Local Travel Expert Offers New Safety Training and Certification

Your bags are packed. Your tickets are in hand. Your itinerary is scheduled. For most of us, traveling abroad is exciting, and if it’s the first time, it’s a particularly special event. But even for experienced jet-setters, staying safe while traveling—and educating ourselves about risks and prevention—is a priority. Mound resident Sheryl Hill, founder of travel advising business Depart Smart, has recently launched a certification program focusing on consumer safety.

More than eight years ago, Hill founded Depart Smart after her 16-year-old son, Tyler, died while traveling abroad in Japan. “Students are an especially vulnerable population. They need safety skills and a plan so they can advocate for themselves, and return home safely,” Hill says. “My son, Tyler, would be alive if he knew the emergency number or that the hospital was minutes away … Tyler’s story repeats too often.”

Recently, in partnership with St. Cloud State University’s Confucius Institute, Depart Smart created a co-branded portal, first for capstone students traveling to Beijing. As part of the program, every eighth-grade student was required to submit a personalized travel safety plan.

“I attended three student orientation meetings to talk about parent and student user experiences,” Hill says. “The overwhelming comment we hear is, ‘I never knew … ’ fill in the blank.” The portal was later used for a group
of college students and then a group of deaf students.

As she continues to learn what travelers—especially students and parents—are seeking, Hill launched Depart Smart’s new travel safety certification program called Travel Heroes. Individuals can take a quiz at departsmart.org to assess any gaps in their knowledge and make a plan.

The Travel Heroes safety course guides participants through a checklist of what they need to learn and do before departure. Steps might include reading country-specific warnings, registering your trip with the government, screening for foreign disease management with travel medicine, purchasing travel insurance, securing and understanding foreign currency, learning about housing safety, mapping out destinations, and preparing your emergency contacts so they can assist.

“Individuals can avoid risks and enjoy worry-free global adventures with a customized travel safety plan,” Hill says. “We should all protect ourselves, [our] employees and the ones we love with travel safety skills and Travel Heroes safety training. It [can help save] lives.”

Every participant develops a personalized travel safety plan for their trip, which they can download and share with family members, employers, emergency contacts and others.

Hill is working on making the safety training accessible for users with hearing and vision impairment, and is planning to add training on sexual assault prevention.
“We welcome like-minded leaders to help us save lives with comprehensive consumer-driven, travel safety education. World travel provides experiences and education no classroom can provide,” Hill says. “But in these uncertain times, preparing wisely can be lifesaving. Make sure your family’s trip overseas is one you’ll want to remember.”

Travel Savvy
Some of Sheryl Hill’s favorite tips for a smart and safe journey.

Purchase travel insurance.
Learn the local emergency number and whether the country has “guilty until proven innocent” laws before reporting a crime.
Bring a copy of your health records in the local language.
Equip your emergency contacts with money, passports, power of attorney and other items they might need to help you.
Travel with a door jammer, portable smoke and carbon monoxide detector, satellite phone or text tool, and water filter.
Register your trip with the U.S. state department to make sure the local consulate can assist you and send you warnings.