People who travel don’t always do it by choice. That’s pretty easy to forget when you’re the person who’s whispering “we need to go there” during a movie — and it’s “Argo.” (Guilty.)
The thought of traveling outside of the protection of U.S. laws and customs is daunting for a lot of people, never more so than when it’s involuntary and to a place that has had some recent trouble.
So how can it be less stressful? It’s a question that turned from academic into reality recently when my brother was assigned to a two-week business trip to Cairo, Egypt.
He sent me his itinerary without comment. While I thought he was rubbing it in (I mentioned he’s my older brother, right?), I found out later that he wanted me to have it, he said, because I might know what to do if he needed help “getting out.”
Huh — never even occurred to me, even though unrest in Tahrir Square has been ebbing and flowing for more than a year. Pair global politics with the fact that he’s not a traveler by nature, and his less-than-joyful response becomes more understandable — a little, anyway.
Rely on Big Brother
If you have to travel somewhere that makes your head woozy, remember: Information eases anxiety.
At the minimum, write down the address and phone number of the U.S. embassy or consulate closest to your destination.
The State Department’s excellent website for travelers (https://travel.state.gov) has fact sheets on every country, most of them with extensive background on culture, crime trends and specific risks to American travelers, women, GLBT and others. It also has travel alerts and warnings for hotspots. You can register at the site, if you like, so the government knows you’re headed out of the country.
The agency also has an excellent smartphone app called SmartTraveler. It puts useful facts about every country on the planet in your pocket, including background information and travel alerts mentioned above, maps, embassy addresses and contact info, road and aviation safety, medical facilities, criminal penalties for lawbreakers and lots more. I was more than impressed with this app — and it’s free. It also provides direct links to State Department Twitter and Facebook feeds, which proved useful for travelers caught up the Japanese earthquakes and other recent crises.