by Nancy Bestor
The first time we traveled to a third world country (Thailand, 2003), Bob’s sweet Aunt printed out the US State Department warnings for Thailand and presented them to us. Among other things, the state department recommended against riding in tuk-tuks (the three-wheeled motorcycle taxis). While we blatantly ignored the tuk-tuk advice and lived to tell the tale, as first time “third-world” travelers, it was handy to have a list of safety concerns (that apparently we could promptly dismiss) while on the road with our young children.
Today, the State Department offers travelers the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP provides access to the latest travel information, warnings, and alerts for the country in which you will be traveling. Sign up and choose the countries you are interested in, and the State Department will send you an email whenever they update information about those countries. Enrolling in STEP can also help US citizens while traveling abroad. Now this was news to me. US consular officers can assist Americans with finding legal and medical assistance abroad, and can provide LOANS TO DESTITUTE AMERICANS. I wonder what the interest rate on those loans would be? I also wonder just how destitute a traveler would have to be? By enrolling in the STEP, it is also easier to get help abroad if your passport is lost or stolen.
Before Egypt started experiencing its recent political unrest, Bob and I were thinking about going to Cairo this coming fall. Out of curiosity, I pulled up the State Department’s information on Egypt. Not surprisingly, the warnings for Egypt discussed political unrest, complete with detailed info on recent problems and specifics on violence that has occurred. Egypt’s special circumstances of note also include warnings against photographing any Egyptian sites that can be broadly interpreted as military or “sensitive”. It also provides valuable information on health issues and medical facilities. I’m not an overly anxious traveler (as evidenced by ignoring the aforementioned tuk-tuk warnings), but it’s great to get a clear, concise and current picture of what is happening in a country when making plans to travel there.