What If You Are Abroad During an Attack?

“Our feelings of safety are relative, not absolute.
They have everything to do with our history,
our surroundings, our anxiety levels,
our worldviews.”
— Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark



With the explosions in Brussels this week we are once again feeling the down-side of what it means to be a global community. We feel an attachment to the humans whose daily lives have been upended and agonize with those who have lost loved ones. It is tempting to hold back from planning travel on the assumption that staying home is the safest way to live. But then we realize that we are all much more likely to die in an auto accident or even to be struck by lightning than we are to be injured in a terrorist attack. No place is entirely safe; we just keep the “at home” monsters at bay by living with them.

But what if you are abroad when an attack happens? There are several things you can do for safety and peace of mind (your own and others’) in that situation. Many of these are “best practices” for any international trip. With gratitude to Cynthia Drescher, I offer these suggestions.

Before any trip — Register your travel plans in advance on the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so that they will know where you plan to be.  If an attack should happen, use the US Embassy website to find the details of the closest embassy.

Be sure that you have international calling and data use plans on your cell phone. You might already have such an option built into your plan, or you can add it for the duration of your trip. Another option is to get a local phone when you arrive. If there is a crisis you can call emergency services or friends and family. You will also have easy access to your travel insurance company and travel agent for help in revising your travel plans if necessary.

Memorize your passport number.

Memorize your passport number.

Be sure to have multiple copies of your planned itinerary and contact numbers for your airline or hotels in case you need to make changes on very short notice.

Memorize your passport number.

If a crisis occurs where you are

Use Facebook’s Safety Check feature to instantly inform friends and family of your safety and particular location. (Yes, I was in Brussels last week but I’m in Switzerland today.) Facebook will even prompt you to “mark yourself safe” the next time you sign on if it “knows” through geolocation that you are near a crisis site.

Check the U.S. State Department’s Alerts and Warnings website for details and updates for foreign travelers in your location.

Remember that everyone else in the area will be stressed and disoriented too. Be a good neighbor if you have the resources (emotional, financial, human) to help individuals or communities to recover. If that feels like too much to ask, just be generous and understanding in all your dealings.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

24 March 2016

About Travel Unites

A travel agent since 1994, I want people to get together for greater understanding across boundaries.
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