Imagine this: You’re on vacation in Paris, France, enjoying the sights of one of the most popular cities in the world. Two days before you are scheduled to return to Stuttgart, a large passenger plane crashes into the Louvre, destroying the national monument and its priceless works of art.
The crash is determined to be a terrorist attack. Travel out of the country is impossible, as the airport is closed indefinitely. Trains going to Germany are booked for a week, and no rental cars are available. To make matters worse, locals are blaming foreigners in the country for the attack, and riots are beginning to form throughout Paris.
Meanwhile, in your hotel room, you have no idea that any of this is going on. While drinking coffee, you plan your sightseeing itinerary and check your e-mail.
At the subway station, you notice that there are more police than the day before. When you arrive at the main train station, you again notice a heightened police presence and that the station is packed with people.
As you make your way through the crowd with your family in tow, you realize that you are at a rally of sorts, with an angry sounding young man on a megaphone yelling in French.
The next thing you know, a bottle is thrown at him, and then someone else throws a trash can. Suddenly, the crowd begins fighting, pushing and screaming.
You are seriously concerned for the safety of your children, and in the melee, are separated from your family.
Such predicaments can be terrifying, but registering in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program can help you avoid them. According to its website, the State Department “encourages all U.S. citizens traveling abroad, especially citizens who plan to be overseas for a significant amount of time, to enroll in STEP.”
Enrolling in STEP, formerly known as the Registration with Embassies program, makes your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary for a consular officer to contact you in an emergency. The program also lets U.S. citizens subscribe to e-mail updates on country-specific information, travel warnings, travel alerts and other information for a particular country.
This includes reports on possible risks and security threats so that you can make informed decisions about your travel plans and activities. Enrolling in STEP also makes it faster and easier for the U.S. embassy to provide a replacement passport in case of theft or loss while abroad.
To enroll, visit www.travel.state.gov and click on the blue suitcase, the STEP icon.
Once registered, you can enter your travel plans for your next out-of-country visit. You can also add and delete trips from your account based on your current travel plans.
For more information on international travel and tips for living abroad, visit www.travel.state.gov.