How to stay safe when you’re traveling abroad

The empty beach next to the famed Promenade des Anglais, scene of the truck attack, in Nice, France, on Thursday.
The empty beach next to the famed Promenade des Anglais, scene of the truck attack, in Nice, France, on Thursday. AP

For travelers, the most recent tragic terrorism attacks in Nice, Istanbul and Paris might be especially unsettling. And that, say experts, is the idea.

And incidents are likely to continue, says Bruce McIndoe, CEO of, a travel risk assessment firm. The U.S. Department of State has in effect a worldwide travel caution. In May, it issued an alert warning of “potential terrorist attacks throughout Europe, targeting major events, tourist sites, restaurants, commercial centers and transportation.”

Still, the probability of an attack is relatively low, points out McIndoe. Chances are 1 in about 12 million of being injured in a terrorist attack, he says — far lower than the risk of being struck by lightning.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. “It’s like winning the lottery,” McIndoe says. “The probability is low, but the emotional impact is high.”

Whether you decide to stay home or venture abroad is a highly personal decision, says travel safety expert Kevin Coffey, a retired Los Angeles police detective.

Before you make that choice, Coffey recommends checking the travel safety advisories issued by the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia. Why? Because politics sometimes figures into what advisories are issued.

Coffey and the U.S. also advise “what if” preparation. On the checklist:

▪ Make a list of emergency contact phone numbers and emails, and keep them handy. (Your smart phone is a good place for this.) Include phone numbers for the overseas contacts for your credit cards, in case your cards are stolen or lost.

▪ Carry a photocopy of your passport with your trip documents, separate from your actual passport. Scan a copy and send it to yourself via email or upload it to a cloud drive, like Google docs.

▪ Register your trip online with the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs via the STEP program. This will enable the U.S. government to send travel safety alerts that might arise during your trip. It also puts your emergency contact information in its database should something happen to you.

▪ Affix information for your emergency contact to the back of your driver license.

▪ Have a contingency plan in case you get separated from your group or family. Know where you will meet or tag in — such as your hotel or cruise ship — if something goes awry or you lose your phone.

▪ Carry a card from your hotel or keep the emergency contact information for your cruise ship where you can easily find it.

▪ If you have purchased a travel insurance policy, have the emergency information number readily available.

In general, say experts, travelers need to pack their normal sense of caution. Don’t get lax because you’re on vacation. Watch for people who might be crowding you too closely or causing a disruption to distract you (possible thieves), suitcases or bags left unattended (potential explosives), or people who are acting out of sync with the situation or setting at hand.

Most of all, says McIndoe, wear your seat belt and keep your eyes where you’re walking. The No. 1 cause of death for Americans abroad is traffic accidents. And though the statistics are not yet available, the number of people killed and injured because they’re looking at their phone instead of where they’re going is clearly on the rise.

Risks Abroad

Statistically speaking, terrorism falls low on the causes of death abroad, according to data from 2011-2013 reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

During that period, an estimated 2,466 U.S. citizens died abroad from non-natural causes, excluding soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here are the leading causes:

▪ Traffic accidents (25 percent)

▪ Homicide (23 percent)

▪ Suicide (16 percent)

▪ Drowning (13 percent)

Travel Advisories

▪ U.S. Department of State:

▪ Government of Canada:

▪ Government of the United Kingdom:

▪ Australian Government: