Travel Safely

I’ve been very fortunate in my 50+ years to travel a LOT! Lucky me, a small-town (population 500 with one caution light, but that’s another story!) Georgia girl has seen most of the US and much of Europe. Being out of town this week at two different conference made me think about traveling tips, travel safety, and travel insurance.

Do you overpack or are you more organized than me? I’m getting better with practice, but sometimes it’s still a struggle. I’m sharing some tips to help with packing that I find very helpful.

Packing

  1. Roll, don’t fold. This is one of my favs! Rolling your clothes is more effective than folding them because tightly rolled clothes take up less space in your suitcase than folded ones. I’m still surprised at how much I can get in one small suitcase by rolling my clothes. I traveled to Italy for nine days with only ONE carry-on suitcase. I could have NEVER have done this ten years ago! Also, don’t forget to stuff items in those empty shoes!
  2. Procrastination does not help. Advanced planning ensures you’ll never forget something important. Start. Early and stay organized.
  3. Familiarize yourself with the airline’s baggage information, so you are not surprised with an unexpected fee. TSA provides guidelines for carry-on rules as well.
  4. Be sure to align your personal items with the regulations of the airline you are using. How big can your purse or personal item be? Can you win the prize for the biggest “personal item” PLUS a carry-on?
  5. Check with your hotel about whether they offer laundry services. This could allow you to pack lighter. Many vacation rentals have great laundry facilities, so you can pack only a few outfits and wash and wear.
  6. Keep important valuables in your carry-on bag. Your passport, identification, money, credit cards, jewelry, electronics, and other valuables should always be taken onto the plane with you. Don’t let these important items out of your sight. I highly recommend NOT taking valuables with you. Your grandmother’s ring or any other family heirloom that cannot be replaced should NOT be taken on a trip.

Safety

I know packing seems to be a big deal but more importantly, your safety should be your #1 priority. Even a small incident involving safety can ruin your trip of a lifetime. And a worst-case scenario can impact you financially, physically not to mention psychologically. Keeping your safety in mind, here are some safety and security ideas:

  1. Do your homework before you travel. Understand your destination in depth before your trip and don’t be ignorant about where you are going. You should know about the country, its political situation, the cultural norms, the safest spots for travelers, safe places to stay, and the areas or regions that are best avoided. You don’t want surprises when you travel.
  2. Compile your documentation. Before you travel, you should have copies of your passport, medical card(s), credit cards, and your travel itinerary. Give a copy to a friend back home and keep one set with you, separate from the real thing. Email any pertinent information to yourself, so you can access it from any hotel or internet café if needed. You can also keep a copy of these items in Google Docs, Dropbox, iCloud, or any other secure cloud storage. If you travel internationally, you should always have the US Embassy information for your destination. I had friends who traveled to Peru, and they did not follow these suggestions. One member of their party lost his passport. They missed out on two days of their vacation adventure while traveling to the US Embassy to get the proper paperwork, so he could fly home. He did get home by the way.
  3. Where you stay is important. Have you checked safety ratings for your lodgings? What do the reviews say about your hotel or rental? Can you see a trend of negative reviews? This is a very important thing to consider and research. You want your accommodations to be clean, safe, and well-maintained. You are making this the home base of your travels. Be sure it fits your needs.
  4. Know your risks when it comes to activities. This is especially true if you are engaging in adventure sports. What are the risks? If you injure yourself, will you be covered by your health insurance or travel insurance? Check the specifics before you book that ziplining adventure through the rainforest.
  5. Be attentive and aware of your surroundings. Don’t be an easy target for thieves. Show that you are paying attention – keep your head up, your eyes looking around, and acknowledge people coming and going. Staying aware means you’re not likely to be a target. Cell phones can be a big distraction here. If you are walking around with your eyes glued to your phone and not paying attention to your surroundings, this is a major problem.

    Thieves create situations to breed confusion and then strike. If this happens to you, grab your wallet or other valuable stuff until you can remove yourself from the situation. Two years ago in Germany four friends and I were getting on a train when a group of 6-8 young girls approached us. Laughing, dancing, and just being loud, they bumped into one of us, and a small item was taken. Chaos can happen quickly distracting you and thieves can take your items.

Danger

General safety is one thing, but certain dangers are also associated with travel.

  1. Health risks. Depending on your destination country, health issues can be a huge concern. You really don’t want to deal with things like stomach flu, vomiting, or diarrhea while on vacation. These conditions can quickly ruin a trip. Remember the Peru trip, one traveling partner had a terrible stomach condition for two days. The group basically lost two more days of vacation.
  2. Scamming. Scammers work full time and look for easy victims. If you don’t speak the language or have familiarity with the country, you are a major target. Buy wallets that have RFID protection to avoid identity theft.
  3. Transportation. Driving in another country can be problematic. Make certain your insurance covers the country you are visiting (By the way, MOST of the DON’T!). In most situations, you will want to purchase rental car insurance from the country you are visiting. How many times have you read about a bus crash or water ferry accident on the national news? Always use recommended companies for transportation.
  4. Try to blend in as much as possible. Flashing your expensive jewelry or camera equipment is not a good idea. It is also good to have a decoy wallet containing only a little cash to give to a thief if you get stopped. Keep your wallet in your front pocket, and when you’re on a crowded street shift your backpack to the front. Showing signs of wealth will make you a desired target.
  5. Social Media. Don’t post your travel plans or travel pictures on social media. I know it’s exciting to share your great trips with all of your friends, but you should wait until you return home to post your pictures. Thieves scan social media pages to see who is traveling and not home for an extended period of time. Your home is now a big target if you have announced you are on a cruise for a week. Keep your loved ones updated on your travel plans and check in at designated times, but not necessarily on social media. Be careful using public wi-fi. Most public wi-fi channels are not secure networks, and thieves wait for a data breach to access all of your data.
  6. Be prepared for the worst. IF the worst happens – your money or credit cards are stolen, you get sick and need to go to the hospital – it’s good to have a backup plan. Again, have access to all of your documents.
    ALWAYS have a backup cash stash. Keep at least $100 US dollars hidden in a secret spot deep inside your luggage. If possible, keep a backup credit card. If your purse or bag is stolen, and everything is gone, this gives you a temporary financial back-up plan.

Is Travel Insurance a good investment? YES! Travel insurance could literally save your life. I’ve had two personal situations with travel insurance. One of my close friends was on a company trip and had a stroke while in the Bahamas. He was airlifted to a Miami hospital. Would you want to pay that air-flight expense? Another acquaintance was in Greece at the Olympics and had a medical condition. It was too expensive to fly him to the states, and he died in Greece. His family had to pay to fly his body back.

Whether your luggage is lost, you end up in a political coup or natural disaster, or you need to go to the hospital while on the road, travel insurance will reimburse your expenses. If you’re robbed, travel insurance will provide you with the security you need. If the unthinkable occurs and you die in another country, good travel insurance will allow your family to bring your body home without paying tens of thousands of dollars and getting wrapped up in mountains of red tape. In short, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be traveling in the first place.

Be sure to examine your travel insurance policies in depth to make certain they cover YOUR situation. Many of these plans don’t cover certain adventure sports or particular countries. If you have questions, call your independent insurance agent before your trip.

These are just a few tips to make traveling easier and safer. You save, and your invest big money and time planning for your travels, don’t let one bad decision ruin your fun. Also, when you get a chance, I’d love to see your pictures!