Six easy habits for safe and secure international travel

The number of American deaths linked to resorts in the Dominican Republic over the last two years has increased to 12. Claims of severe illness over that same period with symptoms including stomach cramps, sweating, nausea, and watery eyes, are coming in at far higher numbers.

It’s unclear at this point whether those who tragically passed in the Dominican Republic could have done anything different, but they serve as a powerful reminder that international travel can be dangerous.

Like all things, preparation is the key to success, and safe and secure international travel is no different.

While there is no indication that such preparation would have averted any of the tragedies in the Dominican Republic, it’s worth remembering that the exercise of good international travel habits can make a world of difference against some of the most likely travel threats (natural disasters, medical emergencies/accidents, civil disturbances, criminal activity, and terrorism). Successful planning for a safe and secure international journey begins at home, before you leave. And here are the top six things you should do before going wheels-up on your next exciting vacation:

  1. Do your research on the city, country, and region you are visiting. Allocate time to learn about the people, economy, culture, weather conditions, crime, current events, and etiquette. Basic internet searches will provide valuable insight to help make you a more informed and more prepared traveler.
  2. Check the State Department advisory/warnings and sign up for their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This free service offers regionally specific safety and security updates for U.S. residents traveling abroad. Enrolling in the STEP program (prior to departure) also facilitates the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in contacting you if there is an emergency at home.
  3. Identify the closest embassy and supporting consulates to the international city you plan to travel and record their contact information. According to the State Department, you should contact the embassy in the event you “need to report the injury, illness, death or arrest of a U.S. Citizen, or to request emergency assistance for a U.S. citizen.” Emergency assistance might include, but would not be limited to, civil litigation issues and/or a lost or stolen passport. Given there is no telling when you may be confronted with an emergency, it is best to keep this contact information on you at all times. 
  4. Make photocopies of your passport, and credit/debit cards. An active passport is critical to your ability to travel in and out of different countries. If your passport is lost or stolen while traveling, you will need to contact embassy personnel to obtain a replacement. This process could be lengthy, so having a photocopy of your passport (and extra passport photos) is a habit that should facilitate a more expeditious turnaround time. The photocopy of your passport should be protected just as diligently as the original passport from potential identity thieves. In the event your credit/debit cards are lost or stolen, you will have all the information you need to cancel the cards quickly. The photocopies also come in handy when the credit/debit cards are lost, but not stolen (for example, wallet falls in the ocean). You don’t want to cancel the cards and in fact need to keep using them.
  5. Prepare a travel medical kit with all the essentials. Sometimes the emergencies we experience on the road are not serious when properly addressed, but incredibly inconvenient. Have you ever needed to find medicine while in a foreign country? What about at 2 a.m.? How do you find the pharmacy? Is one even open? Traveling with a lightweight medical kit equipped with bandages and various minor illness medication can not just save you time, but can ensure you get back to recovery faster and with less hassle. A basic travel medical kit should include a few doses of the following:
  • Allergy medicine 
  • Pain relievers medication
  • Cold and flu, preferably a sleep facilitator 
  • Antidiarrheal 
  • Cough drops
  • Band aids and gauze pads
  • Medical tape and scissors
  • Antibacterial cream for cuts
  • Antibacterial or baby wipes
  • Granola bars and/or electrolyte packets (emergency only, not for snacks but survival)
  1. Meet with your doctor. It is important to understand and personalize the medical considerations of international travel. Doctors will be able to provide helpful advice as it relates specifically to you and your medical condition(s). Also helpful is learning from your doctor what vaccines you should, or must, take prior to visiting a particular location.

The exercise of these six habits prior to your departure will drastically improve your emergency preparedness. And it’s proper preparedness that makes for safe travel and smart travel. 

Jeff Cortese is a financial crimes manager in the private sector, is the former acting chief of the FBI’s Public Corruption Unit. Before his 11-year career with the bureau, he worked as a dignitary protection agent with the U.S. Capitol Police and served on the security detail for the Speaker of the House. Follow him on Twitter @jeffreycortese or find him at his website

Tags international travel Passport travel safety US embassies

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