UPDATE: The U.S. Department of State has issued an updated Worldwide Caution alert following the terrorists attacks in Paris, saying they "serve as a reminder that U.S. citizens need to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness." The caution offers a detailed assesment of threats to Americans traveling in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South Asia, and Africa (predominately North Africa).
The news out of Paris this week has been heart-wrenching, to say the least—and unnerving for travelers with imminent plans to visit the City of Light. And even as Parisians go on high alert, Britain’s MI5 intelligence head, Andrew Parker, is warning of increased threat levels in the U.K. from Al Qaeda and extremists groups in Syria and Iraq. (The official threat level remains at “severe,” where it has been since August.) The country has stepped up security checks at ports and border points, especially on passengers and goods coming from France and the rest of Europe.
All this follows a December 19 Worldwide Travel Alert from the U.S. Department of State—prompted, in part, by the so-called “lone wolf” hostage standoff in a Sydney, Australia café on December 15. The State Department warns Americans to stay vigilant while traveling abroad and visiting high-traffic sites.
With such language likely to put any traveler on edge, here are some tips on traveling intelligently in a time of insecurity:
Stay in the loop on security threats and warnings to any destination you are planning to visit. If you are traveling abroad, sign up for the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which will send you security updates, and make it easy for the consulate to contact you in an emergency. (You can also download the department’s Smart Traveler app.)
For updates on a specific destination, check out the State Department’s official country pages. Links to any additional security messages, along with travel alerts and warnings, will appear at the top of each country page. You can also check the State Department’s consular alerts at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security website. They are often more site-specific and timely than the official State Department alerts. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office also issues country-specific alerts and warnings, sometimes in language that is less circumspect than that of the State Department. Find them here.
Turn to Twitter when important news is breaking. Follow handles such as @CNNbrk and @BBCBreaking for coverage of developing news and follow trending hashtags to get the full scope of a story from different sources. If you have any doubts about a news source, look for blue check mark next to the name, which indicates a verified identity.