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Safe Travel Tips from the U.S. State Department
"Safe travels"...at every goodbye these days, it seems, it's the same benediction. Beyond wishing each other well, what else can travelers do to play it safe in the air and in other countries? How can travelers overcome their reluctance to get back on the horse...or the plane? The U.S. State Department offers these tips on traveling safely to other countries.
Before you leave...
- Read the consular information sheet for your destination country, which describes local conditions travelers can expect. Find out about any travel warnings or pertinent public announcements in case there are any perceived threats targeting U.S. citizens.
- Learn as much as you can about the local laws and customs of your destination by through your local library, travel agents, and the Internet. When traveling, you will be under foreign jurisdiction and not protected by the U.S. Constitution.
- Make two photocopies each of your passport identification page, airline tickets, driver's license or state ID, traveler's checks serial numbers, and credit cards. Bring one copy with you, packed in an area separate from your originals, and leave the other at home with a friend, relative, or coworker. Carry an extra set of passport photos to expedite the replacement process if your passport is lost or stolen.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with your family, friends, or coworkers in case they need to contact you in an emergency.
- Bring a list of prescriptions you are taking, along with the actual prescriptions and generic names of the drugs. If you're taking medication that could be considered a narcotic, check the legality of the drug with a consular official and get a letter from your doctor stating your medical necessity. In some Middle Eastern countries, certain tranquilizers and amphetamines are illegal and possession can result in arrest.
- Schedule direct flights to cut down on time spent taking off and landing - historically the most unsafe part of flying. If you must take a connecting flight, avoid stops in high-risk airports or areas. If you feel uncomfortable flying to a particular destination, consider an alternative form of travel, such as trains.
- Travel light. Follow airline restrictions on baggage and be sure you can easily carry your belongings without help. Try to keep one hand free in case of emergency.
- Minimize your time in the public areas of airports. Move as quickly as possible from the ticket counter to the secure waiting area near your departure gate. Leave the airport as soon as possible on arrival.
If you plan to stay in a foreign country for more than two weeks, travel to a remote area, or visit a country or area the State Department has deemed "high-risk," register with the local U.S. Consulate or embassy upon arrival. This way it will be easier to replace your passport or evacuate you in case of emergency.
When you get there...
- You are subject to the laws of the countries you visit and are not protected by the U.S. Constitution outside the United States. If you get into legal trouble, contact a consular officer immediately.
Dress conservatively to avoid being a target for pickpockets and other unsavory types. Over-the-top haute couture or super-casual jeans and a tee shirt can mark you as a tourist.
- Minimize the valuables you carry. Instead of cash, use credit cards and traveler's checks. However, keep enough cash on you for a cab ride back to the hotel, embassy, or consulate in case you get lost or in trouble. Lock your passport in your hotel's safe (don't leave anything valuable in your room) and carry a copy of the passport information page with you. If you have to carry your valuables, the safest place is in a money belt or pouch worn under your clothing.
- Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest, with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse snatching.
- Walk purposely, and act like you know where you are going - even when you are lost. When possible, only ask directions from individuals in authority (police and military officers, hotel concierges, etc.).
- Learn a few phrases in the local language, or carry a phrase book with you in case you need to signal for help. Make a note of emergency telephone numbers, including your hotel, the nearest embassy or consulate, and the local police department.
- Be conscious of what topics you discuss with strangers - you could expose yourself as a target for crime or terrorism.
- Take photographs - but be careful. In many countries you can be harassed or detained for taking pictures of government facilities or military installations. When in doubt, ask permission before snapping a picture.
When you leave...
- Have all receipts for exported goods ready and in order. Travelers have been arrested for purchasing souvenirs that could be antiques or national treasures. Document your purchases, and secure the necessary permits if you are removing an authentic item from the country.
- Change your money. Some countries don't allow travelers national currency beyond local borders. Check with your hotel concierge or the airport's currency exchange clerk for more information.
- Be courteous. Answer customs and security officers' questions honestly and be patient with long waits. After all, those specialists have a job to do, and part of it is keeping you and other travelers safe.
- Compiled by Regina M. Robo, Salary.com contributor
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