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Travel Lessons Learned: Beirut, Lebanon 1975

Although the following example of a “lesson learned” occurred 38 years ago, the same principle holds true:  If you are travelling to a country or region that is politically unstable, be sure to:
1) Research travel advisories issued by your government.
2) Have at least $100 in cash with you at all times. 
3) Know where your embassy is located and have a predetermined plan for evacuation.

My father was transferred to Beirut, Lebanon, in 1974, to work for Aramco.  Our new home provided beautiful beaches, exotic surroundings, amazing food and kind people.
We lived at the Phoenicia Hotel for nine months before the Lebanese Civil War erupted in 1975.  The air raids were becoming more frequent, and I remember feeling the after-shocks from the bombs that were being dropped nearby.  As the fighting escalated, our paradise erupted with danger.  It became apparent that war was imminent in Beirut.

My mother, brother and I were eventually evacuated to Athens, Greece (abruptly and with little time to make any real plans).  At the time, my parents only had $100 in cash on hand for us to take to Athens – no credit cards, debit cards, bank checks or traveler’s checks.  We went directly to the American Embassy in Athens where we received the guidance necessary to find a place to live and to obtain money from our bank accounts.

My brother and I did not have time to start school in Athens, as the fighting between Cyprus and Greece escalated shortly after our arrival.  We found ourselves evacuating again, this time back to the United States.
According to the United States Government, “Travel warnings are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government's ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff.”

Clearly my family’s situation was a little different because my parents chose to live in Lebanon – regardless of the political situation.  These events also happened during a time when credit cards weren’t accepted everywhere, and ATM machines were non-existent.  Regardless, those who choose to travel to politically unstable places (such as Lebanon) should always do so with enough cash on hand and with evacuation plans.

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