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What if there’s an attack while you’re traveling abroad? Plan ahead with STEP


The world has seen some significant changes over the last few years and there’s likely more to come. Weather instability. Civil unrest. Terrorism. War.

During that same time, my sweet little girl (ok, she’s 27, now but that matters not) and I planned our trip to Europe.  It was a research trip for her thesis, but a trip to Europe nonetheless.  Every time something new and scary happened somewhere on that side of the world, I had a teeny weeny panic attack. So many “what ifs” played out in my mind and just as many reasons emerged to cancel the whole thing because I was scared.

Neither of us had been abroad before and as the mom, I was responsible for safe travel and lodging for both of us.  Of course this was not unlike how I have been responsible for her safety and well-being her entire life, but this seemed different. So many things would be out of my control. Mostly because we wouldn’t be on our home field. We didn’t speak many of the languages of the places we’d be visiting. We wouldn’t be near any friends or family.   Heck, I didn’t even know what Euros looked like or how to use the rail systems.

The one thing I finally came to terms with was that just maybe my fears were ever so slightly…the smallest bit…just a little…irrational. What!? Yes, irrational. Fine.  I asked myself what were some of the worst things that could happen?  An earthquake? A terrorist attack? Maybe I’d lose my passport or someone would steal all of our money and credit cards. Then what? Well, I’d contact the United States Embassy in whatever country we were in.

smart traveler

Yes, what you’ve always heard is true. The embassy is the best way to go.  And, as it turns out, there’s a way to stay connected with the Embassies before you even leave your garage to head to the airport. It’s called STEP.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided by the US Government to US citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency. STEP also allows Americans residing abroad to get routine information from the nearest US embassy or consulate.

First, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) helps you stay informed.

Sign up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (formerly known as “Travel Registration” or “Registration with Embassies”) to receive the latest travel updates and information!STEP enroll

When you sign up, you will automatically receive the most current information they compile about the country where you will be traveling or living. You will also receive updates, including Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts (where appropriate). You only need to sign up once, and then you can add and delete trips from your account based on your current travel plans.Next, STEP helps you stay connected.

By registering your itinerary with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, they will be able to assist you better in the case of an emergency, such as if you lose your passport or it is stolen while you are abroad.

They also assist U.S. citizens in other emergencies, such as in natural disasters. For example, after the earthquake in Haiti, they evacuated over 16,700 U.S. citizens and family members. During the civil unrest in Lebanon in 2006 they assisted nearly 15,000 U.S. citizens and family members, and in 2004 helped thousands more during the tsunami.

The travel and contact information you enter into our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program will make it easier for consular officers in U.S. 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 U.S. are having problems trying to contact you with important news.

Finally, STEP helps you to stay safe.

A well-informed traveler is a safer traveler. Consular officers around the world compile country-specific information, travel alerts and warnings, fact sheets and emergency messages to provide you with timely and accurate travel information about every country where you may travel.

This includes reports on possible risks and security threats so that you can make informed decisions about your travel plans and activities.

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

Before you say anything, yes, I totally understand the whole “big brother” thing. You might not want the government knowing exactly where you’ll be each day of your vacation. It’s none of their business, right?  True.  And they’ll know what country you’re in where ever your passport is scanned. But without STEP, that’s all they’ll know. France, for example, is a huge country. Italy is a big country. Going to Asia? You’re a needle in a 4.5 billion person haystack.  It’ll be hard to find you quickly in an emergency.

It’s a personal preference, but I’ll give up some of my privacy to upgrade my safety and security for a couple of weeks.

It didn’t take long to enter our itinerary and I felt better instantly. I turned all the worrying about that stuff over to them – that’s their job anyway, right? Now I can focus on more important things like what the heck is VAT, where’s the best gelato, and what day is it that we can stand for hours in the heat with thousands of our new best friends to see the Pope for a minute?

Those, my friends, are legitimate concerns. Totally.