Americans should stay in America for awhile

by Jim Longworth

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about an American gone missing overseas, or having been imprisoned, beaten, or even killed in a foreign land. According to CBS News, more than 2,000 Americans go missing abroad every year. Take for instance, 22-year-old Austin Brice, an exchange student from San Diego State University who was living in Spain.

Earlier this year, Brice was seen going into a Madrid nightclub; then he disappeared. By mid March, his body was discovered in a nearby river.

That same month, Rebecca Coriam was on board a Disney Wonder cruise headed for Mexico when she vanished without a trace. And, last week, 22-year-old Aubrey Sacco went missing in Nepal. She had spent the past five years abroad, volunteering and teaching yoga, English, and art.

Women in particular seem to go missing at a higher rate than men. That’s no surprise to who estimates that some 700,000 women worldwide are kidnapped each year and sold as sex slaves. There is no breakdown on how many of those are Americans.

In any event, foul play against travelers from the United States is so common that an entire industry has sprung up to help family members find their loved ones. They include the Missing Americans Project, and the Isle of Wight-based Missing Abroad Inc.

Missing Abroad’s slogan is, “Forward Thinking for the Unthinkable.” In addition to aiding families of missing loved ones, Missing Abroad also offers travel safety tips. My favorite page on their website is titled, “Essential Phrases,” in which a dozen or so vital phrases are listed in English, then translated into four other languages. Some of the helpful words for Americans to remember when traveling overseas include: “Where’s the police station?” “I think my drink has been spiked” and “I have been raped.” Ironically, even though Missing Abroad seems to count on Americans being abducted, their website also promotes various discounts on travel and lodging.

Like it or not, we must all realize that these are dangerous times for Americans to be living or traveling abroad, especially to global hot spots. And that’s why I almost threw my shoe at the TV set last week when I watched reports about the three American youth who had been imprisoned in Egypt. These three stooges, Derrick Sweeney, Gregory Porter and Luke Gates were visiting Cairo as the nation erupted in violent protests. But instead of staying in their room, Larry, Moe and Curly wandered out into Tahrir Square to get a closer look at the 100,000 rioters, some of whom were throwing firebombs at security forces and demanding an end to military rule. In short order the Americans were whisked off to jail and charged with participating in the bomb throwing. The trio was released last week, and Sweeney became a media darling as he recounted his tales of terror. “The first night was the scariest night of my life. [The police] said if we moved even an inch they would shoot us,” he said. Believe me, after listening to this spoiled, clueless, smirking brat spill his story on ABC and CNN, I could sympathize with his jailers. No wonder Egyptian police finally released the students. Who could stand being around anyone that stupid?

My point is that far too many Americans take far too many chances, first in traveling to hostile or unstable countries, and second in tempting fate once they get there. I have traveled extensively in the United States, but never outside of our borders, so I am no expert in international excursions, but if everyone else on the internet can offer their advice, so can I. First and foremost, stay home. Ever since George W. Bush decided to police the world and invade the wrong countries for the wrong reasons, Americans are not very popular in many corners of the globe. Certainly the Middle East should be off limits, but North Korea hates us, and Russia is threatening to point missiles at us again. Second, if you must travel abroad, do so in a group, and once you reach your destination do not allow yourself to be separated from that group. Third, don’t mix in other countries’ politics or protests. And fourth, don’t commit a crime. Stick with these pointers, and your chances of being abducted, assaulted, robbed or imprisoned will be greatly reduced.

Anyway, do what you will, but this holiday season my wife and I will limit our travel to the far off town of Mt. Airy, where a statue of Andy and Opie stands guard over a bygone era, when you could feel safe leaving home. The only thing is, you didn’t want to.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).