The State Department issued a worldwide travel alert Monday, cautioning of "increased terrorist threats" across the globe just as travel heats up for the holiday season. The alert will be in effect until Feb. 24, 2016.
What does this really mean for your upcoming trip, and should you still get on a plane? A few points, per the experts:
1. You don't have to cancel your trip if you don't want to.
Worldwide travel alerts have been issued a few times since May 2011, so this one isn't an extreme cause for worry, a State Department spokesperson told The Huffington Post. The department issues a different kind of warning when it wants you to consider "whether you should go to a country at all," according to its website, while alerts like Monday's news are for "short-term events... you should know about when planning travel." The alert does not suggest canceling travel plans.
2. But please, do some research before you leave.
In fact, do more research for an upcoming trip than you would for the average vacation: Read the worldwide travel alert, and then find the most recent State Department information for the particular country you're visiting. Jennifer Michaels, a vice president at the American Society of Travel Agents, recommends her clients sign up for the Bureau of Consular Affairs' Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to get safety alerts via email should anything happen in a country while they're visiting. Travel expert George Hobica also recommends brushing up on basic travel safety precautions before you go, like where to store money and keeping tech devices secure.
3. And be VERY vigilant during your stay.
The alert warns that "extremists have targeted large sporting events, theaters, open markets, and aviation services" in the past year. Travelers should take extra care to remain aware of their immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds, as well as monitor local media outlets when making travel plans, the alert says. Even if you don't speak the language native to the country you're visiting, many local media outlets have English-language versions. It's helpful to have the local embassy or consulate's phone number and address on hand in case you're caught in an emergency. And again, it's really a matter of following the basics, according to travel expert Rick Steves. "A travelers’ alert is a recommendation to be heads up in our travels, which is always wise," he told HuffPost.
4. And remember, staying safe has a lot to do with using common sense.
As perilous as times may seem, it's important to remember that the potential for harm is relatively low, Hobica adds. You're far more likely to become the target of a pickpocket than a major attack, so don't forgo the travel basics: "Watch your wallet, look both ways before crossing the street, and do not text while walking," he said. "Put things in perspective."
Michaels echoed this statement: “Don’t do anything on the road you wouldn’t do at home," she said. "Don’t feel you can walk alone at midnight in a foreign city, for example, when you would never consider doing that back at home. Use common sense."
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