By DJ Wilson – The recent terror attacks on Paris took the world by surprise, much like the terrible unfolding of events in America on September 11, 2001. On an unsuspecting evening in the ‘City of Light’, terrorists launched seven relatively simultaneous attacks on the city of Paris and targeted innocent people. Some were watching a soccer game, others were seated at a café, a number were enjoying pizza, and many were at a concert. In the sad aftermath of the violent night, reminiscent of the tragedy of 9/11, we remain haunted and bewildered by the happenings. Americans currently in the throes of planning foreign travel vacations are left to wonder whether to keep vacation plans, change itineraries, or cancel trips outright. Travel at home feels a bit uncertain, too, for fear of vulnerabilities. Since we can’t live in shoeboxes, we must cautiously measure the safety of our travel plans and carry on with life as best we can.
- With all the bad stuff happening in the world, is it safe to travel? It’s important to educate ourselves on the safety records of our destinations. Even if places are deemed safe, elements of risk may be involved. No one can accurately predict where terrorism may strike, but we can pay attention and be on alert.
- Should government stability be a concern? Most certainly. Countries with economic, political, and social unrest may be especially prone to violence. Be sure to stay on top of the latest news and travel alerts.
- Are some countries safer than others? The government and law enforcement must possess the ability to handle and respond quickly to emergencies. The protection of citizens and travelers should be paramount. Countries with corrupt governments and those which lack enforcement of laws should be avoided as travel destinations. Be wary of places which bear intolerances to freedom and beliefs.
- Might ongoing problems in the world render travel more dangerous? It’s essential to gain knowledge of international affairs. Understand how foreign conflicts may affect your safety. However, it’s important to differentiate between sensationalism in the news and what’s really happening. Do your homework.
- What are ways to avoid being a target of violence? There are valid ways to decrease the likelihood of becoming a target. Choose your travel destination carefully, be sensible in your actions, avoid traveling in isolated areas especially after dark, don’t carry much in the way of valuables, and avoid large crowd gatherings where disruptions may occur. These are just a few practices which may help to keep you safe.
- Is there a website where U.S. citizens can go for travel advisories? The U.S. State Department will issue travel warnings for American citizens when necessary. Keep watchful eyes on rising security alert levels. This is a strong indicator that something is brewing. Pay attention to Foreign Embassy news and alerts issued by the country to which you’re traveling. As always, heed all warnings issued by the U.S. State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. The National Terrorism Advisory System, or NTAS, communicates information about terrorist threats by sharing information. NTAS alerts can be provided. Visit dhs.gov for more information.
- Have you special advice for foreign travelers? It’s advisable to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, otherwise known as STEP, operated as a service of the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. State Department. The free service allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Travelers will receive important information regarding their country of destination. It will help the U.S. Embassy and family and friends to connect with you in an emergency. The motto is “Stay Informed, Stay Connected, Stay Safe!” To learn more, visit: https://step.state.gov/
- How do we know which hotels and resorts are the safest? Reading extensive reviews from multiple sources is a helpful idea, but be sure to get reliable referrals before booking. When in doubt, contact a professional travel agent. Choose an agent with bountiful resources and knowledge centered upon where you’ll be traveling. At times, upscale hotels may be targeted by those wanting to harm international travelers. For this reason, select hotels with appropriate security.
- Does health fall under safety concerns when traveling? Of course! Be aware of illnesses related to the region where you’ll be traveling. Have there been recent outbreaks? Learn how to protect yourself. Know whether medical shots are required for travel to prevent infectious diseases such as mosquito-borne malaria. Make sure you have medical coverage for foreign travel.
- Any special advice for a trip overseas? Be sure to share your itinerary with trusted family or friends, along with providing your contact information. If possible, establish an emergency contact in the country in which you’re traveling. Often times, travel agents will have local people on the ground ready to help.
- Should we create a travel contingency pack? It’s a useful idea. Keep guarded copies of your important information (driver’s license, passport, list of emergency numbers) which you can leave in your hotel safe. Include a list of medications which you are taking. If you require daily medication, carry extra pills in case you’re unable to return to your hotel room right away.
- Should we get travel insurance? It’s great for some travelers, but it’s not for everyone. Travel insurance can reduce financial risks involved with your trip. Insurance may include coverage for illnesses, lost luggage, canceled tours, and more. Supplemental insurance may be obtained for additional coverage and is often necessary when traveling to at-risk countries. Pay attention as some policies offer reimbursements, rather than coverage. Costs can be expensive, as rates increase with age. Become informed by speaking to insurance agents licensed in your state, and shop around. Avoid paying double for coverage provided by your current medical insurance. Note that Medicare does not cover you overseas.
- Have you some tips for traveling within a foreign country? Know where you’re going and follow travel routes which are deemed the safest. Avoid areas and neighborhoods with higher crime rates. Folks who travel solo may be easy targets of crime. Group travel is often safer. Hire a well-reputed travel guide to take you around. They know the ins and outs of cities, and can share important cultural information. Make sure protection is provided by your tour group when traveling in less secure countries.
- Is there any way people can help to deter terrorism? Absolutely! Random acts of violence can occur anywhere in the world, anytime. Citizens are encouraged to report suspicious behavior to local law enforcement authorities. Visit the official site of the Department of Homeland Security (dhs.gov) to learn more about the “If you See Something, Say Something” campaign.
- Should I cancel my overseas vacation? Many variables come into play when making this decision, so it’s up to each individual to assess risks. We live in a world of uncertainties. Exercise caution, but never let your fears define you.
Comment below: Has a recent increase in violence had an impact on your travel plans?