First, congrats on exploring the world! Experiencing other cultures and connecting with people in other countries will enhance your life. That said, customs and laws differ by country. Ignorance of customs can lead to embarrassment, while ignorance of the law can lead to worse. Here are 10 safety tips for travelers to make your trip safe, carefree, and enjoyable.
Before you leave home:
- Ensure your passport is up-to-date. This is where to start on the list of safety tips for travelers. Make certain you apply for or renew your passport in plenty of time. Though the State Department is now quoting processing times of 6-8 weeks for a regular new or renewed passport, you can pay $60 for expedited service, including expedited postage for both your application and return of the new passport to get it to you within 2-3 weeks. Complete your application (DS-11 for new or DS-82 for renewal), and bring the payment to an acceptance facility (many post offices are acceptance facilities – find one here). If you need your passport even more urgently, you can apply at a passport office, but should make an appointment and will need to bring documented evidence of the emergency and your travel plans. Note also, that almost all countries require your passport to be valid for more than six months after your travel dates – keep that in mind when you look at the expiration date as well as your booking dates. If you’d like to make it easy for the State Department to find you in the event of an emergency (natural disaster, etc.) in the countries to which you are traveling, you can enroll in the State Department’s Smart Travelers Program. You’ll complete information online which tells the State Department where you’re headed, and also receive updates from the US embassy in your destination country.
- Read up on local culture. Continuing with safety tips for travelers – make sure you read up on the country to which you are traveling. Social mores, religious restrictions, governmental restrictions, drug laws likely differ from your home country, even in very similar countries such as Canada and UK. Lonely Planet and Rough Guides offer good and solid information on a country basis, and reading representative fiction from the country can also be a good way to introduce yourself to your destination – here are book and movie recommendations that foreign ambassadors to the U.S. have shared for visitors to their countries.
- Manage credit and debit card security. Put “travel notifications” on every financial account (credit, debit, etc.) you plan to take with you overseas so that your bank doesn’t decline your card when you try to use it in another country. This might involve a quick call to your bank, although you can do this online at larger institutions – and all my banks (except my main one, naturally) automatically assume you’re traveling. If you need to place a notification you’ll need to monitor your transactions online yourself while you travel (as placing a travel notification essentially removes the fraud protection, so your bank will not be automatically checking your transactions to make sure it fits your spending pattern). And don’t forget to check the foreign transaction fees for each of your cards to determine which has the lowest charges.
- Determine requirements unique for your destination. Check visa requirements, immunization requirements, and prescription medicine suggestions for your destination on the U.S. State Department’s website.
- Organize medicine and prescriptions before you go. We recommend carrying more than enough prescription medication for your trip in the original packaging along with a signed letter from your medical professional explaining what your medications are for. You should also check with your destination’s embassy about your particular medications to confirm that your medications are legal in your destination country. If you have many required medications or a complicated treatment plan, you could even consult a travel medicine specialist. Check vaccine requirements for your host countries – you might be surprised what you’ll need inoculation for before you fly. And make sure you leave enough time before you go for the vaccines to become effective.
- Safeguard important information. Important on the list of safety tips for travelers, make a hard copy of your important documents and cards to leave with a friend or family member at home, as well as a copy to put in your hand luggage. These include the first two pages of your passport which contain your photo and date of birth (called biodata), driver’s license, credit/debit cards, and other identification cards. I travel with my iPhone, and keep all my information on it, but also take the precaution of having a hard copy in case my phone gets lost or runs out of power.
- Create a list of emergency contact information. Create a list of important contact information, for example, the US Embassy in your destination country, as well as the 24-hr Consular emergency number: U.S. 1-888-407-4747 / Outside the U.S. +1 202-501-4444. Include your bank’s emergency out-of-country numbers, as well as your physician’s number if you are currently in treatment for any illness or condition.
- Consider a short-term international mobile phone plan. Consider purchasing a short term international plan (which you must do if you’re locked into a company, but which is optional if you own your phone). Or you can purchase a pre-loaded SIM card in the country you’re visiting. If you’re heading for Europe, a SIM card purchased in the EU will work throughout with no roaming charges. And remember, if you want connectivity, make sure there’s wifi wherever you stay.
- OPTION FOR THOSE WITH VOIP LANDLINES: Forty-one percent of Americans still have a landline phone, and more people are converting their landline service number to a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) provider, such as OOMA. If you have VOIP for your landline number or have been considering switching your existing US landline service to a VOIP provider, check to see if that provider has a related app you can use to mimic your landline number any time your mobile is connected to wifi, and international calling is a couple of pennies per minute depending on the country you’re calling.
- Get Internet access everywhere. If you think wifi will be limited at your destination, consider purchasing or renting a universal hotspot for Internet access. One of our favorites is TEP Wireless. (Note, you can also use the TEP app to access free calling and texting around the world with your mobile phone.)
- Protect your trip financially. Finally, on the list of safety tips for travelers, we recommend purchasing travel insurance for the types of coverage you may need, be it medical, evacuation, or cancellation insurance. Generally, you need to purchase it within a week of your first trip purchase (airline tickets, lodging, etc.), but you can add more purchases to the policy as you make your plans. Travel insurance comes in handy for cases of adverse weather, sickness, national disasters, and more. We represent several reputable travel insurance companies and are happy to help you out.
Of course, the easiest way to make sure your trip is stress-free is to book your trip with Dragon in Your Pocket. We’ll send you a checklist of things to do before you go, things to bring with you, and of course, your itinerary.
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