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Caution is key to safe travel


• Interactive: Travel safety tips
U.S. Department of Stateexternal link
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State Department
Tourism and Leisure

(CNN) -- The disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway in Aruba May 30 may have travelers and their loved ones looking closely at travel safety.

Even in destinations that are considered relatively safe, there are pockets of danger. But that doesn't mean plans should be changed or canceled.

Travel experts suggest you find out about a destination's specific areas of concern and use the same caution you would in unfamiliar situations at home.

"Being aware is the biggest thing you can do," said Nilou Motamed, a senior editor at Travel + Leisure magazine.

Motamed recommends the State Department's Web site as a good first source of information on destinations that are considered dangerous to Americans.

The State Department issues travel warnings for those locations. Consular information sheets that include information on crime, safety and security for every country also are posted on the agency's Web site.

Comparing the State Department's information with postings from similar agencies in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom gives travelers a wider perspective on safety issues, said Don George, Lonely Planet's global travel editor.

Consider registering with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, particularly if you are headed to an area that has a current travel warning.

"They've just made it easier," Motamed said. "You can do it online, so you don't actually even have to go to the embassy when you get there."

Motamed and George also suggest looking for a destination's English-language publications before the trip. Many newspapers are posted online and often are the best source of current local news.

When you get there, ask locals for guidance, George advises.

"Ask local people what's appropriate and what's not appropriate," George said. "[To] a hotel clerk in the hotel where you're staying, you can say, 'Is it OK to walk in this part of town after dinner or is it better to get a taxi?' "

Using normal caution and trusting your instincts also goes a long way on the road.

"It's just really important to keep that notion of common sense always in your head whether you're in Paris or Papua New Guinea," George said.

If you're traveling alone, establish a regular pattern of communication with someone at home, George advises. Whether it's a phone call or an e-mail every night or every second day, keeping someone posted about your trip is a good safety measure.

With group travel, let someone in your group know where you're going when you split off for a solo outing.

The State Department advises travelers to leave a copy of their itinerary with someone at home in case of an emergency. It's also a good idea to leave a copy of your passport, tickets, credit cards and traveler's checks.

Bring a copy of those important documents with you as well, and be sure to keep the copies in a separate place.

"It's a great idea to copy those," Motamed said. "Because in case you lose them, it's so much easier to get them replaced if you have a copy of them."

The State Department advises familiarizing yourself with local laws and customs. Dress conservatively and avoid the appearance of affluence, the agency suggests.

Above all, exercise caution, George advises.

"We should always have our guard up to a certain extent."

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