These last weeks have been terribly draining in the travel community. Several friends from the travel industry live in Baton Rouge and have had their lives just torn apart with flooding. Others are affected by the wildfires in California. And just this week we saw the footage of a terrible (and uncommon) earthquake in central Italy, which, although not a touristy area, has been devastating to many supplier partners I have in that country. I hope you’ll join me in keeping the people in these communities in your prayers.
As unpleasant as it may seem, I’d like to take a minute and let you know a few actions you can take to be proactive about your safety and well-being abroad. Some may be obvious to you, but I hope you’ll keep this article and share it with others who may be traveling soon.
How to Stay Safe When Traveling
1.Get in STEP
S.T.E.P stands for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and is a free and highly recommended service for anyone traveling internationally. No, this is not “big brother” tracking your moves! In fact, registering in STEP is a great way to open those lines of communication between you and your loved ones if something goes wrong. By enrolling in STEP, you:
- Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
- Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency
- Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
2. STAY IN COMPLIANCE
Before you even think about packing your bags, you need to make sure you have appropriate documentation for the country you are going to visit. It may not be as simple as having a passport. Many countries (including almost all of Europe and Mexico) require that your passport be valid for up to six months following your set date of departure from that country! Plenty of places in the world require you to have a visa as well. In some cases this is a relatively simple process, but in Russia, for example, this can take quite a bit of time and money.
A few notes about passports // (1) When you travel by air to ANY international country, you need a passport book (not card). The book will do everything a card will do, and it’s valid for ten years for adults, so do yourself a favor and get the book! (2) Renewing your passport is usually super simple and can be done by filling out the application online and mailing in the required documents. Check travel.state.gov for info on exactly what you need to do. (3) Make multiple copies of your passport info page. Leave a copy at home with your emergency contact and take a copy with you (keep it in a different place than your passport though). Extra passport photos never hurt either.
3. GET GOOD TRAVEL INSURANCE
I seriously have never once booked a trip for a client without making sure that they have quality coverage while they are away. A travel insurance policy isn’t just about being able to cancel your trip without penalty; this literally will be your saving grace should even minor disaster strike. Travel insurance, when purchased from a reputable company, is very inexpensive for a terrific amount of coverage. For those European itineraries, I invariably recommend the Travel Guard Gold policy to my clients. This is the same policy I buy for Joe, Chayce, and myself on an annual basis, and I absolutely insist on it for my extended family as well.
4. LEARN THE LAWS
I hate to break it to you, but you just can’t plead ignorance on the laws of another country simply because you are a visitor. Many places have some obscure laws and ordinances, so you need to educate yourself before you even plan a trip. Make sure that you have the correct license if you plan to rent a car. Know the country’s restrictions on felony convictions, drug and alcohol consumption, religious observations, and even sexuality. Just because a law is crazy doesn’t make it any less of a law!
>>>My husband actually saw on social media the other day where a friend of his got himself into some serious trouble wearing camouflage in Trinidad (a gorgeous island in the Caribbean). This is a common rule in many Caribbean hotspots, so don’t pack your hunting gear!
5. GET A CHECK-UP
Ok, so a weekend in Cancun is no big deal, but many places in this beautiful world should only be visited following a medical consultation. Consider visiting with your doctor or nurse practitioner about all of the following before you travel long distances:
- Ability to sit on an airplane for long periods of time
- Antibiotics to take with you
- Safety of drinking water, seafood, etc
- Having more than enough of any prescription medications
- Being physically able to maintain the pace of your itinerary (climbing stairs, walking long distances, extended time in heat/cold, etc)
- On this note, please take a foreign language allergy card (with pictures if possible) with you that you can show to restaurants and food preparers. This is so easy and SO important!
Can I tell you the most important piece of advice that you haven’t seen on this list? Hire a professional travel advisor! I may not know every nuance of every country in the world, but I am a genius when it comes to the areas I specialize in. I also know what questions to ask and where to find the answers. There are countless situations that could easily turn into a disaster, but a few proactive steps by your travel consultant can save you from nearly all of them.