What do you do if an international travel advisory is issued by the U.S. State Department for the destination you plan to visit, just before you’re scheduled to leave on a long-awaited overseas trip?
You’ve been planning your trip for months – maybe even years.
You’ve done the research and put together a great Europe itinerary.
You've set your budget and know it will cover you throughout your trip.
Air tickets are booked. Final tour payments made. You even researched and bought some travel insurance.
There’s nothing left to do but the packing.
Then you learn an overseas travel advisory has been issued for one of the countries you’re traveling to in less than two weeks. There are nightly riots and protests - cities you’ll be visiting are currently under curfew.
What do you do?
Do you go?
Or are you just not comfortable with the thought of violence in the streets...?
Sadly, you phone your tour company to cancel - just until things settle down. You don't anticipate a problem.
After all, the State Department issued the travel advisory, stating it’s potentially not safe to travel there.
But the tour company says 'no refund'. The group is going as planned, barring any further developments.
There may be minor changes to the local itinerary, but they feel conditions are not dangerous enough to warrant cancellation of the trip. They don't consider the current situation to be a threat to their passengers.
And since they don't plan to cancel, you don’t get a refund.
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So, how do you protect yourself and your money from this type of situation?
You do it by thoroughly reading and understanding the tour operator’s can-cellation policy prior to booking your trip - especially any information regarding overseas travel safety.
Tour company brochures, both online and printed, provide detailed itineraries, location descriptions, and sightseeing inclusions for their tours. But, perhaps more importantly, they also cover the international tour operator's Terms and Condi-tions, otherwise known as the fine print.
This is where they outline their procedures for cancellation and refund, including how the issuance of an overseas travel advisory is handled.
Whether it’s a natural disaster, street riots and demonstrations, or even a mega sporting event, if an overseas travel advisory is issued, tours are not automatic-ally cancelled.
Depending on the type and severity of the advisory, it's often the determination of the tour company as to whether to go or cancel.
By reading and understanding your tour company’s policy up front, you’ll know how the issuance of a travel advisory will affect your trip, along with the money you spend for it.
If you don’t fully understand the company's policy, or don't see it as part of the written tour materials, speak directly with a company representative and have them explain the procedures before you purchase your tour.
Always make sure you understand your rights and obligations before you make your final payment.
When a foreign travel advisory is issued for your overseas destination, first check the Department of State's website [www.travel.state.gov] to determine the type of advisory.
There are two types of advisories that can impact your overseas travel plans: an international Travel Warning or international Travel Alert.
International travel warnings carry the most weight. They recommend U.S. citizens should refrain from traveling to the country for which the advisory was issued due to political instability, social unrest, or a general lack of safety.
Current travel warnings indicate long-term conditions exist that can make the country unsafe. They also suggest any ability to assist U.S. travelers could be severely diminished - or even non-existent - due to potential U.S. embassy or consulate closings.
When an overseas advisory is a travel warning, tour companies cannot travel to that destination. They must either cancel the tour and refund your money, or reschedule the tour for a later time.
Most travel companies, including airlines, will work with their customers to create alternative travel plans. But they don’t have to issue a refund, unless your tour is actually cancelled.
Still, companies frequently do offer to refund, as a measure of good will.
They, too, suffer tremendous financial losses when travel warnings interrupt scheduled plans. Their goal is to hang onto your business and your money, if at all possible.
On the other hand, international travel alerts for Americans are more informa-tional in nature, like the one issued for Europe several years ago, as the result of a huge ash cloud that formed as a result of volcanic eruptions in Iceland.
While no one was harmed by the actual eruptions, travel to, from, and through Europe's northern air routes was disrupted for days. Planes were grounded, flights were cancelled, and scores of travelers were stranded.
This type of travel advisory is generally based on incoming data from foreign local governments concerning the potential lack of safety for U.S. citizens traveling in the area.
A travel alert is issued for a perceived threat, anticipated to be of short duration, but which could impact the security of U.S. citizens, even if they’re not the direct target.
Travel alerts for Americans have been issued for such things as government coups, disturbances related to local elections, communicable disease outbreaks, terrorist activities, even anniversaries of terrorist events.
A travel alert - while not specifically advising against travel - strongly suggests conditions are poor for traveling safely in that particular area for a period of time.
It also suggests the destination should remain of heightened concern for anyone choosing to visit there.
The State Department website is the surest source for quickly determining the nature of international travel advisories, as well as any possible impact they might have on your overseas trip.
Must-read information on the State Depart-ment website is for every American traveler, whether traveling to an unsafe destination or not. Of the most important is a universal travel advisory known as Worldwide Caution.
This dossier [continuously updated with current information] provides everything you need to know about ongoing threats of terrorism and violence against Americans and American interests throughout the world.
Primarily covering areas of the Middle East, North and East Africa, Central and South Asia, this comprehensive travel alert should be reviewed by travelers when planning any trip beyond American shores.
This issuance of a 'Worldwide Caution' ad-visory is a heads-up on the fragile state of world affairs regarding safety abroad, not just for Americans, but for freedom loving travelers around the world.
It reminds us that our world since 9/11 is a brave new world for travelers.
In a time of excitement and expectation before an international business trip or overseas vacation, reading and heading this sobering advice should help keep you grounded and focused, while remembering to travel safely.
A State Department travel advisory is the primary source for knowing the pulse of international travel safety for Americans abroad.
No matter where in the world you plan to travel, your first stop should be to check current international travel warnings and alerts and how they might affect your overseas trip.
Only then can you be aware of the potential problems that could threaten your travel, your personal safety, or possibly, even your life.
For more info on whether or not it's safe to travel, check the following pages:
Dealing With a Travel Emergency Overseas. How to 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.
Check out Country Specific Information with Background Notes for your destination when you begin your travel prep, and you’ll be ahead of the game.