There are few activities more pleasurable than pulling out a map or travel guide and planning your getaway. Paris in the spring, New England in the fall, Mykonos in the summer…
But don’t let all the wanderlust sweep you away and make you forget a number of crucial pre-travel tasks that should be completed before you ever set foot on a plane, train or cruise ship taking you to your favorite destination. The more prepared you are, the greater your chances of a successful trip that lives up to your expectations.
Know who to call for help while traveling
To whichever country you’re traveling, add the name, address and 24-hour telephone numbers and emails of the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate (satellite office of the U.S. Embassy) to your address book and smartphone. Also sign up for the U.S. Embassy’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the U.S. Embassy. The service provides important embassy information about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
Also add the key contact information for emergency providers, such as the hospital, police station and fire station nearest your location. Most countries don’t use 911 as an emergency number.
Secure duplicates of health records travel documents and financial information online
If your passport or a wallet filled with your credit cards, driver’s license and other vital information is ever lost or stolen, it will be much less stressful to replace them if the data linking you to your accounts is easily retrievable from an online repository like Dropbox or iCloud that you’ve set up in advance.
Also, if you have an iPhone, use its free health app to create a digital copy of your personal health record.
Although English is spoken widely around the world, you could take an extra precaution by having your critical health data translated into the native language of the country you’re visiting. The International Medical Interpreters Association offers the names of several translation services.
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Check your cell phone coverage
These days, pretty much everybody lives on their smartphone to talk, text, take photos, email, book reservations, or summon an Uber or Lyft, but if you’re doing all or just some of these activities overseas, your data charges could be astronomical.
If your carrier doesn’t provide an international plan, consider upgrading to a plan that offers more data. Verizon’s International Trip Planner or AT&T’s International Travel Guide can help you estimate how much data you might need for the country you’re visiting.
Of course, if you don’t want to jump through all those hoops, you could simply cut back on your data usage by temporarily deactivating some of your smart phone’s features. These included shutting down non-vital apps, disabling texting, and restricting automatic email downloads. To save on roaming charges (that allow you to connect to a network outside your home carrier), you could purchase a roaming package or add-on before leaving for your trip.
You will typically find many of these data options in “Settings” on your smartphone. If you’re unclear about what some of the options do, have your local telecom provider walk you through them to help you decide what you can and can’t live without during your trip.
Check your health insurance coverage
Most regular health insurance plans provide partial or no coverage while you are traveling in another country. For example, Medicare usually does not provide medical coverage outside the United States. Countries with “universal health care” might assist with minor needs, but they are under no obligation to do so. In the event of major or ongoing medical expenses, they would most likely cease to help, and they would never pay to evacuate you or help you return home. Therefore, when considering the purchase of health insurance, also inquire about the cost of medical evacuation insurance.
Depending on your location, need for care — and where you need to be taken for that care — the cost of an emergency medical evacuation that requires transportation in a helicopter or airplane to a hospital can cost between $25,000 and $250,000. Compare that with a medical evacuation (medevac) plan that may cost a traveler about $200 to cover all trips during the year. A medevac plan that covers a single trip in the year may cost half that.
Consider buying a senior-friendly trip or travel insurance
You can purchase travel insurance to protect yourself from a range of potential financial risks and losses, such as last-minute trip cancellation due to a medical emergency once your travels are underway.
Basic plans can be very budget-minded at less than 4% of your pre-paid costs, and premium vacation insurance plans can be over 12%.
Another travel risk you should be aware of is the increase in “express” kidnappings around the globe. Perpetrators of this crime simply abduct their victims and then demand ransoms for their release. The culprits are hoping for a quick payout of between $5,000 and $10,000, hence the name “express.”
The problem has become big enough that several firms now compete to offer this kind of protection, which is known as Kidnap and Ransom insurance or K&R for short. Many insurance companies are reluctant to publicly quote prices of coverage or coverage limits in order to deter acts of fraud and discourage acts of kidnapping where the assailant knows the target is insured.
Some areas of the world present a greater kidnapping risk than others due to economic instability or civil or military unrest. Therefore, before finalizing your travel plans, visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs (travel.state.gov) to receive specific travel advisories about your desired destination. Use the detailed information to decide whether to maintain your current plans, adjust your itinerary or avoid a particular hotspot altogether.
You, of course, can’t plan or prepare for every travel mishap or unforeseen circumstance. That said, there are many safeguards, several of which have been outlined above, that you can put in place to make you feel safer and more confident during your travels.
While you might feel more secure and comfortable staying put, think about what you could be missing. It’s a big, bold and beautiful world out there ready for you to embrace, explore and enjoy.
The poet once said, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are for.”
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