TAMPA (FOX 13) - The death of a 36-year-old Florida woman, while she was traveling in Costa Rica, has devastated her family - and raised concerns about safety while traveling abroad.
Her family confirmed Tuesday the body of Carla Stefaniak was found, putting a heartbreaking end to the weeklong mystery of her disappearance.
"It seems surreal. She was full of life, she was all joyful, she loved to be happy, she never complained about anything. I was just so happy just to be around her," said Valentia Ricketts, Stefaniak's friend.
As Stefaniak's family continues to search for justice, her story has now become a cautionary tale for many travelers. The tragedy has served as a warning for many that dangers do lurk even in a vacationer's paradise.
"You know the world is not as safe a place as it used to be," said Diane Ross, a travel agent for Kingsbridge Travel.
In light of the tragedy, worry and fear have clouded many traveler's minds. However, there are safeguards that can be put in place to help protect one while traveling to a different country.
"If you're going to be traveling alone, you should stay at a reputable hotel or cruise line and not be traveling alone," said Ross.
Ross added that travelers should be attentive at all times even when using companies and organizations that are common in the United States.
"Things that we might do closer to home, perhaps we want to be a little more careful when out of the country," said Ross.
Doing research ahead of time in the country you plan to visit is also beneficial. Ross stated that it helps travelers to be better informed of what areas of their destination are safe and what areas should be avoided.
"I think it's very helpful to know where you're visiting, the etiquette there, and safety measures there," said Ross. "For example, there are parks in Paris that you would be more than safe to visit during the day. However, as a single woman or even a couple, you would want to stay away from them at night. It's important to be armed with safety information like that."
The U.S. Department of State also provides a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program - a program which offers American vacationers an extra sense of security.
"They'll send you updates as to what problems there are in any given area where you're going," said Ross. "It's also a way for the US Embassy to get in touch with you if there are problems and a way for your friends and family to reach you."
The U.S. Department of State's website also includes information on recent crimes in the country you're traveling, what areas of the country are unsafe, and a traveler's checklist so vacationers can make sure they're ready for any emergency situation.
As Stefaniak's family continues to mourn a life gone too soon, her friends have urged caution. They hope that others will be prepared when traveling abroad.