You’ve been dreaming about that trip abroad for months now. As the date approaches, perhaps you unpack and pack again in anticipation, perhaps tinged by a bit of apprehension. Questions about safety may arise, especially if you are traveling on your own. Preparation, as they say, is everything. Bringing the proper items with you on your trip abroad will help you travel safely and wisely. While you’re abroad, don’t forget to take the proper precautions to ensure that your home, pets, and possessions are safe while you’re away-see the home safety checklist.
The All Important Passport
Considering that it is nearly impossible to board a boat, train or plane without a passport, this is not likely something you’ll forget. In addition to the official document, carry copies of the front page with you, preferably in a separate compartment. If your passport gets lost or stolen it is easier to replace, and you still have some form of ID. Some countries, such as Italy, currently require hotels to hold onto passports while they fill out the government visitor registration forms. Occasionally that means you will be without that passport for a few hours or even overnight. Having a copy with you is a welcome safety net. Along with your passport, bring along at least two copies of your itinerary and emergency contact numbers. Leave an identical copy back at home with friends. Better yet, sign up with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program operated by the U.S. Department of State. This service provides travel updates for different countries and can help your friends track you down in an emergency.
Credit Cards, ATM Cards, Cash
Keeping your funds secure on your trip is a must. Money belts and travel wallets that conveniently fit around your neck and hide beneath shirts and sweaters are the safest way to go. The key is not to advertize what you are carrying. If possible, carry your credit cards, ATM card and cash in different places. Write down your credit card and ATM numbers (but keep the information in a safe place) just in case they are lost or stolen. It makes it easier to cancel and/or replace those items. As far as cash, carry only as much as you need for a day or two and try to arrive with at least some cash in local currency. If you arrive at your destination in the wee hours you’re not going to want to visit an ATM machine. Banks and/or currency exchange offices, except perhaps at some airports and train depots, are not usually open 24hrs. Traveler’s checks are another option, especially in major cities.
Cell Phones and Communication
Cell phones offer a measure of mental comfort and safety for travelers, especially for those traveling alone or in rural areas. Many are equipped with GPS, which along with a good map may keep you from getting lost. Make sure your cell phone will work at your destination. United States phones must be unlocked to work abroad. Unlocking a phone means altering its SIM card, the little chip that makes your phone work, to let it “talk” to the foreign cell phone network.
Some cell phone companies have no problem doing this and usually offer add-on overseas plans. Others resist or have plans that are prohibitively expensive. It may be cheaper for you to buy a simple phone when you get to your destination. Kiosks are found in many airports and depots. Add on some minutes and you are good to go. If you run low, add more.
Safety and Emergency Equipment
Nothing is more comforting in a darkened room than a hint of light. We have flashlights and emergency lighting at home, so why not when we travel? A compact flashlight that in a purse of backpack is a must. First aid kits are also a plus. You may be in the middle of nowhere or unable to get to a pharmacy in the middle of the night. That deep paper cut or bug bite could benefit from a bit of attention sooner rather than later.
You might consider bringing some pepper spray for protection. Airlines require that pepper spray containers be kept in checked baggage only. Find out if there are any restrictions on bringing pepper spray into the country/countries you are visiting. As an example, it is considered illegal in Hong Kong, but legal in India. Likewise, in Europe, the spray is illegal in Belgium and Denmark and perfectly fine in the Czech Republic. If you want to visit Canada, leave the pepper spray at home.
Health Insurance Card, Medical Supplies
While we are on the subject of health, be sure and carry your health insurance card with you. If you policy doesn’t cover you overseas, it’s best to take out travel health insurance. AARP offers travel insurance for those 50 and older and some credit card companies, like American Express, offer their own policies. You may be able to go through your own broker for coverage. Travel insurance is usually a separate policy that covers you for the duration of your trip. Cost is based on length of trip as well as prior medical history.
If you happen to be on prescription medication, make sure you have enough for your trip. Pack your medication in your carry-on luggage, in their original containers, along with a copy of your prescriptions and doctor’s information. This makes it easier to clear customs. Be sure and check the prescription drug importation laws in the country/countries you are visiting. You may need an additional note from your doctor if you medicine includes narcotics or must be delivered by injection, such as insulin. Keep in mind that medications are typically hand inspected at security and customs checkpoints.