On Nov. 23, 2015 the US State department issued a "World Wide Travel Alert" that will remain in effect until February 24, 2016. Due to recent terrorist attacks in varied locations, the State department is alerting the U.S. publc for the need of increased vigilance due to the likelihood of more potential attacks.
"U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places. Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events..."
This warning comes as we begin the busy holiday travel season and certainly is a cause for concern. Most travel agents know the busiest time of the year comes during the first quarter. We fondly refer to it as "wave season"...when everyone wants to wave good-by and head to the beach or board a cruise ship.
Despite much of the sensationalism and speculation broadcasted on every news platform, it is important to understand and keep these alerts in perspective. The objective of terrorism is to cause fear and terror. These attacks halt cities, economies and the lives of every day citizens. Yes, of course we need to be smart and keep our families safe, but we also need to continue with our lives and plans. If we cower, the bad guys have already won.
So what should you do if you have holiday travel plans or are looking forward to booking a vacation in the near future? What should you do?....
Keep the News in Perspective - If you're nervous about traveling abroad, bear in mind that the worst terrorism attack in recent history occurred within the United State. 9/11 resulted in over 3,000 deaths. Warnings for U.S. citizens to avoid public transportation and large gatherings should be the same here at home as it is anywhere else. The United States is part of the world community. Whether you take a vacation or stay home, there is always a threat that something bad can happen.
Check out this map from the British Foreign Office (counterpart to our State Department). According to their calculations, people here are at a higher risk than traveling to many of our most popular vacation destinations in the Caribbean and even Mexico! "The threat from terrorism is "high" for those countries in dark red, "general" for those in red, "underlying" for those in orange, and "low" for those in yellow." This too points out that it's just as risky to stay home here in the United States as it is to move forward with your travel plans in comparison to many spots on the map.
Stay Alert To the News - Stay informed. Keep current with recent events on social media, TV or print. ALWAYS check U.S. State Department bulletins, alerts rules and warnings before planning a trip to ANY destination. You can even follow them on facebook. Their Smart Traveler Program will help you in the know for any future trip you are planning with direct updates and tips straight from the local embassy in that country.
Allow Extra Airport Time - Increased security alerts = increased airport screening times. TSA agents will be even more diligent with their bag checks and screenings of all passengers. The GENERAL rule is for all passengers flying within the U.S. to be ready for departure at the gate ONE HOUR prior to take off. For International Flights, all passengers should be at their gate TWO hours prior to departure. Holiday travel means increased passengers and crowds so it is important to DOUBLE your gate arrival time and with increased security you should probably tack on an extra 30 minutes for good measure. This may sound extreme but the alternative means far more stress, waiting and aggravation, not to mention money and the entire loss of your trip. With all the holiday crowds you may NOT get availability on another flight to your destination.
The best way to speed the TSA security process along for yourself and fellow travelers is to be informed. Know the rules. Pack and dress accordingly and be prepared when it's your turn. If you and your family are frequent travelers you may want to consider applying and paying for Global Entry.
Register with STEP- The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling OUTSIDE of the United States to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Not only does it send you updates and alerts but it also is a way for the local U.S. Embassy to know your movements should anything happen during your trip and it can also make it easier for family back home to keep in contact with you in case of any emergency.
Buy Travel Insurance - Travel insurance usually costs less than 10% of the cost of your trip and gives you peace of mind. With threats of terrorism you want to be certain that if something happens you can cancel your travel plans without the worry of losing the total cost of your trip. Although it may cost a little more, Cancel For Any Reason allows you to do just that - you can cancel your trip, no questions asked and get a refund. Typical Travel insurance policies may have fine print rules in regard to terrorism. Refunds may depend on State Department status. Loopholes regarding "acts of war" or "acts of God" may prevent you from getting the refund you expected. READ and ask question the coverage terms of any policy so that you are fully informed. Repatriation is coverage that will help you get home should you need to evacuate quickly. These costs can quickly skyrocket so make sure you have this as part of your policy. You MUST purchase travel insurance at the time of deposit or within a few days of placing your deposits so do not procrastinate.
Be an EXTRA Smart Traveler -
- Trust your gut!
- Be EXTRA vigilant of your surroundings. If something seems "off" report it immediately to authorities.
- MAKE SURE you have a working international cell phone! - even if you have to pay for premium service.
- Upgrade to better accommodations, particularly a hotel with security for it's guests instead of opting for a cheaper or smaller place to stay.
- Take an escorted tour that offers a local guide who will accompany you throughout your entire trip. Guides can speak the local language and will be more in tune with local safety. Guided tour companies also have a wealth of local contacts that can be invaluable in times of emergency.
- Have a daily itinerary plan and direct message one trusted friend your daily schedule so they know your movements in the case of any emergency.
- Pack light so you can move quickly if necessary
- Try to blend with the locals as much as possible to avoid being a target.
- Have local currency in your pocket - this is may sound countrary when we say "avoid being a target" but in times of emergency, cash may be your only means to get food, water and shelter.
- KNOW how to call for Emergency Help in any foreign countries you plan to visit.
Even though we continually pray for peace, terrorists have always lived among us.
Whether they call themselves Nazis, The IRA or any other extremist flavor of the month, their mission is to spread their message by evil, fear and hate. Whether home or abroad we are never far from their threat.
Travel is not simply a vacation or luxury. It's a way to open our minds, hearts and eyes to new people, perspectives and situations. This is a path that leads to understanding and peace. Despite different cultures and traditions, we all want a better world for our children. Fear is not something we want our children to learn. My advice is to be alert, be aware but do not put your travel plans on hold.