ST. LOUIS - After months of scary headlines from overseas, some might be thinking twice before going on vacation abroad. While terrorism is, by its very nature, unpredictable, there are ways to keep yourself safe from most travel related scares.
Hoover says if you are worried about large crowds, try flying into a smaller airport or traveling between countries via train. You should also check for State Department travel warnings in your chosen destination.
If you are in an emergency, “immediately call you airline, find out what’s available,” says Hoover. Travel insurance agents or some credit cards can also help you coordinate getting home quickly.
But if it is a crisis of terrorism or another disaster, the first point of contact should be the U.S. Embassy. You can, and should, find the address and phone number for the embassy in every country by visiting USEmbassy.gov.
That should also be your point of contact if you lose your passport, which both Lichti and Hoover say is the most common overseas travel crisis.
Hoover recommends having a copy of your passport in your luggage so you can get a new one made quickly at the embassy. You should also leave a copy of that with someone back home.
Passports are often target prizes of pickpockets, who also might steal your money without your realizing. Keep most of your money back in the room from day to day so they don’t swipe all your cash with one grab.
Airports are full of currency exchange kiosks, but don’t wait until you get to your destination to get money.
“Get currency to have in your pocket when you go,” recommends Hoover. “Because there’s nothing worse than not having any money.”
And don’t count on getting by with a couple of cards: even many places in European countries can’t take them. If you bring a debit card, make sure it’s attached to an account with a relatively low balance. Have more than one card, in case one doesn’t work properly.
The best way to stay in touch with your travel companions and get help if you need it is your cell phone, even without a data plan.
“Having your phone is so helpful because almost everywhere in the world has WiFi,” said Hoover.
There are plenty of apps that can even help you get around your destination, but Lichti says that shouldn’t be your only option.
“You should have a paper map with you at all times because we all know technology can come and go.”
Some technology to take advantage of before you go is the State Department website. It can help you get to know the country’s cultural landscape.
“It’s not just about warnings it tells you their population, demographics, their main religion, that sort of thing,” said Hoover.
It also details the country’s immigration requirements. Some require visas or that your passport be good for a certain amount of time after your return. If you don’t know before you go, you could wind up stranded at the airport.
It’s helpful to understand the culture so you can blend in more with the crowd - and make yourself less of a target.
“I see way too many Americans that look like they’re going on Magellan’s expedition and they’re in the middle of Rome or something like that,” said Lichti. “You don’t need the safari hat and the zip off pants: dress like you’re in the city, dress the part. Don’t make yourself a target by standing out with the way you dress.”
You should also know the laws of the country you are visiting; a common misconception is that the people at the embassy can bail you out of trouble.
“Don’t cause any shenanigans and you’ll be fine. Have respect.”
But also, of course: have fun.
“I encourage people: if traveling is something you want to do, and it’s on your life list: go do it,” said Hoover.
“The world’s too beautiful to sit at home,” agrees Lichti.
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