Travel Safety 101

travel safety

Traveling far from home comes with inherent risks.  The usual safety nets like healthcare, car insurance, and rescue services might be completely absent.  Before you go, be smart and be aware of what options you have if things go wrong.

INSURANCE

CAR INSURANCE

This is an easy one.  Even though your primary car insurance might not cover your rental cars or driving in other countries, there are plenty of ways to obtain car insurance without breaking the bank.

The first place to look is a credit card.  Many credit cards, especially the ones focused on traveling, will provide collision and damage coverage for rental cars.  You’ll likely need to DECLINE the collision coverage offered by the rental agency.  Some agencies will act like you’re crazy for not buying their coverage, but it’s just a sales tactic.  Know your benefits and coverage before you go, then you’ll be able to confidently tell the salesperson “no thanks” before heading out with solid insurance.  

If the credit card coverage isn’t possible, the next best alternative may likely be the coverage provided by the rental agency.  

Person-to-person car rental services (AirBnb for vehicles) are gaining traction.  It’s a new industry and many credit cards won’t cover this type of rental.  Many of these providers offer their own protection, which vary greatly in terms.  You’ll likely need to purchase this coverage when using these services.  Be careful, I’ve seen $3,500 deductibles offered.

HEALTH INSURANCE

Here’s where it can get tricky.  Most providers provide little coverage outside of your area.  And if you’re outside of the country, you can basically forget all about it.  

That’s why people go with travel insurance.  Travel insurance is the most popular way to obtain serious healthcare coverage while traveling outside of your home country.  

We’ve heard nothing but good things from World Nomads Travel Insurance.  There are many different plans, but most are fairly comprehensive and should get you out of trouble if the need arises.

EMERGENCY AND CATASTROPHE INSURANCE

What happens if you’re in a foreign country and a typhoon sweeps through?  Or if you’re in a conflict zone and get caught up in a wave of violence? Emergencies happen, and they don’t schedule around your holidays or vacations.  

Once again, first check with your credit card.  The best travel cards, like Chase or Capital One, have some coverage for emergency rescue and evacuation.  They also provide life-saving services, such as contacting local embassies or consulates, and even coordinating rescue operations.  

Travel insurance is the ultimate peace of mind for traveling.  The emergency coverage options will be much more comprehensive than a credit card and you will likely be in better hands if the situation arises.  But there is a high price tag associated with that peace of mind.

Another option for catastrophic insurance comes from the manufacturers of GPS units with SOS functions. Garmin inReach, one of the smallest and most trusted units on the market, links with a specific rescue service known as GEOS.  You can register for emergency insurance, so that when you hit the SOS button, you aren’t immediately draining your savings account.  

SAFETY PREPARATIONS AND SITUATIONAL AWARENESS

In some places, you don’t have to use common sense that much.  I can walk around by myself in downtown Denver at 2am with a nice camera and a full backpack, and my chances of getting mugged are fairly low.  But if I do the same thing in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, I’d be asking for it. 

Putting yourself in a dangerous situation is the first thing to avoid.  For many countries, this means you do not drive at night.  Potholes and wildlife can be show-stoppers.  As can violence.  When traveling in high-crime areas, staying off of desolate roads at night is rule number one.

Travel electronics are awesome and we couldn’t share this information without them.  But they’re also highly sought after and can easily turn you into a target.  Don’t be flashy with electronics.  Consider putting stickers or duct tape over major brand logos or to make the electronics look like they’re in poor condition.  Keep them stored securely whenever possible. Use the camera quickly and discretely. 

It also helps to be respectful of local customs.  Talking too loudly is a common way outsiders attract attention.  Ask before taking photographs of people, including the parents of children you want in the shot.  If you wish to enter a religious ceremony, funeral, wedding, or any other major event, understand that you are an outsider and try to be unseen and unheard. Ask locals if you aren’t sure of the customs.  Chances are they’ll be happy to share.

Traveling away from civilization and into deep wilderness comes with it’s own set of safety guidelines.  The storage of any food and anything with a strong smell should be taken seriously. Personal protection, such as bear spray, could be the difference between life and death.

Your own personal safety should be a paramount concern as well.  Don’t drop off of that 10’ ledge because you don’t want to walk around to the stairs.  Don’t use a knife in a hazardous manner.  At home, you might be able to call an ambulance and get help right away. If you’ve hiked for three days into unknown land, a broken ankle could turn into a hell of a dilemma.  

WHAT TO DO WHEN THINGS DON’T GO AS PLANNED

Accept it as a fact that you will encounter something you didn’t plan for on almost every trip.  Understand this fact so that when it happens, you’ll be a cool cucumber.  Itineraries which look perfect at home and behind your computer can be completely ruined by one airline or train delay.  Be ready for it! Be flexible! And keep having fun!

There is no sense in ruining your happiness just because you can’t stick to your original plan.  That doesn’t mean you aren’t going to have fun. On the contrary, white often when things don’t go as planned, the real adventure begins.  That hurdle could be the turning point toward the adventure of your life.  The one you’ll be talking about for the next three years, or perhaps the next three generations.

Keep calm, first and foremost.  It can be excruciating to deal with travel delays.  Tons of people all NEED to be at the destination. The staff is overworked and now dealing with a double shift of listening to irate passengers make unreasonable demands.  

Think about your options.  Call the customer service hotline while you physically wait in line.  If you are talking to a staff member or representative, be clear with your desires but don’t be demanding.  Show them you understand how this station must be tough on them, and listen to the options they give. If they are unacceptable, politely ask to speak with a supervisor.  Try to help them understand your situation and what you need from them.  And listen.

Don’t make an unplanned situation go bad.  Stay positive, calm, and respectful and you’ll be fine.  Yes, you may get delayed. That perfect hotel you booked at the next destination might have to wait one night.  Make an adventure out of it. You get one more night in your current destination. Ask a local what they would do with the time you have and find a new adventure!

Don’t forget about your emergency coverage options through your credit card and/or travel insurance too.

Safety and Insurance Summary

Getting outside of your box can be a scary prospect.  Insurance coverage should be met through your credit card, travel insurance, or other catastrophic insurance.  You had common sense at one point. Learn to use it again. Blend in, don’t attract unwanted attention, and don’t put yourself in an unnecessarily dangerous situation.  And WHEN (not if) things don’t go as planned, be ready for it. Stay calm. Consider your options. Talk respectfully to the customer service that’s trying to help you. Find a solution and work toward it.  Stay happy and find a new plan.

Be safe.  Be prepared.  But get out there and get Off Path!

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