The first step to a safe journey, whether it is across town or across the world, begins with knowledge. Travelers need information to make good decisions and take specific actions that will increase their chances for a successful travel, especially if their destination is overseas.
As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure!” In the case of a foreign travel, doing your homework and preparing for your trip can make a huge difference in how enjoyable and productive it is. By incorporating some common-sense actions into your trip planning you can be prepared to deal with medical and other issues that may occur and feel confident that you are prepared for these situations.
Try using this simple “5 x 5 Travel Plan” to prepare for your trip. Take at least 5 minutes to complete the following 5 items as part of your pre-trip planning.
- Review the Department of State’s (DOS) Travel Advisories and other travel websites (OSAC, travel industry blogs, etc.) for important information about your destination. DOS publishes comprehensive information on safety and security concerns for people who plan to travel including the latest security and safety advisories for the specific locations where you may be planning to travel. Focus on key issues like natural disasters, crime, and terrorism-related threats as well as emergent or chronic safety issues. More information can also be found at individual embassy and consulate websites, all of which can be found on the US Embassy.gov website.
- Review the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website to learn about the health and medical risks associated with your planned travel. This includes discovering if there are any indigenous diseases, air, food or water quality issues that may impact your trip. For example, if you are pregnant, you may not want to risk a visit to a country with a Zika virus outbreak. Also, review your medical records and medications to ensure that you have what you need for travel or to get the recommended medications/vaccinations for visits to your destination. The CDC recommends that you work with your primary care physician. Travelers should ensure they have adequate medical coverage before going overseas.
- Prepare a packing list to ensure that you have everything you need for your trip – it will save you time and prevent costly mistakes. Pay specific attention to your important documents. The key documents that you need to protect while traveling are your passports (must have more than 6 months of validity), any required travel visas, and your money. Other items you need to protect include your credit and ATM cards (avoid using Debit Cards), medical records, and travel tickets. Notify your credit card companies and banks that you are traveling so their fraud departments do not freeze your accounts inadvertently. Your bank can also protect you from unauthorized activity in foreign countries that you are not traveling to.
It is a good idea to make two copies of your passport, driver’s license, credit cards, ATM cards and any other important documents and leave one copy at home with someone you can reach in an emergency. Keep the other set with you in a safe place separate from the originals. Make use of the cloud by taking a photograph of your important documents and send them to yourself in an email. You can also keep them on your smartphone provided you keep it password-protected. As for electronics, you may want to sanitize them to prevent data loss or identity fraud if they are lost or stolen. And don’t forget the cords and applicable adaptors.
- Complete your Travel Itinerary plan with the key elements of your trip: transportation plans (flight, train, bus info), lodging details, and your trip timetable. Prior to your departure, you should put together complete Point of Contact (POC) information for people you are meeting, places you are going, and transportation that you will use. This should include full names, positions, addresses, telephone numbers (work, home, cellular), and office addresses if your travels are work-related. Additionally, you should carry the exact address and telephone contact information for any Embassy or Consulate in your vicinity. This is critical information to have in an emergency.
- Provide a copy of your Travel Itinerary plan to family members or friends who will serve as your “Home Team” while you are traveling. This travel plan should include the key trip components like your transportation details (flight numbers, etc.), points of contact, lodging information (including address and telephone numbers), as well as any contingency plans you have made to deal with any unique aspects of your trip (earthquakes in earthquake zones, flooding in monsoon season, etc.). If your flight arrangements change or you have a problem along the way, contact your POC so they can assist you and don’t forget to update your “Home Team”.
Consider the “5 x 5 Travel Plan” as the skeletal core of your international travel trip preparation. In many cases, your research may show that additional planning and documentation may be warranted but by at least completing the “5 x 5” plan you have taken the basic steps prior to traveling that will dramatically improve your ability to deal with an emergency and will significantly increase your personal safety and give you peace of mind.