By Damon Poeter
Traveling abroad is, for many, one of life’s most enjoyable pursuits. Gazing up at the Tower of London or Taj Mahal, soaking up the sun in Barbados and Bali, celebrating Diwali and Dia de los Muertos — are any of these on your list?
When putting the finishing touches on your itinerary, don’t forget to include a safety net. Your trip to foreign lands could include not only museum visits and amazing food but natural disasters, theft, political crises and personal medical issues. It’s best to have a plan for all of the above when traveling.
After all, different destinations can expose you to different levels of risk. A trip to a European capital in the middle of summer isn’t the same as island-hopping in the Caribbean during hurricane season.
No matter where you go, it’s useful to comport to the military’s basic safety rules for service members and their families in a foreign country, says Ingrid Bruns, director of personal finance and military life advice at USAA and an accredited financial counselor.
“The top priority is to always be vigilant. Situational awareness is key. ‘Keep your head on a swivel’ and “If you see something, say something’ should be your mantras,” she says.
It’s also good to try to “blend in” as much as possible, Bruns says.
“Don’t travel in large groups, don’t be loud or otherwise draw attention to yourself, don’t dress in loud colors and consider leaving shirts with slogans or phrases on them at home. Ensure somebody knows any travel plans you have,” she says.
Here are more tips for being better prepared for any contingency during your travels:
Consider enrolling in STEP. The U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service for citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registering could give you access to U.S. citizen services provided by your embassy or consulate in an emergency. It could also be helpful for officials and your loved ones trying to locate you during or after a crisis.
Find out if you’ll have cell coverage and be connected to a local emergency alert system. Local sources may provide the first alerts to potential dangers like approaching severe weather via emergency alerts sent out over cellular networks.
Consider getting travel insurance. A good travel insurance policy can help soften the financial blow of a medical emergency or an evacuation abroad.
Pack extra supplies of essentials. These include anything you couldn’t do without for very long, like medications and baby formula.
Consult the State Department’s Travel Advisories before departing. In addition to providing detailed reports about individual countries, the State Department’s frequently updated Travel Advisories site rates destination countries on a 1–4 scale for safe traveling (1-exercise normal precautions, 2-exercise increased caution, 3-reconsider travel, 4-do not travel).
Use the State Department’s safe travel tips. The Crisis Abroad: Be Ready checklist contains a wealth of advice and info to assist you and your family during an emergency in another country.
Let your loved ones know where you’re going. Make sure the right people back home know your travel itinerary and how to locate you in an emergency.
Know the location and contact information of your embassy or consulate. Here’s the official list of U.S. embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions throughout the world.
Identify social media sources of information. In addition to the State Department’s TravelGov Twitter feed and Facebook page, try to identify and follow locally based social media resources that might provide important information about a crisis in a country you’re visiting.
Listen to trusted locals. Just as you’d likely be able to inform a tourist in your hometown which areas are more or less safe to visit, residents of the countries you visit will have the same local knowledge.
Ingrid Bruns is the director of personal finance and military life advice at USAA. She is also an accredited financial counselor and holds the Accredited Domestic Partnership AdvisorSM designation. Prior to joining USAA in 2013, Ingrid worked as a personal finance counselor for service members and their families as a Department of Defense contractor. Before that, she was the director for the Stuttgart, Germany USO, where she worked to help provide a “home away from home” for military families.
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