Face it. No matter where you travel, you are at risk. If the news headlines over this past year haven’t yet convinced you of that fact, you are in denial and you don’t need to read any further.
We used to be able to look at a global map and stroke red ink through the areas of high risk or danger in a few seconds. No longer. Now, we see more red than blue or yellow. If we were thoroughly practical, we would just hunker down, let the rest of the world go by, and take comfort in our isolation. Except that isolation doesn’t work either.
We won’t give up travel. We can’t. But we can make it safer and minimize our inconvenience if and when we do run into trouble abroad. Here’s how.
Make sure you have private travel insurance, which not only covers the cost of emergency medical and hospital expenses in foreign countries, but reimburses you for lost luggage; deposits and fees you have already paid for events, tours, and resorts; missed connections; and other non-refundable costs of travel.
Take advantage of the government travel registration programs that both the US and Canada have set up to keep you connected to your home base if you are suddenly cut off by circumstances that were not part of your travel plans—like acts of terrorism, civil disruption, hijacking, war, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or hurricanes.
What would you had done if you were in Nepal a few weeks ago without a working cell phone; or in the wrong part of Ukraine when the Russians visited; or in Mexico, kidnapped in your RV, halfway between Acapulco and Guadalajara? It happens.
Citizens and resident nationals of the US can sign up for the STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), in which you can create your own individual “account” to receive travel alerts, advisories, evacuation coordination, even news from home. And even if you’re not travelling but just planning to, you can monitor events in countries overseas that you may be visiting.
The travel and contact information you enter into STEP allows consular officers in US embassies and consulates around the world to contact you and your loved ones during an emergency—including situations where your family or friends in the US are having problems trying to contact you with important news.
You can enroll online. It’s simple, it’s free, and all of your personal information is kept secure under US privacy laws.
Canadian citizens can enroll in the Registration of Canadians Abroad (ROCA), a free service offered by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada that keeps Canadians connected in case of an emergency abroad, such as an earthquake, civil unrest, or an emergency at home.
Sign up is available in person or online. It takes only a few minutes and can cover you for a single vacation trip, or for an extended period if you’re living abroad. A word of warning: ROCA is available only for Canadian citizens, not for Permanent Residents, who are advised to contact their country’s nearest consular office to determine if it has a similar registration program in place.
For citizens who choose not to enroll in ROCA, DFATD recommends that travellers:
- Leave a detailed travel itinerary and contact details with family or friends in Canada
- Provide family or friends with the telephone number for our Emergency Watch and Response Centre, and
- Carry contact information for the Canadian government offices abroad in the countries you plan to visit.
DFATD does not charge a fee for this service and will only contact you in case of an emergency, or if you ask to receive messages upon arrival at your destination. Please note that your mobile carrier may charge a fee for roaming outside of Canada and/or for incoming text messages. Check with your mobile carrier for information on how this might affect you.
An exception to the exception: ROCA is available to citizens of Australia, Israel, and Jamaica—but only for travel to certain countries. That service is very limited, so don’t count on it very much.