But what should people do if they hear that the threat level is elevated, particularly for international travel?
When vague warnings were issued late in 2010 about potential terrorist attacks in Europe, travelers generally carried on as usual. Europe is a big place, some reasoned, and the risk to any one individual seemed rather low.
“U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling,” the U.S. State Department said.
That’s probably good advice to follow anytime. Regardless of the threat level, here are some common-sense precautions that all Americans should take when traveling abroad:
- Register with the U.S. State Department. It allows you to record your trip information so the government can help you and your family in case of an emergency.
- Stay vigilant and keep your eyes open: pay closer attention to public areas that do not have a large amount of formal security.
- Beware of unattended packages and loud noises: and move away quickly if anything unusual begins to occur.
- Do not dress in a way that could mark you as an affluent tourist. Expensive-looking jewelry, for instance, can draw the wrong attention.
- When attending a meeting, don’t wear your badge outside the hotel or convention center since it identifies you as a visitor and a potential target for crime.
- Always try to travel light. You can move more quickly and will be more likely to have a free hand. You will also be less tired and less likely to set your luggage down, leaving it unattended.
- Carry the minimum number of valuables, and plan places to conceal them. Your passport, cash and credit cards are most secure when locked in a hotel safe.
- When you have to carry valuables, put them each in a different place rather than all in one wallet or pouch. Avoid handbags, fanny packs and outside pockets that are easy targets for thieves. Inside pockets and a sturdy shoulder bag with the strap worn across your chest are somewhat safer. One of the safest places to carry valuables is in a pouch or money belt worn under your clothing.
- If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair. Pack them and any medicines you need in your carry-on luggage.
- To avoid problems when passing through customs, keep medicines in their original, labeled containers. Bring copies of your prescriptions and the generic names for the drugs. If a medication is unusual or contains narcotics, carry a letter from your doctor attesting to your need to take the drug. If you have any doubt about the legality of carrying a certain drug into a country, consult the embassy or consulate of that country before you travel.
- Bring travelers’ checks and one or two major credit cards instead of cash. Leave a copy of the serial numbers of your travelers’ checks with a friend or relative at home. Carry your copy with you in a separate place and, as you cash the checks, cross them off the list.
- Pack an extra set of passport photos along with a photocopy of your passport’s information page to make replacement of your passport easier in the event it is lost or stolen. Also make two photocopies of your passport identification page, airline tickets, driver’s license and the credit cards that you plan to bring with you. Leave one photocopy of this data with family or friends at home; pack the other in a place separate from where you carry the originals.
- Put your name, address and telephone numbers inside and outside of each piece of luggage. Use covered luggage tags to avoid casual observation of your identity or nationality. If possible, lock your luggage.
- Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home in case they need to contact you in an emergency.
- When you leave the United States, you are subject to the laws of the country you are visiting. Learn as much as you can about the local laws and customs of the places you plan to visit. Check with embassies, consulates or tourist bureaus of the countries you will visit.
- Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
- Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments.
- Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
- Avoid scam artists by being wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell you something at bargain prices.
- Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings. Beware of unmarked cabs.