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The CIA World Factbook summarizes the demographics, economy, government, geography, and more for more than 260 countries and regions.
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updated 7/28/2010 10:07:44 AM ET 2010-07-28T14:07:44

When Thailand teetered at the edge of civil war last spring, I signed on to Facebook. That’s where friends in Bangkok were posting photos and videos of the protests and real-time status updates. I also checked out English-language Thai newspapers online, Twitter, and the travel-security e-newsletters I subscribe to. Thankfully, my friends and colleagues made it through the violence unscathed.

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But I was reminded of the importance of having access to good information quickly. Although I still rely on the U.S. State Department advisories at travel.state.gov for the long view of safety, critics say that site is overly cautious and colored by politics — and not nearly as immediate as a tweet.

And sometimes the State Department warnings are just plain odd. Consider this advisory, which warns Americans traveling to this place to “maintain a high level of vigilance” and to beware of pickpockets, drink spiking, purse-snatchers, and an increase in the use of criminal weapons due to a rise in drug trafficking. No, they’re not talking about Mexico. That’s from the State Department travel information for Australia. Confused? So are a lot of people.

That’s why it pays to get a wider point of view by considering other travel-advisory websites, which are numerous and varied.

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Besides the State Department updates, the U.S. government has excellent travel resources that can help you plan a safe trip by providing you with travel-health news or even country-by-country backgrounders from the CIA. Many foreign governments, including the United Kingdom and Australia, operate advisory websites similar to that of the State Department, but without the U.S. point of view.

Click for slideshow: Best travel-advisory websites

And don’t neglect social media sites to get on-the-ground, real-time reports in nearly every country around the globe. True, the information you might glean from travel forums, Twitter, and other such sources isn’t checked for accuracy, but it’s often much fresher and direct than major media reports.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t rely on the world’s online newspapers; in fact, there are English-language online newspapers in most major international cities, and with a few clicks of the mouse you can find one in your next vacation spot.

Finally, don’t neglect private-industry security newsletters. Many of them are available for a fee, but there are a few that are free, and they are often extraordinarily comprehensive.

No matter where you get your travel updates, it’s always worth checking out an assortment of sites representing different viewpoints. Then you’ll be in the best position to make your decision about actions you may need to take the next time you travel.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

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