What seems like a lifetime ago, I traveled to the Greek island of Paros to study photography. I was in college, and it was one of the first times I’d ever really traveled by myself. This adventure took place when the first wave of protests in Athens during the height of Greece’s economic crisis started to turn violent.
Shortly before I left, three people were killed at a bank when protesters hurled gasoline bombs inside. Molotov cocktails also were thrown elsewhere in the city, vehicles were set afire, and police used tear gas and force to try to maintain order.
Needless to say, my parents were not exactly enthusiastic about me navigating Athens by myself with so much upheaval. (For the record, by the time I did depart for Greece, this violence had subsided. I never once felt unsafe, and am so thankful I experienced Greece. To this day, I’m not sure it’s fair for a country to be so incredibly beautiful—geographically, historically, or culturally.)
At the time, had I known about the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), I could have potentially eased some of my parents’ fears by enrolling in it. This overlooked service, offered for free by the U.S. Department of State, allows travelers to easily register their trip with their destination’s nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Once a person has submitted their information, he or she then receives updates on conditions in their destination, such as news related to safety and other important information. Non-travelers (i.e. people back home) also can receive such updates.
Perhaps more importantly, enrolling in the program lets the U.S. Embassy or Consulate more easily contact—or find—you in the case of an emergency. Think during Hurricane Irma or Maria, for example. This service is not only for moments of natural disaster, but also for situations involving civil unrest (such as in Greece all those years ago), or even emergencies back in the United States. Speaking of which…
Enrolling in STEP can also benefit your loved ones at home if something happens while you're traveling that they need to quickly notify you about.
Enrolling in the program is quick—and easy:
- Click here to access the U.S. State Department’s website
- Click on “Enroll a trip”
- Enter your itinerary and other travel information as necessary (name, date of birth, passport number, etc.)
- Receive alerts and news about travel conditions, if applicable to your destination
In the end, enrolling in STEP can be useful for the simple fact that it can provide additional peace of mind should anything unexpected happen while you’re traveling. This is true even when the peace of mind is not for you, but rather for loved ones not traveling with you who want to ensure they can easily reach you should an emergency arise.
Travel tip: If you’re interested in enrolling your honeymoon in STEP prior to your departure, talk to your honeymoon consultant about what action you need to take—or make it even easier on yourself and request he or she enter your information for you.