Post by International Military Life Community Manager, Courtney Woodruff
I drew in a rattled gasp as I signed onto Facebook to find my newsfeed flooded with headlines and news stories detailing the devastating attack that killed 22 innocent concert-goers and injured more than 100 in Manchester last month. Since we moved to Germany a little over two years ago, we have looked on in horror as similar attacks have rocked cities like Brussels, Paris, Nice and London. We have felt the ripple of fear rush through the people of our host nation and our own European military community.
Watching these events unfold has left many overseas military families asking “is traveling really worth the risk?” The truth is, you must answer this question for yourself -- but planning and awareness are key to overcoming fear and staying safe while traveling abroad.
Before you go …
Register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This free service offered by the U.S. Department of State notifies the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate of your travel plans. In turn, you will receive important safety alerts specific to your destination, and your contacts will be able to reach you in the event of an emergency.
Share your travel plans with a trusted colleague, family member or friend. Let at least one person know where you are going and when you expect to return. If the unthinkable happens while you are away, someone will know to alert the authorities if they are not able to get in touch with you.
Know where to find assistance. Locate the nearest U.S Embassy or Consulate, police station and hospital so you won’t have to waste time searching if you need help. As an added measure of protection, program local emergency numbers into your cell phone.
Familiarize yourself with what to say if you need help. Write emergency phrases in the local language on an index card to carry with you in your passport or wallet. The language barrier adds another layer of stress and confusion in crisis situations, but you can avoid this by doing your research ahead of time.
While you’re traveling …
Blend in. Keep from drawing attention to yourself by leaving clothing that could identify you as a U.S. citizen or service member, such Department of Defense (DOD) affiliated logos, American brands and sports teams, at home. Also, avoid talking loudly and remove bumper stickers from your vehicle if you are driving.
Exercise extreme caution in crowds. It is always important to remain vigilant and be aware of your surroundings as you travel abroad. If you plan to attend a concert or sporting event in a large arena, or if you plan to visit popular tourist destinations or congested public spaces, identify possible escape routes and decide on a safe meeting point just in case you get separated from your traveling companions.
Keep an eye out for security alerts on social media and government websites. If you can, use your data plan or hop on a free Wi-Fi connection periodically to stay up-to-date on what’s going on in and around the cities you are traveling in. Staying informed will help you make smart decisions when planning your daily itinerary.
Wait to share your awesome travel photos and stories on social media until you return safely. Sharing status updates that give bits and pieces of information about where you are and what you are doing can unknowingly make you a potential target. Protect yourself and your travel companions by keeping your plans and experiences under wraps until you are home, safe and sound.
Do you have any overseas trips planned? What are your tips for staying safe while traveling abroad?
Courtney Woodruff is a military spouse, mom, writer, editor and web content manager currently living in Germany. She has a heart for our troops and their families and hopes to share what little she has learned along the way to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. You can follow her adventures at her blog, Courtney At Home, or through her social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
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