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Firing Line: Essential Tips for Traveling Safely Through Europe

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Leisure travel is one of the best things about being stationed overseas. However, given the current threat situation in Europe, we have to reassess how we do that and still manage to relax and enjoy ourselves.

In light of the recent attacks in Brussels, I want to share with you our family's travel preparedness plan.  It is not my intention to frighten anyone, but only to encourage you to be prepared in a worst-case scenario if you were ever to become involved in an incident or separated while traveling. For the most part, I believe you can adapt some of these tips for domestic travel as well.

We have a son who is only 14, but has had a cellphone since he was 10.  We have never once regretted empowering him this way.  Now, living overseas, his cellphone has an international SIM card.  He has family numbers and local friends’ contact information stored in that phone. He can call anyone anywhere immediately.

Wherever we travel, we make sure the phone number of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate is added to his contact list, along with the accompanying address.

These agencies can coordinate any help he might need if he was to become separated from us.

He carries a small backpack with his passport, his military ID card, U.S. dollars and local currency, his cellphone and charger, along with a change of clothes.

After a trip to London recently, we added a headlamp and extra batteries to the contents.  I could not imagine having to navigate an underground train track in the dark if an incident were to occur.

We leave our personal contact information and our flight, hotel and travel itinerary with our local friends. They also have a key to our house along with information on how to contact our family stateside.

If flying to a destination is part of our itinerary, I make sure no one wears flip-flops or removes their shoes on the plane.  If there was an in-flight incident, most likely it would involve fire.  Trying to escape to safety over molten metal would be difficult and painful. Keep your shoes on!

We “blend.” Meaning:  We try very hard to not stand out as Americans. Logo wear, team sport apparel, and camo gear stay at home.  NO CAMO! Hopefully, this reduces the risk of inadvertently drawing attention by our personal appearance.

While we enjoy social media as much as anyone else and love sharing our adventures with our family and friends, we resist the temptation to post any location data until after we have completed the day or event.  This includes making sure security settings on our mobile phones are locked down. Just remember, “no “checking in” until you’ve “checked out.”

We research the risk of existing or potential threats at and around our destination.  We don’t go anywhere that may be at risk.

We RELAX. The likelihood of any attack is actually quite small.  Having a plan and identifying our own vulnerability BEFORE we depart is key.

Finally, be sure to utilize the U.S. State Department website to identify current security threats at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings.html   and register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at http://step.state.gov/step .  STEP allows you to receive security alerts from the State Department while traveling.

Also, remember to be smart and vigilant.  If you do see something, say something. U.S. Army Europe has a free app named iReport.  Just download it and fill in the blanks.

Author:  Jill Sanders Crider is a former Soldier, Army Brat, DA Civilian Employee and Army Wife of 26 years.  She has worked as the Installation Volunteer Coordinator for three Army installations, a master trainer for the Army Family Team Building program, served as the lead facilitator for 3 Department of Army Headquarters, Army Family Action Program conferences.  She most recently served as the Senior FRG Advisor to the First Brigade, Heavy Brigade Combat Team of the Third Infantry Division of Fort Stewart, Georgia.  She is also a graduate of the Master Resiliency Training course for Family members.