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How to stay safe while traveling abroad

A common problem facing American travelers abroad is a lost passport. The State Department has an easy answer for that, along with tips for staying safe.

Posted: Dec. 19, 2018 5:33 AM
Updated: Dec. 19, 2018 5:52 AM

For those traveling this holiday season, a trip abroad can bring the prospect of seeing friends and family, checking off a bucket list item or forging a new adventure. The US State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs wants to make sure that it doesn't include any unexpected travel woes.

"Tens of thousands of people go overseas for the holidays every year, and our goal at the State Department is to make sure they travel safely, smartly and in a secure way," Karin King, deputy assistant secretary for Overseas Citizens Services, told CNN's Elise Labott.

Stay in touch

Her biggest tip for travelers going overseas? Stay in touch with the State Department.

"We spend a lot of time working with our embassies to compile facts so that you can have everything that you need in one easy-to-go-to place," King said. Their website is a "one-stop shop for everything that you need to know to go overseas," including registering for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

"That enables us to reach you if something changes in the security posture, or if there is something that we need you to be aware of as you're out traveling," she explained.

Stay alert

What else should travelers going overseas do to stay safe? It may seem obvious, but King said it is important for travelers to stay aware of their surroundings.

"We all go on vacation wanting to have a good time and forget our day-to-day troubles, but you still need to be aware of what's going on around you," she said. "It's when you let your guard down that, often, bad things can happen."

This is especially true in big cities. As King noted, "Places with large crowds are always attractive to criminals who want to take advantage of people who are having fun and not necessarily in a familiar location."

Know your resources

What if a traveler loses their passport? Not to worry, King said. They encounter this problem a lot.

"It's something we can very easily remedy," she said. "If you get to the nearest US embassy or consulate, we can get you a passport to take you home."

While the State Department can help travelers out of a breadth of sticky situations, it's important that travelers also work to stay out of trouble.

"Unfortunately, sometimes what appears like a silly mistake can be a real serious violation of local law. So get informed. If you do find yourself in prison, have the prison contact the US embassy so that we can come and talk to you and get you a list of attorneys to help get through the situation," King said.

There are also countries that the State Department advises against visiting based on their risks to US travelers. They assign every country in the world a travel advisory from one to four -- levels three and four are considered the most risky.

"If you go to countries like that, be aware we might not be able to help you, that there are threats out there we may not be able to counter and in some of these countries, we may not be able to get to you to help you," King said.

Keep loved ones in the loop

Don't forget to let loved ones know about travel plans.

"You can't imagine how frequently we get calls from people who are having such a great time that they forget to call mom, and mom gets worried and calls us," King told CNN.

"Make sure that the people at home who care about you know where you're going. Leave them an itinerary."

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