Advice | How to stay safe on spring break, according to travel security experts


As spring break approaches, some fun-and-sun destinations are getting extra attention.

Tulum is beefing up security for tourists in Mexico. A travel advisory warned Americans to use increased caution in the Bahamas after a recent increase in murders. And a reissued warning urged U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Jamaica due in part to crime.

Jamaica and the Bahamas have sought to reassure visitors, and the head of a travel agency company says he is not seeing cancellations as a result.

“What we have heard is people are calling resorts, working with advisers to find out, ‘Is there enhanced security? Is there concern?’” said John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group.

Safety experts say travelers should do that kind of homework when deciding where to vacation, and be on alert once they are on a trip.

There’s a lot to consider when picking a destination: price, transportation, activities, lodging. But travel advisories like those issued by the U.S. State Department are important to bear in mind, too.

Ben Thorne, senior intelligence manager at risk management firm Crisis24, said travelers should use those advisories as a jumping-off point to ask more questions: Are only pockets of a country or city considered off-limits? What are the specific concerns? Guidance that other countries provide for their citizens could also be a good resource.

Dave Komendat, senior security adviser for International SOS, a travel security firm, said potential visitors should also pay attention to the overall stability and security environment of a destination and whether it has a history of unrest. The State Department or the World Factbook from the CIA are good resources, he said.

The State Department offers a page for travelers to search for information about the country they’re visiting and encourages checking the U.S. Embassy’s website for the destination as well. It also compiles safety information on an international travel site.

Komendat and Thorne both suggested checking review sites such as Tripadvisor or other travel forums to see what other guests have experienced from staff at a particular resort or the surroundings in general.

Visitors should also check on safety features at their accommodations, whether they are staying at an Airbnb, a hotel or a resort, Thorne said. Are there fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire suppression systems? Is there security at the front desk or cameras?

“The last thing you want to do is to go in completely blind to a location,” he said.

The State Department said vacationers should make sure to read the information page for the country they’re visiting to be clear on local laws and what might get them arrested; examples the department provided include having a stray bullet in luggage and traveling with products that contain THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.

According to the department, travelers should compile contacts for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, family members, airlines and accommodations and keep them handy during a trip.

And spring breakers should understand what their health insurance will cover in other countries and get insured before traveling with coverage that includes medical evacuation, the department said.

Komendat recommended that spring breakers sign up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which delivers information about the destination and helps the U.S. Embassy track people down in an emergency.

Experts stressed the importance of knowing what to expect when arriving somewhere new, especially in a foreign destination.

Komendat said travelers should familiarize themselves with the process of going through customs, picking up baggage and especially arranging transportation from the airport at their destination. In his own travel to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, he said, he walks through a pavilion where tour operators and transportation services make pitches to new arrivals.

“If you didn’t know better, you would stop in that pavilion and someone would tell you they’re here to get you to your hotel when actually they’re not,” he said. “Most hotels will provide specific pickup and drop-off info.”

He said getting into the wrong vehicle could result in a longer-than-expected drive, one that is more expensive than it should be, or worse.

“I’m always very Point A [to] Point B,” he said. “I don’t stop in between. That’s when you can run into problems.”

Thorne said that, depending on where you are, sometimes taxis can be better than a ride-hailing service such as Uber or Lyft — or they might carry a higher risk. Ride hailing could be a good option in some places, or not-so-good in others. Ask hotels for advice on what to take, he said; hotel-provided transportation is ideal.

Spring breakers should also pack as light as possible, so they aren’t spending a lot of time dragging heavy luggage between pickup and drop-off areas. It’s also wise to try to avoid arriving or leaving after dark, he said.

In any destination, Thorne said it’s most important for visitors to keep a “heightened sense of situational awareness.”

“What this really is is not being fearful or skeptical but alert and attentive to your surroundings,” he said. That means not being buried in your phone or tuned out listening to music or a podcast at all times. “It will help you have a little more attention to changes in what’s around you.”

He said criminals are looking for people who are distracted, obviously unfamiliar with the location or overwhelmed.

When drinking alcohol on vacation, Thorne said travelers should always keep a close eye on their beverage and never accept free drinks from strangers. A good approach is only drinking out of bottles or cans that are sealed — and being the one to break the seal. Earlier this month, two women from Kentucky alleged that they were drugged and raped by staff members at a resort in Grand Bahama, where they stopped during their cruise. They claimed their drinks were spiked, according to multiple outlets. The Royal Bahamas Police Force said in a news release that it made two arrests for sexual assault.

When visiting another country, especially one where English isn’t the primary language, Komendat said people should make sure they have a language translation app and know how to use it. They should also put an exchange rate calculator on their phone, spend the money to be able to use a cellphone in foreign destinations and learn the system to call for help in an emergency. The State Department said a U.S. citizen who needs emergency help should also get in touch with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

To avoid extra scrutiny, medication should be in original prescription bottles with a copy of the prescription, Komendat said.

Thorne said visitors should be cautious when people are extremely friendly: “Usually when a situation is too good to be true, particularly in a tourist destination, someone is trying to lower your guard.”

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