Passengers and tourists boarding a flight in Nassau, Bahamas. 

Passengers and tourists boarding a flight in Nassau, Bahamas.  Credit: Getty Images/EyesWideOpen

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. That followed a reissued warning that 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.

Choosing where to go

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 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.

Komendat and Thorne 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 or hotel or resort, Thorne said. Are there fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire suppression systems? Is there security at the front desk or cameras?

Before you leave

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.

At the airport

Passengers and tourists boarding a flight in Nassau, Bahamas. 

Passengers and tourists boarding a flight in Nassau, Bahamas.  Credit: Getty Images/EyesWideOpen

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 in 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 the 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 depending on where you are, sometimes taxis can be better than a ride-hailing service like 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.

During the trip

Members of the National Guard (Guardia Nacional de México) patrol...

Members of the National Guard (Guardia Nacional de México) patrol Playa Pescadores in Tulum, Mexico.  Credit: Associated Press/Artur Widak

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.

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. 

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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