What do you do if an international travel advisory is issued by the U.S. State Department for your destination, just before you’re scheduled to leave on a long awaited overseas trip?
You’ve been planning for months – maybe years.
You’ve done the research and put together a great European 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 a change 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 a threat to their passengers.
And since they don't plan to cancel, you don’t get a refund.
So, how do you protect yourself – and your money - from this type of situation?
By thoroughly reading and understanding the travel company’s cancellation policy prior to booking your trip, especially in the area of international travel safety.
Tour company brochures provide descriptions, itineraries, and inclusions for their tours. They also cover the international tour operator's Terms and Conditions - 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 and the money you spend for it.
If you don’t fully understand the company's policy, or don't see it as part of their 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 making your final payment.
When a foreign travel advisory is issued for your overseas destination, first check the Department of State's website [www.state.gov] to determine the type of ad-visory.
There are two types that can impact your overseas travel plans: an international Travel Warning or a Travel Alert.
International travel warnings carry the most weight. They recommend that U.S. citizens refrain from travel 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 make the country unsafe. They suggest the ability to assist U.S. travelers can be severely dimin-ished - or even non-existent - due to U.S. embassy or consulate closings.
When an overseas advisory is a travel warning, the tour company 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, 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 offer to refund, as a measure of good will.
Since they, too, suffer tremendous financial losses, their goal is to hang onto your business - and your money - if at all possible.
International travel alerts for Americans are more informational in nature, like the one issued for Europe in the Fall of 2010 [and beyond], due to the huge ash cloud that formed as a result of the volcanic eruptions in Iceland.
While no one was harmed by the actual eruptions, travel to, from, and through Europe's northern air routes were disrupted for days.
This type of overseas travel advisory is based on data received from foreign local governments regarding a potential lack of safety for U.S. citizens traveling in the area.
An international 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 perceived 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 those 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 listed on the State Department website for every American traveler - whether you're traveling to an unsafe destination or not - is the 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 a trip beyond American shores.
The issuance of a 'Worldwide Caution' ad-visory is a heads-up on the fragile state of world affairs regarding safety abroad - not only for Americans, but freedom loving travelers around the world.
It reminds us our world since 9/11 is a brave new world.
In a time of excitement and expectation before an international business trip or overseas vacation, this bit of sobering advice will add some realism to help you stay grounded and focused on your personal safety.
A State Department travel advisory is the best 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 effect your overseas trip.
Only then will you be aware of potential safety problems that could threaten your travel, your safety, or 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.