During this time of the year, a lot of Americans travel abroad to spend their holidays. If you plan to travel overseas, there are a few safety and security practices you should implement before your departure. Also, to be on the safe side, we will discuss what needs to be done during your trip to make sure come back home safe and sound.
I used to travel a lot a few years back and I’ve visited a lot of countries during a ten year period. I had to travel overseas for business, but I always managed to take a few days extra for pleasure activities and exploration. My tips will help make sure you will have a safe travel overseas and avoid dangers, hassles and aggravation of negligence.
Planning the trip
Before you travel overseas, you should take the time and organize your personal records. You may use a business travel agency or you may organize the trip yourself. However, make sure everything is in order in case of an emergency. I strongly recommend to search online and familiarize yourself with local foods, currency, customs and people in the country you plan to visit. One of the most important things you should be aware of are the laws in the area you will be staying.
There are a lot of resources available online and I recommend starting with the U.S. State Department’s website. You will be able to get the contact information for the local embassy or consulate in each country you are visiting. There are a lot of travel advisories posted each day and you will know in advance what’s happening in those countries.
Get a smartphone app that helps you translate casual conversation phrases if you don’t speak the language. I also suggest getting a good pocket phrase book since it won’t run out of power (like your cell phone). It may help you memorize and use key phrases that can get you out of trouble.
If you plan to use a travel agent, check their rating first and make sure the airlines, car rentals and hotels have good reviews. You want to pick something reputable and dependable and not play the lottery. A good travel agent will provide you with helpful inside information about every single thing you can think of.
Make sure your passport and visas are in order and that your inoculation records are updated. Some visas may take months to obtain and there may be delays during peak travel seasons.
There are a few things mandatory before every departure. Things like letting your relatives or close friends know where you are going. Giving them access to important documents can also save you a lot of trouble and keep you safe.
At least one relative and/or close friend should have access to the following:
- Your full itinerary
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate
- Proof of insurance and medical records
- Phone numbers email addresses and any social media information that can help them contact you
- Credit card numbers, security codes and expiration date and other bank account information
- Recent pictures (one frontal and one of your profile) including photos of tattoos
- Photocopies of your travel documents (including passports and ID cards)
- A DNA sample
- Points of contact in the country you are traveling to
Some of these, like DNA samples or fingerprints, may seem extreme for some, but they are necessary. In case something horrible happens and your family needs to identify your body, those will be very useful.
The big day
The departure day is quite exciting and people tend to lose focus of things. When you travel overseas, besides making sure all the above is covered, you should make sure you can blend in with the locals. For example, dress like the natives and don’t wear clothes that make you stand out. You should be dressed accordingly on your flight and at your destination. Women have certain restrictions when it comes to some countries and they need to dress in a certain way.
If you don’t dress like the locals, you will attract unwanted attention to yourself. The same goes for your travel companions as well.
Pick shoes that are practical and comfortable for walking long distances, regardless of the surface of travel. You need footwear that can be easily changeable and easy to take off during security checks and long flights.
Avoid wearing jewelry or any other accessories that can make you a target. You don’t need to show people how wealthy you are. The same goes for elements that can indicate your religious affiliation.
You should have on yourself and in your wallet an emergency contact information card. It should contain details such as current medication, insurance information, blood type and allergies information. Also, there should be contact phone numbers for family and friends along with consulate and embassy contact information.
I don’t think I have to mention this, but I will do it anyway. When the big day comes, make sure you have your tickets, passport and ID card readily available. The same goes for the visa if the country requires you to have one.
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It’s all about the money when you travel overseas
Before I travel, I go to a local bank and I get a few hundred dollars’ worth of small-denomination bills in the currency of the country I’m travelling to. You have to check with your bank and find one that can exchange dollars for the currency you need. Be advised that not all banks can do so.
I split the money into two and even three ways before traveling. I keep some in my wallet, some in my travel bag and some on me.
Usually, I avoid exchanging money on location since criminals usually stake out currency exchange places. They do so even in airports to spot big fish (the person that makes large withdrawals) and they usually follow them until they can act.
Another recommendation is to have a certain amount of money in the form of traveler’s checks. Those checks will come in handy when you can’t access ATMs or use your credit cards. Also, it won’t hurt if you have at least $100 in assorted denominations on yourself. Believe it or now, the US dollar still holds value in many countries. One or two dollars will make people happy and willing to help.
How about credit cards?
I keep in my wallet a Visa and a MasterCard whenever I travel. I have at least a few thousand dollars of credit on each, just for emergencies. There wasn’t a single country that didn’t accept these cards during my years of travel. Once you get to your destination, you should check online and locate ATMs you can access along with your travel route.
Before you travel, you should call your credit card company and let them know where you plan to go. If you do not do this, you may end up not being able to use the credit cards and have them blocked. I can tell you from experience that it can be a hassle to get your card reactivated once it’s shut down.
In 2012 I traveled to India, and one of my credit cards was skimmed. They manage to make some online purchases in India and they tried to withdraw money from it in the Philippines (I’m guessing they cloned it there). The credit card company called me and they asked several questions to make sure “I wasn’t in two places at once”. Long story short, when it got back home, it took several trips to the bank, statements and calls to get my money back.
Be aware that credit cards scams are a common thing nowadays: from fake card readers to small portable card skimmers and even fake ATMs, all are waiting patiently for you to pass by. You should make sure your card company offers theft insurance. Even more, make sure it is covered in the country you are traveling to. I also recommend getting an RFID wallet, not only for your traveling days but for daily domestic use.
If you plan to travel overseas, all the things mentioned in this article should be implemented without questioning the necessity to do so. You will be in a foreign environment and you need to make sure you can find your way back home. In the second part, we will discuss topics such as cultural awareness, how to pack your bags an what to keep on hand, and many other things to make sure you have a safe trip.