Travel abroad is more complicated than funding a trip and setting an itinerary. With increasing requirements for travelers and news reports about swine flu and terrorist concerns, travelers have lots to think about in planning a safe venture away from home.
Nonetheless, travel experts say risk is limited and concerns can be kept at bay with careful planning and some good old-fashioned common sense. When you travel abroad, the odds are in your favor that you will have a safe and incident-free trip, says Chuck Brook, owner of Express Travel in Medford.
What to Pack — and Not Pack
A safe trip starts with packing your bags. Avoid taking items you'd hate to lose or couldn't replace, like expensive jewelry, family trinkets and paperwork not necessary for the trip. Avoid clothes or expensive jewelry that imply affluence, and don't over pack. Traveling light will mean less travel fatigue and less opportunity for lost or stolen luggage.
Money and Paperwork
Bring one or two major credit cards instead of a lot of cash. Check to make sure that your Debit card will work in the ATM's in that country. A call to your bank may be needed. Pack an extra set of passport photos along with a photocopy of your passport's information page to make replacement of your passport easier in the event it is lost or stolen. Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home in case they need to contact you in an emergency and carry a copy in a separate place than originals will be kept.
Consider getting a telephone calling card or verifying your own cell phone can be used from your destination. Change plans for a month if necessary. Access numbers to U.S. operators are published in many international newspapers. Find out your access number before you go and consider learning key phrases in the country's primary language, such as "Where is the hospital?" or "I need to contact the police."
Most health and property insurance is not valid overseas. Check your policies to review coverage limitations. Some policies, Brook notes, cover emergency care but not evacuation in an emergency, which could cost tens of thousands.
"I had appendicitis a year or so ago. It was $18,000 for 16 or 18 hours in the hospital," Brook said.
For added security, consider a travel insurance policy covering everything from short-term health and emergency needs and evacuation in the event of a serious illness to damaged rental cars and stolen luggage.
Finally, during the trip, practice basic common sense to avoid risks to health and safety, says Linda Blew, an agent at Medford's Jackson Travel Agency.
Utilize a skilled travel agent to plan your trip and research your destination. The State Department website offers country-specific information on areas outside the United States including entry requirements, currency regulations and info on crime, areas to avoid and concerns for tourists and also provides addresses and emergency phone numbers for U.S. Embassies and consulates. Travelers can also register their trip, to be contacted with special alerts or in the event of an emergency. For details go to travelregistration.state.gov.
Overall, Blew says, basic precautions, the same that should be used for domestic travel, apply for most destinations.
Avoid Getting Sick
Finally, with swine flu and other recent scares of pandemic and worse, basic hygiene is crucial during travel. Brook urges travelers to practice basic hand washing and act as though its flu season no matter when you travel.
"Be careful what you touch and, if you have to touch things like rails or airline seats, wash your hands before touching your eyes or mouth," Brook says. Carry hand sanitizer with you as well.
Cancel plans if you're sick, he says, but don't get worked up about news reports that paint a grimmer picture than reality.
"We're still sending people to destinations like Mexico, Hawaii, the Caribbean"¦ everything has been going just fine. You just have to use common sense," he says.