Traveling safe (and smart) in 2019
January 1, 2019
After a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattled both homes and nerves in November, many Alaskans are finding themselves thinking twice about safety and emergency preparedness like never before; and this includes travel. Whether embarking for an international destination or traveling domestically, considerations for safety and emergency procedures are part of a traveler’s code of personal responsibility.
As you make plans for 2019, add these tips to your checklist prior to departure and while on the go. It could make the difference between salvaging a trip or even saving a life.
Have a plan and listen up. Most of us tune out when flight attendants, cruise ship captains and railroad crews deliver their requisite safety briefing prior to departure. Make a resolution this year to pay attention, and encourage your traveling companions do so as well. In a hotel or other lodging, walk through the building shortly after arrival and make note of emergency exits and safe routes outside (all hotels should have an emergency evacuation plan). Establish an easy-to-remember meeting place for your children in case of separation; practice at least once during your first day. Also make sure everyone in your party, kids and adults included, know how to contact emergency services, since “911” is not used globally.
Consider trip insurance. Ask your current provider if they carry “evacuation insurance” in the event a family member is sick or injured and must be transported back to your hometown or to a larger facility, a huge expense if one is overseas. Trip insurance can range from modest to extreme, so be sure to discuss the options with companies specializing in insuring travelers based upon their style of travel and destinations (https://www.reviews.com/travel-insurance/). Additionally, make sure you carry extra medications and a copy of current prescriptions in case pharmacies are closed down in an emergency, or if luggage is lost or stolen.
Register and make yourself known. In a foreign country, it’s always a good idea to register with the U.S. State Department. During the hours following an enormous 2011 earthquake in Japan, the U.S. State Department went through its rolls of U.S. citizens and was able to account for everyone on its list thanks to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). https://step.state.gov/step/
Carry a contact list. Have on your person at all times a list of important phone numbers, next-of-kin names and parental identification for children (especially if you are not their custodial parent) on a small card that fits easily inside a pocket. Also useful can be an electronic version; take photos of insurance cards, passports, tickets, travel insurance and contacts, then email the file to yourself. When my son was younger, we attached a small card (laminated) to his belt loops with a rubber band and stuck it inside a pocket. In addition, be sure your party has an out-of-state/country contact and everyone knows the number. In the event local lines are jammed, it is often easier to reach those far away. We call this our “Check-in person”.
Keep escape items near you at night. Before you retire each night, place shoes, glasses, appropriate clothing for outdoors, and your wallet and phone within easy reach. In the event of a hotel or ship evacuation (if cruising), you’ll have everything you need quickly, saving precious seconds.
Carry important items separately. Keep documents like passports in a hotel safe; carry a credit card and some cash on your person. If your travel wallet or purse is stolen, you won’t lose everything. Consider purchasing a wallet or purse that cannot be scanned or cut, like those made by PacSafe (https://www.pacsafe.com/). Oh, and by the way, if you make a stop at an internet cafe, use cash wherever possible to pay for minutes; thieves have figured out how to use keylogger software to steal information. Best bet? Use your personal phone’s wifi hotspot and stay away from public internet altogether.
Review lost and found procedures. Have a discussion with the entire party regarding what to do if someone gets lost (you’d be surprised how often this occurs in foreign countries with adults). While it may be tempting to fire up GoogleMaps, it is more important to let your accompanying party know where you are. Local visitor bureau phone numbers should be entered into cell phones prior to arrival for a quick call regarding directions. If traveling with children, remind them of the “stay put” rule, meaning adults find kids, not the other way around. Even more critical, be sure kids understand not to leave their “stay put spot” area with anyone (law enforcement should back this up). This is also a good policy for adults traveling in unfamiliar countries, where scammers may attempt to coerce travelers into compromising situations by offering a ride or acting as a “guide.” Trust your instincts. If a disaster occurs and your party becomes separated, discuss upon arrival a designated meeting point nearby.
For more information regarding safe travel at home or abroad, visit the U.S. Department of State’s website: https://www.state.gov/travel/.
Erin Kirkland is a freelance travel journalist. She resides in Anchorage.