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Handling Trouble Overseas
From time to time, the headlines remind us that the world can be a dangerous place. Sometimes with very little warning, Americans traveling abroad can find themselves in the middle of a natural disaster or a manmade crisis. If that happens to you, how can you protect yourself and the people travel with you?
According to the U.S. State Department, you should start before you leave. Make sure you sign your passport and fill in the emergency information. Leave a copy of your passport with a friend or relative who is not traveling, and make sure that person also has a copy of your itinerary, including the names of hotels where you will be staying. Check with your medical insurer about coverage overseas, including coverage for evacuation to a stateside hospital. If you don’t have that coverage, consider buying special travel medical insurance.
You also should check the State Department website for alerts or warnings about potential unrest in the country or countries you plan to visit. Go to www.travel.state.gov, and click on “International Travel.” Then you can click on the country and find out all kinds of information, including things like restrictions on what you can bring into and out of the country, and information on laws and traffic.
You also can see whether the State Department has issued a travel alert or a travel warning for the country. A travel alert is issued when there is a situation that could cause you trouble, ranging from a flu outbreak to a potentially divisive election. A travel warning is more serious. The State Department says it issues a travel warning “when we want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all.”
At the web site you also can sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This free service allows you to register information about your trip with the State Department so that they can contact you if you have a family emergency in the United States, and so that they can provide assistance if a crisis occurs in the area where you are traveling.
You should take precautions to avoid making yourself a victim. Don’t wear expensive jewelry or flash around money, for example. Don’t walk around looking at a map or guidebook. Know before you leave your hotel where you are going to go and how you are going to get there.
Have a plan to get out of the area in the case of natural disaster or civil unrest. Know where the U.S. embassy or consulate is, and write down the phone number. Call them if you are concerned; they can advise you on what to do.
Many experts suggest that you keep some cash available to pay bribes or for emergency transportation to the embassy, the airport or another place of safety. Keep your cell phone charged, although service might be disrupted. Stay away from large groups of people, and avoid public transportation. If you can’t get out of the area, go to a large, western hotel.
Again, the overwhelming likelihood is that your overseas trip will go off without a hitch. But the best way to avoid problems is to be ready for them.