With violence in the Middle East, dengue fever in Latin America, and pickpockets in every major city in the world, some may question how safe it is to travel internationally these days. While blockbuster flicks such as “Taken” with Liam Neeson may stoke parents’ fears that young American girls are targets for international sex trafficking rings and TV shows such as National Geographic’s “Locked Up Abroad” graphically illustrate what can happen if you leave your luggage unattended at the airport, the truth is that traveling abroad can pose the same risks as traveling anywhere else in the United States. Granted, you may not speak the language or know who to call in an emergency; but a little preparation and research can offer you the best protection while overseas. Being a smart and informed traveler will not only increase your chances for a drama-free vacation, it’ll see to it that you get the R&R you’ve been waiting all year for.
Before jumping onboard a boat or plane to an exotic destination with a name you can’t pronounce, do a quick internet search to determine if the location poses any public health or safety risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is a great resource to find travel notices about disease epidemics and other health-related issues in other countries. Find out which vaccinations, if any, are required and be sure to visit your physician before your trip. Vaccinations for typhoid and hepatitis and a course of anti-malarial medication can go a long way in preventing life-threatening illnesses while abroad.
A healthy dose of concern about your physical safety should also come into play when you’re scheduling your vacation plans. The U.S. State Department’s website is another great reference for travel warnings and travel alerts; and yes, there’s a difference.
According to the State Department, travel warnings are issued when long-term conflicts and instability make it dangerous for Americans to travel in particular countries. They are also issued when a U.S. embassy’s ability to assist American citizens is constrained in areas of conflict. In these cases, the U.S. government will recommend that Americans avoid travel in these nations.
A travel alert is issued to warn about short-term conditions that pose significant risks to the safety of American citizens. Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and political violence are all situations that might trigger travel alerts.
Of course, in addition to reviewing these sites, it’s also a good idea to keep abreast of current events by watching and reading the news or signing up for news feeds regarding your region of interest.
While it’s obviously important to watch out for the big stuff, there’s always a risk of the little stuff putting a damper on your holiday. The State Department offers some wise advice for those stepping outside the borders of the U.S. of A.
The State Department runs a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so it can better assist American travelers in emergencies. All you have to do is register your travel plans through a free online service at https://travelregistration.state.gov. This will make it easier for the U.S. government to contact you if there is a family emergency back home or if a crisis erupts in the area where you’re traveling.
The Department also recommends leaving a copy of your itinerary and passport with family and friends in case of an emergency, or if you lose your passport. It’s not a bad idea to make an extra copy and stash it away in a different piece of luggage so you have two sets on you while traveling.
Medical insurance coverage is another item to look into before embarking on your trip, particularly if your itinerary involves physical adventures such as scuba diving, bicycling or hiking. Some insurance policies don’t cover you overseas in the event of an emergency. If that’s the case, consider supplemental insurance.
Finally, don’t make yourself a target. Don’t attract thieves by wearing conspicuous jewelry or expensive accessories. Don’t carry large amounts of cash or flash around that high priced, medium format digital camera with the specialty wide-angle lens. By being aware of your surroundings you can ensure that the only concern you’ll have while walking through the streets of Dublin is which pub serves the best beer.