Travel alerts are, arguably, the best thing since online check-in! Even though the world sometimes seems like a scary place, people still like to stretch their wings and discover new and fascinating destinations. As well, business and family travel must go on because, well, you just can’t shake hands or give a warm hug over the internet!
Despite the rise of terrorist events and even considering that natural disasters occur on a regular, if unpredictable basis, human beings must keep moving. Thanks to Australian government travel alerts, you can stay abreast of important occurrences around the world, and in particular, where you are travelling.
On the Smart Traveller website operated by the Australian government, there is a wealth of information designed to help keep travellers safe from harm. To a large extent, your health, safety and wellbeing is up to you, however, there is always the risk of something going wrong that is beyond your control.
SmartTraveller provides up-to-the-minute travel alerts for weather and other natural events that may impinge on transportation plans, access into and out of a place and the local requirements for visitors to stay away. These could be earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, landslides, floods, hurricanes or other near or actual catastrophes.
Then there are terrorism and civil unrest alerts. When a situation flares up, authorities can prefer that travellers remain far away from the area in order to maintain law and order. Australian government travel alerts will dissuade people from going to the area, to avoid harm or even death, and to prevent the possibility of a worsening crisis which could involve hostage-taking or other civilian threat.
In the planning stages, before you even book your plane tickets or accommodation, visit the Smart Traveller website because information is regularly maintained there that will tell you whether your destinations are wise to visit. From the Home page, you can ‘browse countries’ and proceed to the ones you’ll be visiting, and there you’ll find recommendations and Australian travel warnings, where applicable.
At the time of writing this article, Switzerland was shown as “Exercise normal safety precautions”, accompanied by a green circle which means there appears to be no immediate or expected risk to travellers. On the other hand, for Somalia, there is a red circle and the words “Do not travel”. Clicking through to Somalia’s page, a more detailed description of the risks is provided. It outlines the “ongoing very high threat of terrorist attack and kidnapping and dangerous levels of violent crime”. Now whilst there may be pressing reasons for a business or political traveller to venture to Somalia, the average tourist would be ill-advised to book a plane ticket there.
On 22nd March 2016, Brussels, Belgium became the target of a subway terrorist attack and on 14th July 2016, a truck was driven into crowds of people marking Bastille Day, France’s national day. When such events occur in destinations to which you are planning to travel, it is essential that you seek out the relevant travel alerts.
Even if you have purchased travel insurance*, you may not be covered for such acts of war or terrorism if you go ahead with your plans. If hotels are under lockdown, your reservation may be invalid. If you have booked and paid for tours, museum visits, river cruises or other attractions, you will need to enquire through the providers if they will still be proceeding. But in any case, your safety is the highest priority, irrespective of the money you might lose if your travel insurance doesn’t cover the losses.
As you’d expect, in a world where situations can change moment by moment, being able to keep up to date is critical, especially when you’re travelling to foreign lands. The free Smart Traveller app provides travel advice and warnings for more than 170 destinations. By downloading it to your smartphone, you will have access to the latest destination-specific data about any risks you might face overseas.
You can choose to receive push notifications whenever travel alerts are issued for your destination. Additionally, the app provides the contact details of Australia’s embassies, high commissions and consulates so you will have crucial information at your fingertips if something disastrous happens. You can even register your travel plans through the app.
Aside from the app, the Smart Traveller website provides a facility where you can register your travel plans. That way, if an event occurs in the location to which you are travelling, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will know you are there and be able to plan accordingly. Be aware that the website doesn’t send push notifications of travel alerts; registering your travel is simply a way for the government to be able to contact you or your family in the event of an emergency.
To a degree, it also helps the government gather information on the number and welfare of Australians in the area. To register, you need your passport, emergency contact information and details of the destinations to which you are travelling.
Heading overseas without taking advantage of services that travel warnings is akin to riding in a Formula 1 car without a seat belt. When you step outside your home country, it is vital that you take responsibility as much as possible for your own safety and wellbeing because in doing so, you also help others to remain safe and well, and you spare authorities from having to expend unnecessary resources.
Travelling is a great opportunity to explore and respect cultural sensitivities, empathise regarding local conditions, assimilate into the world travelling community and discover exciting things about places different to where you live. However, no excitement is worth the risk to life and limb and by heeding travel alerts, you will contribute to the solution and not be a part of the problem.