10/29/2014 10:31 am ET Updated Dec 29, 2014

Ebola, Active Volcanoes, ISIS: Travel Tips for Scary Times

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With headlines and networks consumed about Ebola, ISIS, and natural disasters, many travelers are not just becoming couch potatoes, but are hiding under the couch.

To live fully we need to continue doing things we love, staying savvy, smart, safe -- and comfortable. Yes, there are dangers out there. But I try to put things in perspective and follow the sensible guidelines I created, worth considering the next time you're confronted with potential travel problems. You might want to bookmark them for peace of mind, and specify them for your own travel situations.

Be Informed:

Check government agencies. The U.S. Department of State offers latest warnings and advisories. If there's a warning, heed it. If not, keep planning and go on to the next step.

Check out fact-based informational sources with a minimal agenda -- more than one established source, if possible. Use the Internet and up-to-date guidebooks to clue you in. Be aware of who is informing about dangers -- established authorities or fear-mongers. Fears are often being fanned. Stay realistic.

Think Critically:

Focus on facts rather than opinion. Engage your critical-thinking capacity, and cover all the factors, not just negative ones.

Consider risk versus reward. A trip to the Sahara for the solar eclipse of the century? Flying for a long-awaited Bahamian vacation in a hurricane watch? I've read about MERS camel flu and depending on the area, for me the first may be worth the risk; lazing by the water can be postponed.

Play the odds. Sometimes emotions cloud the fact that the odds for trouble are miniscule. Media exaggerate the bad stuff. Friends may wring their hands and cancel even when the odds are heavily positive. Evaluate real stats if you can, and consider if they lean heavily one way or another.

Make sure it feels right. Find the facts, listen to others, but if it keeps you up at night and gives you agita, it probably isn't for you. I traveled solo to Guatemala years ago to update a guidebook, but despite people's assurances that I'd be okay when I didn't feel well, I decided last-minute to ditch a two-week planned itinerary, and fly back to the states. I wound up needing immediate and successful surgery. Good call.

Stay Safe:

Travel where you'll feel comfortable. If language is a problem, factor that, although books and gadgets and using your hands do help. If places are reputed to be difficult for women or minorities, don't be afraid to avoid them. Or to say "no," firmly and nicely.

Stay connected. Let people know where you are, and stay in touch with them. Carry an international cellphone, using apps for free email, such as vyber. Get travel assistance for immediate medical help and other needs. If you're in a potentially dangerous area, register with your embassy or consulate.

Keep a low profile. Respect local customs. Avoid large groups and tourist targets. Dress down, to blend in. Don't wear bling, even if it's fake. Be tactful and discreet.

Be careful. Avoid risky behavior. Stay alert. Learn exits. Lock your doors. Be wary of pickpockets. Avoid walking at night on empty streets. Don't enter unlicensed cabs. Take minimum cash and credit cards. Carry photocopies of passport and credit cards. Remain skeptical, but still enjoy.

Define a plan B (and C). If things go wrong, be prepared with options so that you have ready alternatives.

Stay healthy:

Learn health needs. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports the latest information on infectious diseases. Know which diseases are endemic to areas where you are traveling, which are not, and the precautions you'll need to take. Fears are fanned with ignorance. Stick to facts.

Prepare. Buy medical insurance, with travel assistance to get you to a good hospital, if needed. Leave enough time ahead for necessary vaccinations and medical protocols. Bring extra meds, needed prescriptions, and medical aids such as a thermometer. Carry and use anti-bacterial wipes and hand cleaner. And in crowded situations where dangerous viruses and pathogens may be present, you don't need to wear a Hazmat suit (!), but for peace of mind you can pack protective masks, gloves, and wrap-around sun-glasses.

Take health precautions. Get enough sleep. Eat and drink carefully, including lots of sealed bottled water. Bump fists rather than shake hands or hug, and wash your hands and use antibacterial gel often and always before eating. Avoid handling, or wipe down doorknobs, remotes, and anything touched by many. Stay out of places that harbor possible health problems, such as bat caves or still ponds. Don't be afraid what others think if caution makes you comfortable and keeps you traveling.

The bottom line is to keep traveling and enjoying our world: using your head, trusting your gut, controlling as much as you can -- even if you can't control everything.