Sambo Creek in Honduras. Flickr

With violence against tourists in the news (particularly Americans), summer travelers who usually ask, "Where should I go this year?" may be more likely to ask, "Which places should I avoid?"

Here's how to answer that question before you make plans

"There is no officially maintained list of off-limits locations," says Ben Joelson, a director at the Chertoff Group, a security services company. If you're worried about security, you have to do your homework.

"Find out everything about your destination before you go," says Steve Kardian, an FBI defense tactics instructor and author of the book "The New Superpower for Women: Trust Your Intuition, Predict Dangerous Situations, and Defend Yourself from the Unthinkable."

Kardian and other security experts say any list of dangerous places should start with the US State Department's Travel Advisories. 

You can filter the warnings by level - 1 to 4, with "Level 4: Do Not Travel" being the highest.

Afghanistan is a no go zone for travellers. Picture by Pavel Dobrovsky, Flickr

 Afghanistan, Libya, North Korea and Yemen are among the countries that rate a "Do Not Travel" warning, according to the government. 

The reasons include crime, terrorism, civil unrest and armed conflict for Afghanistan and terrorism, civil unrest, health risks and armed conflict for Yemen.

Reality check: It's unlikely anyone reading this story would plan a vacation in Afghanistan or Libya. 

The US State Department list becomes far more useful when you review the Level 2 and 3 countries. For example, Honduras and Turkey rate a Level 3, and the Bahamas and Germany rate a Level 2. 

Experts say cross-checking the countries with Canada's Travel Advice and Advisories and Britain's Foreign Travel Advice will give you an excellent idea of which places to avoid.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United.