How Do You Know If It's
Safe To Travel?

The last thing you want to think about when planning an overseas trip is: is it safe to travel?  Especially if your international destination is one you're familiar with.

Maybe you've traveled there before. Or you've studied and read about it for years.

Perhaps, it's not too far from home. Or you know the standard of daily life is similar to your own.

How can it not be safe to travel there?

Unsafe is all those other places you don't know much about.

Chances are, depending on where you plan to travel [and especially if heading to Europe] there's little need to ask if it's safe to travel.

Even if you're not much of a gambler, the odds are in your favor it probably is.

Windmills on the Dutch Dikes

But traveling overseas, especially if you're new to international travel, can often lead to finding yourself in unsafe, even threatening situations in any country of the world. Even seasoned travelers can be victims of crime and violence.

Pickpockets. Car thieves. Hotel burglars. On-street scams. As an international traveler, you're easy prey - and easy to spot.

You're tired. You're stressed. You're in unfamiliar territory. Your guard may be up, but your mind is distracted. You've become an easy target.

And these are the minor possibilities.

Worse...remember the subway bombings in England and Spain in the not too distant past? Or the political violence in Northern Ireland that seemed to never end?

How about the bombing at Italy's Uffizi Gallery, or the nightly riots in France, long before the more recent horrors in Paris?

Not only do tourists walk the streets, visit museums, and ride mass transit. So do the people who live there.

And perpetrators of violence don't care whether you're a local or a visitor. Their goal is disruption and destruction.

Safety threats exist in every city and every country around the globe. It's up to you to understand whether or not it's safe to travel in your destination and to create a solid plan for your own travel safety.

For U.S. citizens, the most valuable resource for determining if the destination you choose to visit is safe to travel can be found in the extensive international travel information provided by the U.S. Department of State.

With over 250 U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide overseen by this agency, there's no better finger on the pulse of travel safety abroad than these entities, who field calls from distressed American citizens overseas on a daily basis.

Is It Safe to Travel? The DOS Knows

Alleyway on a Rainy Day in Germany

If you're a traveler with some degree of international savvy, you know any country in any kind of social or political upheaval should not be considered as safe to travel, when planning your overseas trip.

Unless you're either blindly adven-turous, or willing to subject your-self to personal risk and harm, choosing an overseas destination known to be volatile or unsafe should be a non-starter.

Risk-adverse travelers, trying to rationalize their desires to visit a potentially unsafe destination, will frequently discount or completely ignore a government issued travel advisory as being overstated.

Instead, they choose to depend on guidebooks, travel agents, or fellow travelers, who may take a more laissez faire attitude toward international travel safety.

But they do so at their own peril. And often with hazardous results.

While even the best travel guides and travel agents serve vital roles in helping you plan your international trip, the underlying goal for them is marketing. Not safety.

Their job is to provide positive, non-threatening information and make the sale.

For published guidebooks, the issues of time sensitive travel hazards, political problems, or safety issues are completely out of context due to their publishing dates being far removed from their reader's travel times.

Travel agents - though they have access to sensitive information - may fail to disclose these resources when providing destination material to their clients. 

Whether online or storefront, many travel agents [depending on their level of knowledge and expertise] may not even be trained in the specifics of international travel safety.

And if you choose to rely on your friends for your travel safety information, you'll probably also be happy being your own lawyer!

It's up to each overseas traveler to assess safety and risk and decide if situations exist that could bring harm to yourself and your companions, when you travel.

For most of us, knowing it's safe to travel should be as important as any informa-tion we gather, when making plans to travel overseas.

The U.S. State Department has multiple agencies and materials that offer current travel safety information for most countries of the world.

From medical issues to violence and crime, from severe weather to terrorist activity or threats, you can access specific travel safety information to help you make informed travel decisions.

Perhaps, the most vital information offered by the Department of State includes international travel advisories, known as Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings about overseas destinations.

By reading these advisories, you can learn if it's safe to travel to your destination, if precaution is needed, or whether you should choose a different place to travel overseas.

Inside the Tower of London

You can also find information for what to do and where to turn in the case of a travel emergency.

The Department of State maintains agencies abroad that can assist American travelers with serious issues like a critical health emergency, an overseas death, the loss of a passport or funds, or if you're the victim of crime.

You can contact these agencies for help when you're overseas, if you know which services are available to you, and who to reach out to for help. 

So before you travel, check the DOS website and familiarize yourself with the benefits available to U.S. citizens when traveling to international destinations.

How To Find Specific Travel Safety Information

Once you leave the United States, you're no longer under the protection of U.S. law, but subject to the laws and customs of the country you're traveling in.

It's to your advantage to familiarize yourself with these laws and customs, as well as understand how the history, geography, and social structure of your destina-tion could impact your ability to travel safely.

This kind of international travel information is available for American travelers in State Department dossiers called Consular Sheets, also known as Country Specific Information.

Offered free of charge by the DOS's Bureau of Consular Affairs, these dossiers are available for every country of the world.

They cover such topics as political disturbances, locations of U.S. embassies and consulates, unusual immigration issues, medical conditions, currency, and entry regulations, as well as necessary precautions for crime, drug, and safety issues, while traveling in country.

The Cloister at St Jeronimo Monastery

You'll also find locations for medical facilities, penalties for breaking local laws, even the condition of local roads.

For overseas travelers who want to be sure it's safe to travel, collect this infor-mation early on when researching and planning your overseas trip.

Make a record of local phone numbers and street addresses you might need, as well as contact email addresses and keep them with your travel documents for easy access when traveling.

Knowing in advance that it's safe to travel not only makes you a smart traveler, it empowers you in the event you need to make a quick decision or seek emergency help for an unexpected situation overseas. 

Learn how you can reach a friendly, helpful human through an embassy, consu-late, or other U.S. agency located in or near your overseas destination.

Knowing the kinds of international travel safety assistance that are available could save you precious time and trauma, if you find yourself in trouble and need help while traveling abroad.

More importantly, you'll have a lifeline to help and home, if - or when - your safety overseas is threatened.

For more information on whether it's safe to travel, check the following pages:

How Does a Travel Advisory Affect Your Trip? Learn the difference between a Travel Advisory, a Travel Alert, and a Travel Warning.

Dealing With a Travel Emergency Overseas. How do you find the help you need, when you can't help yourself?

U S Embassies and Consulates are just a phone call away when you're overseas. They're your lifeline to home if you're hurt, sick, or in trouble.

Use Country Specific Information and Background Notes when you begin your travel prep, and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Travel Tip

The U.S. Department of State is the principal source of security and travel safety information for American citizens traveling abroad. While their func-tion is not to prohibit citizens from traveling wherever they choose, their goal is to provide information for any potential safety risk in specific areas and in particular times.

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