Most of the time, vacations are fun and carefree, but on rare occasions an emergency requires our immediate attention and action. When disaster strikes, having a plan and quick access to accurate information is critical to staying safe.
With luck you’ll never need any of these resources. Still, as the current Covid19 crisis shows, it’s essential to be prepared should you need to leave a destination quickly or require emergency assistance while abroad.
Here are some tips to keep you safe and informed during your adventures away from home.
Before You Leave
Visit the website for the U.S. Department of State and the C.D.C. for accurate information about your destination and the most recent travel advisories.
Register for STEP
The STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) is a free service with the U.S. Department of State to register your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In the event of an emergency, you’ll receive travel and security updates via text about the situation and information about what to do next. It also provides a way for family and friends to reach you if there’s an emergency at home.
Buy Travel Insurance
Vacations are a substantial financial investment, make sure to protect that investment by purchasing travel insurance. Check to see if your health insurance policy covers you while traveling overseas (F.Y.I.: Medicare does not cover medical treatment abroad). If not, purchase supplemental insurance that covers special medical needs or risks associated with your trip—for example, scuba diving. Consider purchasing evacuation insurance if you’re engaging in a high-risk activity or if you have a preexisting condition that might require emergency care.
Read the insurance policy carefully. Not all emergency conditions are covered by travel insurance (for example, pandemics), and keep in mind, once a situation, like a hurricane, is announced, new insurance policies won’t cover a cancelled trip.
Get Vaccinations and Preventative Medications
Consult with your doctor and a local travel clinic about vaccinations or preventative medications needed for your destination. Most major hospitals offer these services, which are often covered by health insurance. Make the appointment early enough for the treatment to be effective or to receive multiple doses of the medication as necessary.
Have an Emergency Plan
Plan how you’ll get home during an emergency without counting on assistance from the federal government. It’s crucial, especially during a global event, to create an emergency plan independent of the federal government. Depending on the scope of the situation, the government may be unwilling or unable to provide help, which happened during the COVID19 crisis.
Have an Exit Strategy and Meeting Spot
Make an emergency communication plan with your travel companions and choose a place to meet if you get separated and cell phones are disrupted or overwhelmed because of the crisis. Plan a first meeting spot and a second option if the first location becomes inaccessible. Decide how to communicate with family at home to let them know you’re safe. Some social media sites offer an all-safe post option.
Keep a Paper Copy of Emergency Contacts
Storing documents and contact information in the cloud is an easy way to travel without cumbersome piles of paper, but what if you lose your phone or the internet isn’t available? Make a paper list of emergency contacts, including phone numbers for home, insurance, credit cards, and the U.S. embassy and consulate.
A Few More Quick Tips
- Use local news sources to find quick and timely updates regarding the crisis.
- Follow the guidance of local officials
- Use all the resources available to you for help. If you’re on a tour or cruise, contact the company for assistance and advice. If you’re staying at a hotel, follow the advice of hotel staff for a safe evacuation. If you hired a travel advisor, contact her/him for help.
- For emergency help, contact the U.S. embassy or consulate, but remember they might be overwhelmed with requests for assistance, so having an alternative plan is essential.
It’s unlikely you’ll ever need to implement an emergency plan while you’re traveling, but being prepared will provide peace of mind and help you enjoy your trip all the more.
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