Traveling safely in an uncertain world
November 1, 2019
We live in troubling times and that's an understatement. The world reels with refugees: In the Middle East and North Africa there are 2.74 million; Africa has 4.41 million;
in Europe, 4.39 million; and Asia and the Pacific, 3.83 million, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office.
So where can an American travel safely?
Prepare for your trip
Before you go, take a look at the Overseas Security Advisory Council's website https://www.osac.gov/Content/Browse/Report. The OSAC is a joint venture between the Department of State and the U.S. private sector to update alerts on activities that may affect travelers overseas.
This site updates regularly and provides bulletins of demonstrations, strikes and emergency situations. You don't want to end up in a yellow vest demo in Paris, do you?
In 1972, during the time the military junta was in power, I was leaving Athens as a huge anti-fascist demonstration was taking place on the streets and our bus to the airport was stopped and searched. We had to give up our passports for scrutiny and then they were stamped "OK."
I was concerned at the time because the junta was backed by the U.S. and, as citizens, that opened us up to possible harassment by the demonstrators.
We had also driven down to Greece in a VW van and made it through Yugoslavia, at the time ruled by communist dictator Tito. And that was amazing because we were traveling with a hitchhiker from Denver who treated the world like his back yard and we finally deposited him alongside
the road somewhere in Greece after he gave a finger gesture to a huge truck driver at a gas station.
Choose your traveling companions carefully if you decide to enter a possibly unstable destination. You will want to take a resourceful and calm person who will not do foolish things that can get you into trouble. There have been numerous examples about this lately in the news.
You can also go on the U.S. State Department's website travel.state.gov for updates and travel alerts.
And make sure your passport is current and covers the time you will be away.
Enroll in STEP
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, so if something happens you can contact government officials that can assist you.
STEP helps you receive
important information from the embassy about safety conditions in your destination country and helps you make informed decisions about travel plans.
It's free and you can enroll online at https://step.state.gov/ or download an application to send in at https://eforms.state.gov/Forms/ds4024.pdf.
You might also check out the page on what the state department can and cannot do for you in case of an emergency at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/emergencies/what-state-dept-can-cant-do-crisis.html or merely Google "what the state department can and cannot do in a crisis."
Or map it out
There is an informative interactive map website https://travelmaps.state.gov/TSGMap/ that it is updated daily. You can see the world at a glance on its color-coded map.
Note that conditions can change rapidly in a country at any time. To receive updated travel advisories and alerts, choose the method that works best for you at http://www.travel.state.gov/stayingconnected.
This map shows the embassies, consulates, consulate generals, consular agents, consular sections, and U.S. protecting power on the easy-to-read map.
Like a Scout
Yes "be prepared" for any emergency or glitch in your trip. Also consider taking out travel insurance for long trips out of the country.
But you're Alaskans and you know how to be on high alert right away – kinda like that moose in the road just this morning.
State Department advice on how to communicate with loved ones abroad
Communicating with a loved one overseas can be complicated, especially during a large-scale crisis involving power outages or overwhelmed telephone lines that make sending and receiving calls difficult. If you are worried that your loved one was affected by a crisis, there are various ways to try and get in touch – and stay in touch. Here are recommendations form the U.S. State Department.
Send them a text message. U.S. cell phones do not always work overseas, especially when phone services are overwhelmed by a high volume of calls. Try sending your loved ones a text message – it is more likely to get through if they are in Wi-Fi range, even without local cell phone service.
Use social media. Check all of their social media accounts for recent posts or comments. Some social media sites even allow people to "check in" if they are in or near a crisis location. Many sites allow you to send a private message, but you might want to post a public message so that others who might have information are able to see your message and respond. If you do post a public message, keep it general – remember, too much information can play into the hands of identity thieves and scammers.
Contact travel companions and other close friends. Try to touch base with your loved one's travel companions and close friends. Perhaps they know the whereabouts of your loved one and can pass a message, or have heard from your loved one since the crisis.
Call the hotel, school or organization. If you know your loved one's itinerary, contact the current or next hotel on his/her planned trip and request that they ask your loved one to contact you. If your loved one is overseas for studies or work, his/her sponsoring organization in the United States or overseas may have information and be able to pass a message asking him/her to contact you. For privacy reasons, the organization may not be able to provide you with a lot of information, and some organizations may only be available during work hours.
Communicate with tour operators. If your loved one is on a tour, contact the tour operator in the United States. It may not provide you with details because of privacy concerns, but it may pass a message.
Call the local police. If you believe your loved one is in danger, call the police station or emergency services in the country that is local to where your loved one is staying, and find out what they can do to help. Each U.S. embassy and consulate provides local emergency numbers on their websites. Provide as many details about the person and his/her itinerary as possible.
Consider reaching out to international aid organizations. There are a variety of international organizations that work to find people overseas. Consider reaching out to one of these organizations, which might have an established network of contacts in the crisis area.
Contact the Department of State. It can be reached by phone at 888-407-4747 if calling from within the U.S. or Canada; or +1-202-501-4444 if calling from any other location. Check the http://www.travel.state.gov website for additional information – during a large-scale crisis, the department may set up a crisis-specific email address which allows them to collect information more quickly when dealing with a large number of requests for assistance. In the event of a crisis, the U.S. embassy or consulate in the affected country works to identify and locate U.S. citizens needing assistance with help from local authorities. Any actions taken depend on the nature of the crisis. In some instances, information may be provided on conditions in the country, such as warnings about areas of unrest, how and where to seek help, and other useful information. In more severe situations, the department may recommend U.S. citizens leave the immediate area if it is safe to do so or even the foreign country. If commercial transportation is unavailable, and if there are consular officers at the embassy or consulate, and if the conditions permit, they will do their best to identify what transportation options may be available to help U.S. citizens travel out of the crisis location.