Disasters can happen at any moment, as we learned from the tragic Tsunami experience in Southeast Asia. While Europe offers a far more stable political system than most developing countries, protests and political unrest are not unheard of, and the ground around Pompeii is just as unstable as it always was.
But there are also emergencies that have nothing to do with a country, its politics, or its geography. According to the U.S. State Department, over 6,000 U.S. citizens die abroad every year, and many more face sudden illness.
What can the traveler do to assure family or business associates of his or her whereabouts or well-being? First, you can leave them with your itinerary. Second, you can register your travel with the State Department. If you're a U.S. citizen, you've been paying for these services through taxes all along, you might as well take advantage of them.
How to Register Your Trip When Going Overseas
Did you know that the State Department actively tries to find U.S. citizens during a disaster? They won't become a travel agent for people trying to get out of a bad situation, and they can't order you out of a foreign country, but they will evacuate citizens if things get really sticky.
First, check the State Department's information on the country you'll be visiting by checking the Alerts and Warnings from the Bureau of Consular Affairs. The State Department keeps a close watch on developments that might hamper the movement of U.S. citizens around the globe.
Once you've assured yourself that you've made the right destination choices, you're ready to register your trip by using the State Department's Travel Registration Page. The information you enter may be used in the event of a disaster by The Department of State and its overseas embassies and consulates.
In addition, you can specify the people who are allowed to know your whereabouts through contact with the Department of State. In the event of an emergency, concerned family members or business associates listed on the registration form can contact the Office of Citizens Services via a toll-free number: 888-407-4747. Overseas travelers can use 317-472-2328.
Here is the State Department's list of issues that can be discussed by calling one of these numbers: "Death of an American citizen abroad, arrest/detention of an American citizen abroad, robbery of an American citizen abroad, American citizens missing abroad, crisis abroad involving American citizens, and after-hours number for an emergency involving an American citizen abroad."
More the State Department Does for Overseas Travelers
The State Department says that "U.S. embassies and consulates assist nearly 200,000 Americans each year who are victims of crime, accident, or illness, or whose family and friends need to contact them in an emergency."
The State Department offers help for travelers who encounter serious legal, medical, or financial difficulties. Consular officers can also notarize documents, issue passports, and register American children born abroad. Knowing the services offered by the nearest Consulate to your destination can be vital in an emergency.
Most Common Overseas Travel Emergencies
Before you go, make copies of your Passport Information Page and all tickets plus any other important documentation. Keep them in your carry-on (in a different place from where you keep your passport, of course). In some cases, you can notarize documents abroad inexpensively.
In the event your passport is stolen, a consulate can efficiently issue a temporary new passport from this information. You may also wish to leave some information, including your passport number, with a friend or relative. Be especially careful if you are going on your first trip to Europe.
If you take medications, make sure you have your doctor's phone number, the name of your medication, the generic name for the drugs prescribed to you, and a history of your inoculations written down. Be aware that American drug companies have a history of giving cute names to drugs to make them sell.
You will need the scientific name of your medications so that a pharmacist in Europe can determine exactly what you're taking. In an emergency, you may be able to get medications you need from a local pharmacy if you know the generic name. So, know both the scientific name and the generic name of each medication.
Consider travel health insurance, many countries now require this type of insurance, so be sure to check. If you are concerned, make sure it has evacuation coverage, a costly endeavor if you ever should need it.
It may help to rent or purchase a GSM Mobile phone (or a sim card if your phone is unlocked) to keep people up to date on your whereabouts. Some car rental and leasing companies offer rental cell phones as well.
For more on the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs can do for a traveler in an emergency, see their Emergencies Abroad page.