International travel can be nerve-wracking: Experts explain what you need to know when it comes to safety

·4 min read

Two men died last week near the Mexican city of Cancun, a popular tourist area, after a shooting broke out outside a hotel and resort.

Area officials confirmed that the confrontation was between alleged groups of drug dealers, and there were no other serious injuries. But the shooting came after two foreign tourists were killed last month in the crossfire of a drug-gang shootout in Mexico’s Tulum.

Instances of violence at national and international destinations, often with ancillary crime that occurs on our near resorts, are not uncommon. But incidents that target tourists, such as the 2017 attacks at Resorts World Manila and in Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, are the exception.

Violent incidents can still spook travelers hoping to book vacations both internationally and in the U.S. Earlier this year, a gunman fatally shot a tourist eating dinner with his family at a Miami Beach restaurant.

"These events are very unfortunate and certainly shocking, and they highlight a little bit of the helplessness that tourists can find themselves in when traveling to Mexico," Gustavo Flores-Macías, associate vice provost for international affairs at Cornell University, told USA TODAY.

There are steps tourists can take to help keep themselves and their families safe when traveling. Whether you're planning a trip to Mexico or another destination around the world, here's what you need to know.

Police security tape covers the exterior of a restaurant the day after a fatal shooting in Tulum, Mexico, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. Two foreigners were killed and three wounded in a shooting in the Mexican Caribbean resort town of Tulum. (AP Photo/Christian Rojas) ORG XMIT: OTKXFLL104
Police security tape covers the exterior of a restaurant the day after a fatal shooting in Tulum, Mexico, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. Two foreigners were killed and three wounded in a shooting in the Mexican Caribbean resort town of Tulum. (AP Photo/Christian Rojas) ORG XMIT: OTKXFLL104

Follow official guidance

Min Park, an associate professor at George Mason University, said it can be hard for tourists to be “fully aware” of a country or region's security risks.

So travelers should seek guidance from the State Department as they plan international trips.

“They have a system in terms of the level of security and safety to visit across the world,” Park said. “Travelers can go to such websites to check their level of security before they plan."

For example, the State Department warns that “Violent crime – such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery – is widespread and common in Mexico.” U.S. officials also have a “limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas" of the country.

There are approximately 80 countries that also have a Level 3 travel warning alongside Mexico, according to the U.S. State Department. But specific risk factors can vary by country.

Flores-Macías explained that the chances of American tourists finding themselves in the midst of a violent incident are “very, very low.” But he added that “it's important to do one's homework in terms of the areas that are more remote and where one might not want to be staying.”

“If one were to ask me, ‘Is it safe to go to Mexico?’ I would say yes,” Flores-Macías said. “But I would also say it's important to think about where in Mexico one is traveling.”

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Follow your common sense

There are some common-sense procedures that tourists can follow if they are hoping to book an international trip.

Flores-Macías recommended choosing hotels “that are well known for having some form of security for tourists," not traveling alone and staying in well-lit and crowded areas.

“It doesn't mean that if you're staying in a well-known area with a good critical mass of tourists it will make you immune to these events or these unfortunate situations, but I think it reduces the likelihood that something like this would happen,” he said.

Flores-Macías recommended having the contact information for the U.S. Embassy or a nearby consulate.

Tourists can also check out recent online reviews for a hotel or other destination, Flores-Macías said.

“If people are saying, well, this hotel was kind of really off the beaten path and it just felt a little shady or unsafe, that's just probably worth taking into account as well,” he said.

Park said travelers may also want to look into local tourism offices for additional information on an area’s safety risks.

“There is absolutely a role those (offices) can play to mitigate the impact of safety issues," Park said, including sending safety warnings to the public and giving tips to visitors about safe areas.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is traveling safe for tourists? Safety tips for international travel

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