Staying Safe While Traveling
Because of unstable conditions within dangerous countries like these, it's important to remember that your government may be unable to intervene if you find yourself in trouble there. This includes medical care as well as any civil rights. The U.S. Department of State issues travel alerts to keep you abreast of your rights as you travel abroad.
Here are some things you need to know if you're planning on traveling to an unsafe area. Actually, these tips are useful for any trip you take out of the country:
A successful trip requires successful planning. Prepare in advance for your trip abroad. Thoroughly research the country to which you'll be traveling -- find out travel alerts, security issues, Internet access, currency information and local laws or customs. Registering your travel with the U.S. State Department helps people at home find you in the event of an emergency or crisis during your trip. The service is free and you can do it online. Find out if your health and property insurance extend to your international travel. If not, consider traveler's insurance.
When packing your belongings, keep in mind that looking like an affluent tourist makes you more of a target for criminals. Travel light and carry a minimum amount of valuables. Your money and cards are safer if carried in a money belt or pouch worn under your clothing. Keep your glasses (plus an extra pair) and medicines in your carry-on bag, and always keep the medicines in their original containers. Check on the legality of certain medications and drugs before attempting to bring them into a different country.
There are some things you should leave at home -- Social Security card, unnecessary credit cards, expensive jewelry or anything you'd hate to lose. Give your family or friends a detailed copy of your itinerary as well as copies of your passport, credit cards, airline tickets and driver's license. Pack another photocopy of these in your carry-on.
While traveling, try to stay in larger hotels with good security and book rooms above the first floor to deter any would-be burglars. Use common sense when out on foot -- stay out of narrow alleys and poorly lit streets. Avoid traveling alone at night. Beware of pickpockets, especially in crowded places. Even groups of children, working together, will pickpocket tourists. Don't attend any civil demonstrations. Don't discuss your travel plans with strangers. Learn a few phrases of the local language that you can use in an emergency to summon help. Make sure you always have the number or address of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you're traveling in a high-risk area, you should take even further precautions. Never allow someone to hail or hire a cab for you. Ensure your driver has ID and that the face matches the license. Try not to travel alone and don't invite strangers into your hotel room or in an unknown location. Refuse any package you weren't expecting. Be alert for suspicious activity around your car. Keep the car windows closed when driving, too.
Always contact your local embassy if you're the victim of a crime or injury. They can assist you in obtaining legal help and medical care, pointing you toward the best local resources.
If a worst-case scenario happens (you are taken hostage, a terrorist attack occurs), try to stay calm. In a kidnap situation, the U.S. government advises taking a stance of passive cooperation. Comply with instructions and if questioned, keep your answers as short as possible. Wait for help and remain alert.
To find out more about dangerous places and travel, check out the links on the next page.