hours prior to arrival.

3. Upon arrival in Israel, you must take another test to enter the country.

4.  You must go straight to wherever you are staying until you receive your results.  Although they state it could take up to 24 hours, the results usually arrive in 6-12 hours.

All of this might sound daunting, but if you are traveling with a group you should not have any major problems, because a good tour operator will have anticipated all of this.

Our friends at Select International Tours have stated:

The test results (upon arrival) typically only take an hour or so, so we have not had to do much other than wait. But if this lengthens out, we will take them to the hotel until results are released. We have so far had four groups there and none have had any interruption to the itinerary at all“.

So our advice is don’t let any of this concern you.

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Many European Christmas Markets cancelled in 2021…but some are open

European Christmas Markets closed by policeThe resurgence of Covid in both Austria and Germany have also forced the cancellation of most of the Germany & Austria’s Christmas markets in 2021, the second year many of the markets have been forced to close over COVID.  These markets generally run from late November up until Christmas.

The closures in Germany include Munich, Nuremberg, Passau, Regensburg, Brandenburg, and the Dresden market, along with Austria’s Vienna (Dream Christmas Market), and more.

Because of this, a number of tour operators have made decisions to either alter or cancel their Christmas Markets itineraries, including river cruises that have been increasingly popular in recent years.


Christmas Market in PragueThere is some good news!  Some European Markets will be open.

The Market in Budapest, Hungary will be open from Nov 19 through Dec 31.

The market in Prague, Czech Republic will be open this year from Nov 27 through January 6..

Also, it appears most, if not all,  the Christmas markets in France will remain open!


If you know of any others please send us an email so that we can update our list.


2021 Quebec Christmas MarketFor those in North America, the Quebec European-style  Christmas market will be open from Nov 25 thru Dec 23.

If arriving from other countries be sure to check the entry requirements for Canada.


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Ban on cruising in U.S. waters extended

The Centers for Disease Control had banned cruising in U.S. waters through July 24, 2020. For those cruise ports that are in U.S.waters, that meant no cruises departing from the U.S. whatsoever.  That would also apply, of course, to Transatlantic crossings docking in the U.S.

Under the new extension, cruising will not resume until October 1 at the earliest.  We suspect that even this date is highly likely to change.

The Canadian government has also come down hard:  it is banning all large cruise ships that carry more than 100 people until Oct 31, 2020.  Again we suspect that will not be the last we hear.

The Miami Herald reports that since June 23, some 1,000 cruise ship crew members have developed either confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus while living aboard mostly empty ships waiting off the U.S. coast.  Click here for the video from the Miami Herald  (external link).

Although this is a disappointment for passengers, it is an absolute tragedy for many crew members.  These men and women are often from impoverished countries and rely on earnings to help support their families back home.  While quarantined  in port, they are not receiving any pay…and in many cases they are not able to return to their home countries.  It is a nightmare scenario.

We would hope there might be some way to help these crew members….and we would like to hear from you if you have any information or are aware of any organized efforts to help them financially.  We’d be happy to post it on our site.  Of course, your prayers should come first.

Find out about cruises for Catholics on our cruise page.

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Youth Festival in Medjugorje is NOT CANCELLED

The International Prayer Encounter of the Youth -(Youth Festival) is an annual event held in Medjugorje  each year that attracts upwards of 100,000 young people.  Scheduled for August 1-6, it was cancelled and now is back on.

The theme of this year’s prayer encounter is “Come, and you will see“ (John 1, 39).

It will be much different from the Youth Festivals of the past due, of course, to the Covid-19 epidemic.  ….Many programs of the international spiritual retreats have been cancelled

Most of the program from Medjugorje is being now sent to the world via electronic media so that people can tune in from wherever they might be.  This year’s Youth Festival will be live streamed online. Depending on the development of virus, all gatherings would be according to the instructions of the institutions in charge.

Let us continue to be united in the same spirit in the school of Our Lady and let us rejoice that we would be connected together in Medjugorje, both in our hearts and in our spirit.

There will be challenges, especially regarding visitors from the U.S.A.  Certain restrictions by the European Union are limiting…and almost forbidding…entrance to the E.U.  See our blog post here.

There are some loopholes, so if you are traveling with a group check to see what arrangements have been made.

You can visit the official website for the Youth Festival here.

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European Travel Ban hits U.S. travelers hard

Effective July 1, all non-essential travel from the U.S.A. to the European Union’s 27 member states has been banned.  There are only a few exceptions, and these will probably not apply to you.

Note that the ban is based on residency……not citizenship. Someone arriving from the U.S., who is a citizen or resident in the EU–or in one of the countries listed below, can enter.

Also banned are residents of Brazil, Russia and India.



The following 27 countries are members of the European Union:



Residents of the following countries that are not members of the E.U. are allowed entry:

New Zealand
South Korea
China (subject to confirmation of reciprocity)

Just to add to the confusion, each country will determine its own specific way of enforcing the ban.  It is not known how long this ban will be in effect, but obviously it will spoil most travel plans for the summer and probably in to the fall.

And, as usual, everything keeps changing, so we will do our best to keep you updated.