A new year, new U.S .presidency, and new travel concerns. It’s no secret 2017 has ushered in new and uncertain times. A couple of weeks ago, when our president (yeah, I’m in still in shock too) issued the first travel ban against immigrants, many fellow travelers expressed concern and even panic. With an upcoming trip to Cuba and Iceland, many people hit me up inquiring about my thoughts on traveling abroad. Am I going to cancel? Is it safe? Am I afraid of experiencing any anti-American sentiment when traveling abroad? Well, yes and no. There will always be a fear that something could happen when I crossover into international territory, but it’s no greater than the fear I experience when I drive to work every day. Looking at the data and statistics, I probably have a greater chance of being killed in a mass shooting at my local shopping mall or movie theater, than being killed in a terrorist attack abroad. So what will I do? How will I proceed? I plan to do exactly what I’ve always done: be aware, stay informed, and practice common sense. While others are hesitant, I plan to continue to live. And there is absolutely no judgment towards those that choose to pull back on their travel experiences. At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you and your comfort level. Hopefully, the following tips can help guide you in your decision making and ease your fears when it comes to traveling abroad.
1. Enroll in the STEP program
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. As a participant, you can receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, allowing you make informed decisions about your travel plans. Participation can also help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. And you can also help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
2. Travel alerts/warnings
The U.S. State Department issues travel warning and alerts and updates information on their website regularly. This site is helpful in guiding your destination choices. A travel warning is often long term and in place until the situation resolves itself. A travel warning can include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks. A travel alert is short term and usually related to an election season or a health alert, such as an influenza outbreak.
3. Turn off the Television
Stay informed, but don’t become obsessed. I am a firm believer that the very thing we focus on the most shapes our reality. Constantly watching the same negative news reports over and over again only reinforces the very thing you want to avoid. It incites and fuels fear. If I governed my life based on the news, I’d never leave my house…and I’m just talking about the “local” news. Be aware of what’s going on around you, but don’t let it overwhelm you or take hostage of your life. There is always the risk that something can happen. It can happen abroad or right in your own back yard. Life is risky, live anyway.
Communicate your travel plans to your family. Provide them with a copy of your itinerary, flight/lodging information, excursion information, and copy of your passport. While I’m a proponent of remaining unplugged and disconnected when traveling, it’s a good a do to check-ins, through social media. If something happens, your loved ones will have a time line and information on your last known location.
4. Roadtrips/Domestic travel
If you’ve decided that traveling abroad isn’t for you right now, it doesn’t mean you have to stay grounded. There are a plethora of things you can do right here on U.S. soil. Take a road trip and visit some of those landmarks that remain unchecked on your bucket list. Spend a weekend in New York and catch a Broadway play. Consider catching a flight deal and attending a music or film festival in a city you’ve never been visited before. The possibilities really are endless. Last summer, I launched the Tourist in My Town campaign. This campaign provides tips on how to take advantage of the tourism opportunities right in your own backyard. If you didn’t participate last summer, this is the perfect time to put it into practice.
Safe travels and wishing you the best in 2017!