“Worry Free Travel”? Is there such a thing? Perhaps, but only if you travel close to home on familiar paths. But what’s the fun in that? If you’re willing to leave your comfort zone, work a bit at travel safety, and invest in some anti-theft accessories, you’ll be rewarded with adventures and new-found confidence. Here are the travel safety tips we use to be smart travelers on every trip.
Buy travel insurance
You’ve booked the hotel, the flights, and budgeted for other expenses, and now I suggest travel insurance? Is travel insurance really necessary? Ask yourself these questions:
How soon am I traveling?
- If you’re leaving next week on a short trip to NYC, then forgo the insurance. You’re more than likely to make the trip!
- If you’re booking a big trip a year in advance (with lots of $$$ involved) get the insurance. Most travel insurance will cover you if you become incapacitated, if you lose your job, or suffer some other catastrophic loss.
How will I handle losing all the money I’ve put into the trip if I have to cancel?
- Trip to NYC – you’re out $500, that’s OK.
- Trip to the Galapagos – you may lose $10,000 and, with that money, any possibility you’ll be able to go at another time.
Is there a possibility I might become ill or injured during the trip?
- NYC – your U.S. based health insurance will cover you!
- Grand Canyon – U.S. health insurance will cover you BUT you might need to be evacuated which isn’t covered in your plan!
- Galapagos – unlikely you’ll be covered by your U.S. plan, and you might need to be evacuated to the mainland.
Considering all these factors, we have been purchasing travel insurance for most of our trips. We are fortunate in only having to collect on the insurance once, when a flight was cancelled. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that our luck holds…
Read more from an expert. Travel Insurance: Guide to Decide
Prepare well before your trip for safer travel overseas
1. Take a picture of your passport, travel documents, credit cards, and prescription labels before you leave. Email the pictures to yourself and then erase them from your phone. Your documents are now backed up on your email server and can be retrieved by signing online.
2. Alert your bank to travel plans. Banks will pick up on unusual activity and will shut down your account. We had this happen in Disneyworld which wasn’t a big deal. We just spoke to the bank, verified our SSN, etc., and were back in business. This would have been MUCH harder if we had been traveling abroad.
3. If you are traveling overseas, register with U.S. State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (or similar service in your country) The State Department pages will list travel advisories on the countries your are visiting. Don’t obsess over the warnings, but use them to inform yourself. Then enroll with your travel plans. We hope there will never come a time when the State Department needs to know where we are – a political crisis or emergency – but it’s better to be prepared.
4. Shut off mail, and ask a neighbor to watch for packages, etc. Make sure your lawn is attended to and you have lights on timers.
5. [optional] Install a video monitoring security device, i.e., a Ring doorbell. It’ll give you a sense of security to see what’s happening at home. We use ours to monitor activity when we’re away, and also to give direction to delivery persons, etc. when we’re not traveling!
4. Look at maps ahead of time to get a sense of your destination. You don’t have to memorize it, but knowing North from South can help when you’re struggling to orient yourself. Remember, if you anticipate being in a remote location, GPS might not be available to you. And the taxi driver might not know (or pretend not to know) where your hotel is. Our friends visiting Zanzibar last year spent $75 on what should have been a $30 ride when the driver couldn’t find their lodging.
5. Learn a few phrases of the language, and/or download a translator app. iTranslate and Google Translate work offline as long as you prep the apps before you leave home.
For more tips to prepare for a long trip, read How to Stay Organized on a Long Trip.
Getting ready to go – packing preparation for worry free travel
6. Carry on your bags if possible. But if you need to check bags, pack as if you’ll lose your luggage. If you’re traveling with a partner or friend, divide your clothing between two bags. Carry at least one outfit, a swimsuit, and some toiletries in your carry-on. All medications, travel documents, cameras, laptops, etc. go in your carry-on.
7. Bring prescription medications in their pharmacy bottle, or snap a picture of the label with your phone. Don’t forget prescription medication you don’t take everyday, but might need, i.e., inhalers, migraine medication, etc. We also advise carrying 24 hrs of any OTC medication you need occasionally. i.e., sinus headache medication, allergy medication. We can usually find a pharmacy to buy what we need but we’d rather do that when it’s convenient, not at 1 a.m.
8. Don’t bring anything you wouldn’t mind losing. In particular, don’t wear your best jewelry. I understand this can be disappointing as you might want to dress up, but jewelry marks you as wealthy in many of the areas of the world with terrible poverty. We wear only simple wedding bands when we travel overseas, and carry some inexpensive pieces for evenings out. Better yet, buy a piece at your destination. One of our favorite souvenirs.
9. Carry a fake wallet. Put some outdated credit cards, etc., and whatever cash you need for the day in a simple wallet. If you are held up, give up the wallet with no struggle. You’re out some money but nothing else. The rest of your money can be left in the hotel room safe, or worn in a travel money belt, or similar (I use a runners belt, very inconspicuous and great for use at home too!).
10. Secure your bags. It is not necessary to buy anti-theft bags (though we love our PacSafe CitySafe convertible bag and our PacSafe camera bag) You can make any backpack or handbag more secure by using s-biners to ‘lock’ the zippers, tether your wallet to the bag with a strap or a safety pin, and carry the bag crossbody.
After all of this preparation, is our travel completely worry free? Of course not. But by being prepared we can handle most eventualities. Then it’s up to each of us to behave as we would in our own city or town – pay attention to your surroundings and your own behavior. Travel safely overseas, but most of all, have fun!!