I thought this article had a lot of useful information.
It’s a good look at some basic international travel precautions. I honestly don’t pay too much attention to the US government travel advisory levels. I would guess that 90% of my travel destinations are in category two (exercise increased caution). I’ve visited a few level three countries (reconsider travel) and never had a hint of a problem there. In fact, two of the most relaxing vacations I’ve ever taken were in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
I also never register with the STEP program. While it may help in a few cases, I’ve generally found it useless. Read the stated mission of the US State Department:
“The U.S. Department of State leads America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance by advancing the interests of the American people, their safety and economic prosperity.”
Note that assisting American travelers isn’t one of those listed priorities. The embassy may be able to help in some situations, but in many crises, you are on your own. With that said, I still program the address and phone number of the local embassy into my phone when I travel.