Most of us hardly give an international flight a second thought. A quick search online, a few clicks for a hotel, airfare, and rental car packages make booking and payment for your travel plans easy. We might send an itinerary to our emergency contacts, but how many of us stop here?

The Depart Smart annual gala on May 17 gave us all a suitcase full of reasons to put safety at the top of our list. They are on a mission to save lives with travel safety training so people can get help and home when Murphy’s laws upset dream trips.

“Let’s get it right,” says Sheryl Hill, founder of Depart Smart dba ClearCause Foundation, a non-profit established in Minnesota in 2010. “Let’s acknowledge that people aren’t prepared to travel abroad safely. Let’s equip them with skills, tools, and a safety plan to make informed decisions, avoid risks, and get appropriate help to advocate for themselves when needed. Departing Smart saves lives!” Ms. Hill would know, her sixteen-year-old son, Tyler, died a preventable death in 2007. His life could have been saved with timely, appropriate medical attention. The Japanese Red Cross Hospital was only minutes away. Most of us don’t know the emergency numbers abroad or how to ask for help in the local language.

Travel HEROES Online Safety Course launch

The gala rallied around the launch of Travel HEROES Online Safety Course with stories of heroism. Guests participated to earn prizes by answering six travel safety questions. Guests, partners, sponsors, trusted advisors, travel safety advocates, and friends ranged from long-time supporters to Certified Travel HEROES who recently found their way to Depart Smart.

After a reception with silent auction items to peruse, the gala’s emcee, Matt Belanger, KSTP-TV, kicked off the evening with a warm welcome. Matt stepped in because Brandi Powell, long-time Depart Smart friend, advocate, and emcee became ill. Matt brought so much enthusiasm that by the end of the night a co-emcee spot with Brandi for next year’s gala was called for.


Next up, Amalia Moreno-Damgaard, nine-time award-winning author, chef-entrepreneur, and Depart Smart board member talked world travels and safety. She shared slides of trips to every continent and cited her son’s early onset globetrotting as a six month old infant. He’s now considering heading abroad for college and because of Amalia’s strong participation in Depart Smart for world travels, he has a strong foundation of travel safety skills. Amalia shared how Depart Smart Travel HEROES training gave her skills, tools, a safety plan and most importantly – peace of mind.

Then came the sweetest part of the night: the Dessert Dash. Desserts donated by a dozens of bakeshops and master bakers teased the audience from an elegant display. Guests had the opportunity to view the dessert options before sitting. Each table collectively pooled their funds to bid on the opportunity to choose their favorite dessert first.. When each was announced, they dashed to pick up their first choice of decadently distinct desserts (see the Dessert Dash’s sweet donors on Depart Smart’s Facebook page).



Why Departing Smart saves lives

Post sugar rush, the evening moved into a stories about what was supposed to be a sweet escape for Carol Giuliani and her husband. Carol shared the story of her husband’s critical fall just eight hours into their trip to San Pedro, Belize. She put tens of thousands of dollars onto credit cards to cover emergency medical evacuation ot Mayo Clinic. Michael Newell shared his story of expediting a passport application to get from Minnesota to his son who suffered a traumatic brain injury during a fall in Mexico City. The hospital required prepayment and tallied $10K-15K per day, not including emergency medical evacuation to the University of Minnesota.

These unfortunate traumas are all too common, but seldom presented to vacation and leisure travelers. They are physically, emotionally and financially draining. You can bet guests were making mental notes to renew expiring passports and travel insured with industry leaders like AIG Travel. The evening was jammed full of calls to action for guests to Depart Smart, and affirmations that Travel HEROES Online Safety Course saves lives.

Interview at the Depart Smart Gala


Travel HEROES is a six-module course helping travelers build skills and a personalized travel safety plans for their dream trips abroad. Speaking from personal experience as a Travel HERO myself, the course is an absolute eye-opener for what, how, when and why to prepare for safer travel. The interactivity, animated videos and quizzes solidify the learning. The resources provided make personal travel safety plans actionable and shareable.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Depart Smart supporter, provided a video endorsement encouraging guests to support Depart Smart and make their travel safety a priority – with ‘wings to fly.”


Sheryl spoke about a surprising fact: “Policy has not kept up with globalization! Travel and tourism consumer safety is poor.” She proudly noted Minnesota is the first state to pass study abroad safety transparency laws for K12, in honor of Tyler Hill, and higher education in honor of Thomas Plotkin. Virginia followed with a similar law in honor of Damion Wilkins. Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Steve Simon, spoke about how his office overseas the Minnesota laws and shared his experience and thoughts on travel safety in an inspiring speech.

The gala came to a close on several high notes including closing thoughts from Bob Gallagher, Senior Vice President with AIG Travel, about how imperative it is to travel insured so you can get help and home. He received a standing ovation with a $75,000 check to Depart Smart.

AIG Check Depart Smart Gala


What is next for Depart Smart? Preparing your employees, students, and families for safe travel abroad

St. Cloud State’s Confucius Institute gave an update on their pilot projects with certified Travel HEROES to Beijing, China. The grand finale included an announcement of a three-year strategic partnership with Twin Cities Public Television. Local businesses can support a 90 second film to save lives by promoting travel safety awareness for about $10,000 which will appear hundreds of times on public TV including popular shows like Masterpiece Theater.

After a heartfelt share about students who lost their lives studying abroad including Tyler Hill, Sheryl and Allen Hill’s son, the room felt charged with the mission at hand as the organization grows to become the worldwide leader in consumer-driven travel safety.

Depart Smart wants you, your employees, and the ones you love to travel safely with knowledge, skills, tools and a plan. They aim to increase awareness of the importance of traveling safe, expand the reach of the Travel HEROES course and continue to work with partners who share a international travel safety.

Wings to Fly, Safely. Take the Travel HEROES course at To discuss how to add Travel HEROES Safety Course to your employee assistance programs, please contact us.


AIG logo


Thank you to our primary event sponsor: AIG Travel Guard.