HOW TO TRAVEL THE WORLD SAFELY AND SMARTLY
Traveling overseas is fun and exciting, and when you have a respect for the precautions you must take, it can be quite a carefree experience. Planning ahead and taking precautions will increase your enjoyment of other cultures and customs. Traveling overseas takes some preparation, but it’s always well worth the time and effort. Listed below are important steps that you can take to prepare for a safe trip outside of the United States.
Beware of Travel Alerts and Warnings for Your Destination -
The State Department issues travel warnings to recommend postponing travel to a country because of civil unrest, dangerous conditions, terrorist activity or, in some cases, because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the country and may have great difficulty in assisting U.S. citizens in distress.
Look at the State Department’s website to check your specific destination before you go at: http://www.state.gov/travel/
Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens/nationals who are travelling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the State Department can better assist you in an emergency, such as if you lose your passport or it is stolen while you are abroad. You only need to sign up once and then you can add and delete trips based on your current travel plans.
When you sign up, you will automatically receive the most current information that the State Department compiles about the country that you will be travelling to or living in. You will receive updates including Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts.
The State Department also assists U.S. citizens with other emergencies such as natural disasters - for example, evacuation after the earthquake in Haiti, and countries that have experienced civil unrest, such as Lebanon and Egypt.
STEP also allows Americans living abroad to get routine information from the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
To sign up for STEP go to the Department of State’s website at: https://step.state.gov/step/
Do You Have All Required Travel Documents?
U.S. citizens must use a U.S. passport to travel overseas and re-enter the United States. Most foreign countries require a valid passport to enter and leave.
When does your passport expire? Some countries require that a traveler’s passport be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of your trip.
Are You Prepared for an Emergency?
Make sure you have the contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country that you are travelling to. Consular duty personnel are available for emergency assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Consular agencies overseas.
If your family needs to reach you because of an emergency at home or if they are worried about your welfare, they should call the Office of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, D.C. at 1-888-407-4747 (during business hours) or 202-647-5225 (after hours). The State Department will relay the message to the consular officers in the country where you are. The consular officers will then try to locate you, pass on any urgent messages, and, if you wish, report back to your family in accordance with the Privacy Act.
You can learn more about the Privacy Act by accessing this link: https://foia.state.gov/Learn/PrivacyAct.aspx
Are You Planning on Driving While Overseas?
If you plan to drive while overseas, you may need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). Many countries do not recognize U.S. driver’s licenses, and it is illegal to drive without a valid license and insurance in most places.
You can learn more about how to obtain an IDP by accessing this link:
- Pack light so you can move more quickly and have a free hand when you need it.
- Carry a minimum number of valuables and plan places to conceal them.
- Use covered luggage tags to avoid casual observation of your identity and nationality.
- Avoid packing IDs, tickets and other vital documents in backpacks or other locations you won't be able to see at all times.
Do You Have Photocopies of Your Itinerary and Travel Documents?
Make two photocopies of all your travel documents in case of emergency or if your documents are lost or stolen. Leave one copy with a friend or relative at home. It is always a great idea to let at least one person know exactly where you will be staying and how to contact you in an emergency. Carry the other copy with you, stored separately from the originals. Documents to make copies of include:
- Passport ID page – If you do lose your passport, you can prove to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate that you hold a U.S. passport, and the wait time for a new passport should be shorter.
- Foreign visa (if applicable)
- Hotel confirmation
- Airline ticket(s)
- Driver's license
- Credit cards brought on the trip
- Traveler's check serial numbers
Prepare to Handle Money Overseas
Check and understand the local currency and exchange rate before you travel.
Before you leave, notify your bank, credit card companies, or other financial institutions that you are going overseas. If do not, you may not be able to use your credit cards overseas.
Avoid carrying cash and consider using traveler's checks or major credit cards instead. Make sure they are accepted at your destination before departing on your trip. This is easily done by calling the credit card companies and telling them your destination/s.
Change traveler's checks only as you need them.
Do not flash large amounts of money when paying a bill.
Learn About Local Laws and Customs
While traveling, you are subject to the local laws even if you are a U.S. Citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own and it is very important to know what's legal and what's not. If you break local laws while abroad, your U.S. passport won't help you avoid arrest or prosecution, and the U.S. Embassy cannot get you out of jail.
Know Your Surroundings
Review and bring maps of the area(s) you will be visiting. Identify multiple routes to and from your hotel or other frequent destinations such as school if studying abroad. Be familiar with the public transportation system in the country, as well, and have alternate modes of transportation identified if there are any issues.
Do You Need Any New Vaccinations?
Vaccinations are required for entry into some countries. Certain countries require foreign visitors to carry an International Certificate of Vaccination (aka Yellow Card) or other proof that they have had certain inoculations or medical tests before entering or transiting their country.
Take a look at the Center for Disease Control’s (C.D.C.) website to find out if any vaccinations are needed for the country that you are travelling to: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list
Are You Taking Any Prescriptions or Other Medications?
If you take prescription medication:
- Pack enough to last your entire trip, including some extra in case you are unexpectedly delayed.
- Carry your medications in their original labeled containers, and pack them in your carry-on bag since checked baggage is occasionally lost or delayed.
- Ask your pharmacy or physician for the generic equivalent name of your prescriptions in case you need to purchase additional medication abroad.
- Get a letter from your physician in case you are questioned about your carry-on medication; some countries have strict restrictions on bringing prescription or even non-prescription medications into the country without proper medical documentation.
Other Safety Tips
- Does your cell phone have an international calling and data plan? Call your carrier to discuss options and plans before you leave the U.S. It can get really expensive, really fast if you’re using your roaming feature outside of the U.S.
- When you are travelling, do not leave your luggage unattended for any amount of time.
- Remember when you are in another country, you should NEVER accept any packages from strangers, regardless of what their explanation may be for giving it to you; and do not bring any packages through airport security or customs for anyone.
- Avoid wearing expensive jewelry or clothing when you are travelling overseas. You may find that many locals will assume that tourists are very wealthy, and wearing expensive items may make you the target of crime.
- You should also carry a minimal amount of cash and credit cards, and remember to use a hotel safe for money or credit cards that you may not need on your person.
- If you get into any type of legal, financial or medical trouble, you should call the U.S. Embassy or Consulate as soon as possible and they will assist you in making the best decisions for your specific circumstance. Carrying the U.S. Embassy or Consulate information with you in your money belt is a good idea as you never know when trouble is going to strike.