What Is A Worldwide Travel Alert For U.S. Citizens? The State Department Has Cited "Increased Terrorist Threats"

The U.S. State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert for Americans, explaining that ISIS and other violent extremist groups "continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions." The alert specifically mentions ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram as possible instigators of a future attack, while also warning of "unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis." The State Department issued the warning on Monday, and it will remain in effect until February 24 of next year — well into the holiday travel season. So how does this potentially affect you?

For one, the name is something of a misnomer — this is far more than just a "travel" alert. Here's what the alert itself says:

U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowed places. Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events. U.S. citizens should monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.

Got that? The warning covers far more than just planes, trains, and automobiles; it also applies to "public places," "large crowds," and "crow[d]ed places." That's a pretty sweeping warning, as it would seem to apply to essentially everywhere other than private homes and businesses. The alert is vague as to what it means to "exercise vigilance," though it does say that Americans should "follow the instructions of local authorities."

"Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da’esh return from Syria and Iraq," the alert reads, referring to ISIS by two of its alternative names. "Extremists have targeted large sporting events, theatres, open markets, and aviation services."

This comes, of course, at a particularly inconvenient time for the many Americans planning to travel over the holidays to visit loved ones. In a sense, this a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. Ignoring the warning could potentially be deadly, but abiding by it delivers a victory to the terrorists, as a key goal of terrorism is to inspire widespread fear and disrupt daily ways of life.

The US government isn't the only one to issue a blanket warning in light of terror threats. In Belgium, the capital city of Brussels has been under terror alert for three days and counting, with authorities warning of "serious and imminent" threats of an attack.