Do you need a visa to travel to the countries on your bucket list? What vaccinations are required and/or recommended? If something occurs while you're traveling, how can friends and family connect with you?
While brainstorming the places you'd like to include on your bucket list and designing itineraries full of beautiful hotels and exhilarating adventures contribute to the fun and excitement of travel, making sure you're prepared prior to your departure and ensuring your safety during your travels are key elements that shouldn't be overlooked.
To learn about entry requirements (is a visa required? Do I need to obtain a visa before leaving the United States?) of a country along with the safety and security of the areas you intend to visit, travel.state.gov is my go-to resource . When deciding where to travel, it is always recommended to look up your destination of choice on this website prior to confirming your travel plans. While this information used to be a bit confusing, the U.S. State Department has recently updated their advisory system along with the formatting of the website. They’ve now transitioned to a simpler, tiered system for their travel advisories to relay important information on travel destinations as it applies to U.S. Citizens.
Previously, the State Department issued Travel Alerts (indicating short term risk from isolated incidents) and Travel Warnings (to advise of ongoing political issues or conflicts). Many travelers were often confused about the difference between the alerts and the warnings. It was sometimes difficult to understand if the government was simply sharing information that was good for travelers to know or if they were advising against travel to a certain area.
The new four-tiered system that was launched this year aims to eliminate this confusion. Each level will indicate a level of situational awareness necessary in each destination, based on political, military, socio-economic, and terror-related assessments.
Level One: safe countries where normal awareness of one’s surroundings is reiterated.
Level Two: asks travelers to exercise increased caution when traveling.
Level Three: advises US Citizens to reconsider travel to the destination.
Level Four: advises US Citizens not to travel to the destination.
It is important to note that a Level Four warning does not mean U.S. citizens cannot travel to a destination; it is just strongly advised against due to crime, armed conflict or terrorism.
After considering the safety and security of a specific destination, the CDC website should be your next stop to see if any vaccinations are required or recommended for your trip. Many vaccinations require multiple doses or need to be administered weeks before your departure, so this should not be left to the last minute. This website is also a good resource for the most up-to-date Zika Information. You can learn about Zika and the risks associated with this disease, and you can also look into more detailed information about the specific country to where you plan to travel. There is also a specific page with information regarding Zika risks and pregnancy.
Once you have confirmed your trip, I highly recommend enrolling in The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so that you’ll remain informed about any changes that may occur in your destination from the time you book your trip to the time return home. This is a free service which enables U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This means that you’ll receive important information about your destination from the embassy or consulate prior to and during your travels. It will also help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency (natural disaster, civil unrest, family emergency, etc). Once you’ve enrolled, you can simply update your account with each future trip.
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Whitney’s love of experiential travel began when she studied abroad in New Zealand. Upon returning home, this seemingly small decision led her on an unpredictable path to do everything in her power to continue exploring the world. Within one year, she headed to Africa for one month to visit a friend who was volunteering with animals in need of rehabilitation support, and upon graduating only 6 months later, she moved to France for no other reason than the study the language and experience the culture firsthand. Fast forward 8 years, 2 languages, and 20 countries later, Whitney has successfully combined her passion for foreign languages and experiential travel with her professional experiences and launched Undiscovered Sunsets, a bespoke, experiential travel agency.