No matter how seasoned a traveler you are, not every trip you take will be perfect. Life happens to all of us, and we only hope that we’re spared any inconveniences when we’re lucky to embark on the journey of a lifetime. Even then, though, stuff happens. But if you take precautions and prepare before your vacation, you can often prevent disasters when you travel, or at least recover and proceed with your itinerary. Trust me when I say that I’ve learned from experience. Here’s a handful of situations that often happen while traveling.
You could get sick while on the trip.
There was the time my husband became violently ill on our last day in Scottsdale, so much that he spent several hours in the hospital getting pumped with fluids so he could board the red-eye flight back to New York that night. He had to be escorted in a wheelchair to the plane because he was too weak to walk, but we made it. (This is a man who’s run marathons.) We were fortunate to be in the United States where finding quality medical care (especially in a big city) is a no-brainer, but had we been abroad, I can’t imagine how much more stressful that situation would have been. That’s why I buy travel insurance when I fly to international destinations. (More on that later).
Missed flights, car break downs or unreliable public transit.
There was also the time I pulled out of our hotel in Montreal and lost power steering in my car, which ended up dying half-way between a traffic lane and a bus stop on a busy downtown street. We had the car towed and left it behind in Canada as it was far too expensive to fix for the age of the vehicle and we didn’t trust driving it over six hours back to New York City. We spent for another night in a hotel and paid for a pricey one-way car rental to get back to NYC. While it was incredibly stressful, especially since neither of us speak French, we made the most of the circumstances and enjoyed one last evening in a different Montreal neighborhood. Love that city!
Getting lost in a foreign country can also happen.
I was on my honeymoon in Florence and went shopping “down the street” while my husband took a nap. I got lost in the romance of Italy, and before I knew it, I was turned around and had no idea where my hotel was. I was not a seasoned traveler at the time, so I didn’t even know the address of the hotel and I couldn’t remember the name. I knew what it looked like on the outside, but that was all. I panicked and kept walking and turning corners, thinking that I’d stumble upon it. I didn’t.
After an hour or so, I turned to locals for help but I didn’t speak a lick of Italian and no one spoke English. I walked inside what I recall as a shoe repair and the shopkeepers saw the desperation in my face and understood that I was lost. They pulled out a phone book, and we scanned all the Florence hotel listings until I recognized a name and thought it might be the hotel where I was staying. Eventually, they put me in a taxi, and a very patient driver coasted around until I recognized my hotel’s sign. If it weren’t for the kindness of strangers that day, I’d probably still be aimlessly wandering the streets of Florence. (That wouldn’t be so bad, now would it?) This happened long before smartphones, so there was no cell service or Google maps to use for navigation. Bottom line – I wasn’t prepared at all. Now, I never travel anywhere without the name, address and phone number of my hotel. 🙂
In reality, anyone who travels regularly will be hit with a mishap or even a full-blown disaster (terrorist attack, act of war, earthquake, hurricane, etc.) at some point. The idea is to recover quickly (if you can), get on with your journey as planned, or if needed, remove yourself from danger. Take these precautions to avoid ruining a well-planned and expensive trip. And if a disaster does occur when you travel, you’re able to get back on track as soon as possible.
HOW TO PREVENT DISASTERS WHEN YOU TRAVEL
Check for travel alerts before your book an international trip.
While there are a few countries I wouldn’t travel to, I typically check for any travel warnings before I book a trip. Doing thorough research ahead of time is a good idea – not just searching for crime stats or terrorist alerts – but also making yourself aware of countries with the threat of natural disasters or things like extreme altitude, weather, driving and road conditions (if you plan to rent a car) and more. The travel.state.gov website is an excellent place to start (just remember that the US government is painting the worst possible picture in these warnings), but I also recommend checking Canada’s and the UK’s equivalent.
Carry any important personal items on the plane.
Always pack medications, essential documents, electronics and other important items in your carry-on bag in case your luggage is delayed or lost. Also, I recommend packing a change of clothing if possible. In the event that your belongings don’t turn up at baggage claim, you’ll have a day’s worth of clothes until matters are sorted out. That in itself will make the mishap much less stressful and allow you to continue with your trip. Better yet, try and pack light and carry your suitcase on the plane.
Know where your passport is at all times.
The debate continues as to whether you should carry a copy of your passport or the actual book. I’ve done it both ways, and I’m not sure if there is one full-proof solution for everyone. I always try to book a hotel with safes in the rooms, so if I want, I can store my passport and extra cash there. I always keep a copy of my passport in iCloud, so worst-case scenario, I get robbed and even my iPhone is stolen, I still have a copy of my passport and can access it from a computer.
Make at least two copies of your passport before you leave for your trip – keep one in your suitcase and one on you. Depending on where you travel, the actual book may be safer to carry with you. If your room has a reliable safe, store it there. If you’re staying at a hostel or a hotel that’s not so secure, you’ll want to keep your passport with you at all times. Plus have copies and a photo on your smartphone. Don’t forget to take a picture of the passport stamp once you pass through immigration.
Travel with an international phone.
I’m not going to elaborate on the types of phones or SIM card options because that’s a separate article in itself. But you should have access to a phone when you travel internationally. You can add data and phone service to your current plan, buy a SIM card and switch it out or purchase a phone that you use when you travel. What’s more important is to have access to a phone at all times, in case of emergency.
Allow plenty of time for every step of your trip.
Don’t overbook yourself. Allow enough time to get from one place to another, and then add 30 minutes. I pay special attention to connecting flights, or any flight, for that matter. I’ve only missed one flight in my life (so far), and I’m sure there will be others, but if I can plan well enough to avoid throwing off a schedule at the beginning of a trip, I’ll have a better chance of smooth sailing for the duration. The same goes for traffic and driving in a foreign place. Leave yourself enough time to travel from place to place, because you may (and probably will) get lost at least once!
Locate your embassy.
When in a foreign country, always know where your embassy is located. Depending on how remote a destination you’re in, you may have to travel to a major city to reach the embassy. It’s best to have that info before your trip, in case of disaster or an emergency, you won’t have to try to find a computer, Wi-Fi, English-speaker, etc, and can focus your energy on reaching the embassy.
Get trip insurance.
I recommend travel insurance for international trips, especially those where you’ll be driving or traveling beyond one city or place. I almost always purchase a policy for peace of mind. If I’m not driving or traveling much throughout the country (or from country to country), I might skip it. For instance, I visited Jamaica a few months back and spent three nights in a resort. I didn’t purchase travel insurance for that trip, but I’ve bought it for other quick trips as well as my month-long excursion to Europe in 2016. I’ve never needed to use it, but I’ve slept better knowing I had it.