In the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, many governments have increased their travel advisories and security alerts. While the Department of Homeland Security has opted not to raise the nation's terrorist threat level, the U.S. Department of State has issued a worldwide alert for American travelers that is currently in effect through August 1.
That shouldn't stop anyone from traveling, but the following caveats apply now and in the future:
1. Leave your itinerary with friends or family.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but leaving an itinerary plus information on where you can be reached is enormously helpful locating you if an emergency situation occurs.
2. Register your trip with the U.S. State Department.
Now why would you want to do that? The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program actually has less to do with terrorism than it has to do with letting people know where you are -- or are supposed to be if you're in an auto accident, get arrested, or get injured. With that information they might actually be able to find you more easily, help evacuate you, point you to legal counsel, or connect you with other resources. Or, in a more likely scenario, if you simply lose your passport, the State Department can even issue replacement documents faster.
3. Don't just read U.S. State Department advisories.
Check to see what other countries are advising their citizens. While our State Department may issue an alert or a warning, other countries, especially the United Kingdom, may not -- or may have different, sometimes even better, updated information to help you make a decision. In general, I like the British Foreign Office advisories better, as they're often more comprehensive and have more detail.
4. Understand what travel insurance is and can and can't protect you.
There are many kinds of travel insurance, with the most common policy being trip cancellation/trip interruption. In situations where there may be civil unrest, terrorism or worse, where the events on the ground warrant an immediate evacuation, this is where the language in these trip cancellation policies is key.
Travel insurance kicks in when certain situations occur, but get ready for a parade of asterisks that might limit coverage. It goes without saying that you have to read the fine print, but my advice is also to pick up the phone to talk to a human being and pose specific scenarios to find out what's covered, and what's not.
Some important questions to ask:
- Is "terrorism" a covered benefit, and what is the definition of that? Some plans require that the event has to be named an "act of terrorism" by our State Department.
- Is "civil unrest" a covered benefit? (Often it's not.)
- Will you be covered in case of an event where the State Department has already issued a travel alert or warning in your destination? In most policies, once a scenario becomes a "forseeable event" it's not covered.
- Is there a window of time in which the insurance policy must be purchased after making your initial trip deposit?
- Most policies will not allow travelers to cancel out of fear of a terrorist attack or political unrest. There are some packages out there that allow you to cancel for any reason, but these are a) expensive, as much as 50 percent of your trip costs and b) filled with caveats, including when you buy the insurance, how far in advance you're allowed to cancel, and how much of your out-of-pocket costs are covered.
What precautions do you take when traveling to a potentially volatile country or in the wake of heightened security alerts?
- Going Overseas? Hotel Security Tips for American Travelers
- Never Stand in Line and Other Tips for Surviving Modern Air Travel
- 10 Great Sites for Business Travelers