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Safety Issues – Country Politics and Natural Disasters

    A mother and her thirteen year old daughter were looking forward to their trip to England and Paris. They'd planned a fun itinerary to see the sights of London, Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon, then take the high speed train to Paris. Their flight arrived in London the afternoon of July 7, 2005 – the same day four bombs blew up in the subway and on a public bus.
Unaware that anything was amiss when they landed, the mother first discovered the Heathrow Express into London was cancelled. So she grabbed a taxi into the city. Riding in the taxi, the driver told her the news about the bombs. This was not the planned introduction for her daughter's first trip to England, but as the mother said, "Driving into London, I had forty minutes to find out what was going on, and think about how to keep my daughter safe."
    After checking into their hotel in London, the mother and daughter went out on the streets to look for a snack. Most shops were closed, or about to close. They quickly bought some yogurt and drinks (so at least they wouldn't be hungry), but also found a restaurant that was open, but not for long. It was early for dinner, but the mother wisely recommended they have a bite to eat. Then returned to their hotel, revived and ready to plan the next day.
Having visited London previously, the mother felt that they could go ahead with their visit, but modified where they went in the city. The first day, she and her daughter got on a big red double-decker sightseeing tour bus, one that does a circle loop around the city. That went well, so they also just walked a lot, avoided the subway lines that were affected, and stayed away from sights such as the British Museum, which was close to one bomb location. Their first day in London was memorable, for a variety of reasons.
    The tsunami that devastated Thailand or terrorism in Boston are reminders that even "safe" destinations can be quite the opposite. Every family has a different tolerance for uncertainty. No one wants to put a family in harm's way. If something comes up that could affect your trip as planned, get all the information available, then decide what is appropriate for your family.
      To get timely information about the situation in a country, consult the Consular Information, issued by the State Department.
      The Consular Affairs publishes consular information sheets on every country in the world, and also issues warnings or public announcements. "Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid a certain country." Some announcements are temporary, e.g. a hurricane is headed towards the Bahamas, or there has just been an earthquake in Athens. Others are long term warnings for areas of unrest, such as Colombia.
      The consular information pages also include information about medical care, crime information, and any travel restrictions (e.g. travel to Kashmir in India is restricted). This information is useful, but some statements may be alarming. Be informed, but don't panic.
  And you know your family best. If you want to travel to a certain country, but your family isn't very experienced with travel abroad, consider signing up for a family tour, so you can travel with peace of mind.
  When you arrive in a country, you can register with your embassy. At the embassy, you present your passports and let them know your proposed itinerary in the country. If any should happen, the embassy has an official record of who you are and where you planned to go. When I've registered with our embassy, it's given me confidence that we aren't just unidentified flying tourists, passing through.
  The news can be unsettling, but we always have plans to travel. It may be less convenient, but every effort is being made to ensure that all travelers return from their trips, happy to have gone to marvelous places, and happy to be home.
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