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Preparing for the Unexpected ...

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Preparing for the Unexpected ...

Vacations should be relaxing, but sometimes they're not.  Any suggestions as to what steps one takes to prepare and mitigate for medical, political, or otherwise 'unforseen' problems while traveling?  I have saved to the Cloud images of my more important documents (passport, insurance papers) but I'm wondering what I'm not thinking of?  I would welcome all thoughts and suggestions!

12 Replies
Internationally Known

Re: Preparing for the Unexpected ...

I used to carry photocopies of insurance, credit & debit cards to have customer service phone numbers & account info in case of loss. But now I entered all that info into "secure notes" within Lastpass password manager so I don't worry about carrying paper copies which could also be stolen. I can access the notes from laptop or phone if necessary. I just hope Lastpass is as secure as they say it is! 

Internationally Known

Re: Preparing for the Unexpected ...

1. Depending upon where you are going, you might want to check out the STEP site. STEP is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (a free service) to allow US citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest US Embassy or consulate.

2. When you book your flight, you can include an emergency contact name & phone.

3. Online with USPS you can set dates to put a hold on your mail and the date you want delivery to resume.  

4. If you need shots, check the CDC site. Costco has low prices. Your local health department will be even less expensive.

5. Pay bills in advance.

6. Call Credit Card company & let them know when & where you will be going. Make sure you have a "no foreign transaction fees" type of card. Sometimes your card will need a chip in order to work at certain ticket kiosks and other places.

7. Call or visit your bank and find out their policy for ATM withdrawal fees. Negotiate with them for 5 free (since you have been a good customer) and get it in writing.

8. Set one or two interior lights on a timer.

9. Leave a house key with a neighbor or hide one.

10. Give a family member or friend your itinerary (hotel #s, flight, train info)

11. Bring adaptors or email your hotel in advance to see if they have one available.

12. Bring extra battery & charger for camera & extra memory card.

13. Find out if you can use your phone overseas, and if there is an extra cost involved. Bring your charger.

14. Turn off the water supply to your house. If you return home after dark, use the light on your cell phone to find your way to this location so you can turn it back on.)

15. If you have electric shutters on your house, leave the manual crank handle with a neighbor or hide it behind some bushes (if you live in hurricane land and think you might return home to find no power).

16. Pack some chapstick and some chocolate, a can of peanuts or pistachios.

17. Cold medicine is NOT available in countries like the Netherlands. Bring some along.

18. Some countries (Untied Arab Emirates for one) demand certain documentation for prescription meds and some over the counter meds, make sure you understand their policy on whatever you plan to bring.

19. Make sure your contact info is inside AND outside of your luggage. Even if you check your bags unlocked for the flights, bring along locks & keys for locking things up at the hotel.

20. Pack your makeup/toiletries in your carryon. And think about what else you might need if you have a connection that cancels and you need to spend a night somewhere.

21. Carryon bag size on US flights is different than on international flights, check with your carrier to see their policy.

22. If you are celebrating a special occasion (birthday, anniversary, first trip, whatever, email the hotel and let them know. They may surprise you will a very nice treat or comp something like breakfast).

23. Bring your own headphones, the ones the airlines hand out are not so good.

24. Kick off your shoes and put on some cozy socks on the flight.

25. Do not bring any gel pens on the flight. They will leak big time. Ballpoint pens only!

26. Ask your hotel for legal size envelopes to keep receipts in for each country. You never know when you willl need them. (Once, our 1st class train ride turned into coach and when I got home and emailed the receipt in we were reimbursed in full!)

27. Some hotels will let you "status match".  See if it applies to you, and take care of it before you leave for your trip.

28. Leave your expensive jewelry at home. The small diamond ring I wear when I travel is a fake.

29. If you plan to use a self-serve laundromat, bring along some pods.

30. Coordinate your clothes so you can layer and mix or match.

31. I like to thrown in a large bar of soap instead of the tiny size at most hotels.

32. After your pack, remove half of the clothes in your suitcase and add twice as much cash to your wallet and bring some small bills for tips, not all $20s from the ATM!



Internationally Known

Re: Preparing for the Unexpected ...

RJean, that’s a great list you put together!


When it comes to the most important documents, I carry two USB sticks in the shape of a key with me all the time. I have attached them to my car and home keys , so I never have to worry about fire, hurricanes, break-ins or other unforeseen circumstances when I am not home.


One point I would like to add. Don’t trust hotel safes. They can be opened in a heartbeat by anyone, just check out some YouTube videos on this issue.

Because of this, we always bring two indestructible bags with us when we travel. Once at our accommodation, we attach them with the help of a long cable and pretty indestructible locks to a heavy piece of furniture, a pipe from a heater, a bed frame  or whatever we can find that can’t be easily carried away.

The bags are made out of a special material with multiple layers that can’t be cut open or ripped apart.

One is large enough for a big camera and several other items, the other is flatter and ideal for our iPads. The cable with which we attach the bags can’t be cut with a knife or saw. All is lightweight and can easily be carried in our main luggage.

We use this solution since years and never have to worry about our valuables when traveling and we don’t have to carry everything in our daypacks. You can buy this stuff online.

In the end, it is all about quick opportunities. No thief wants to spend hours trying to open the bags.

Internationally Known

Re: Preparing for the Unexpected ...

Interesting Liketraveling, never seen bags like that. Googled around and what I found was around $50-150 depending on size, Loctote brand. That sound like what you have?

Internationally Known

Re: Preparing for the Unexpected ...

RJean, Thank you!  What an extensive list and I really appreciate the time you took.  Some of these are absolutely brand new to me and I'll be implementing them immediately.  There have been great comments and suggestions posted by others as well (thank you everyone!), but I certainly didn't expect such detail as what you provided.  Thanks for sharing all your hard-earned experiences!

Internationally Known

Re: Preparing for the Unexpected ...

RjeanR's list is so comprehensive.... Thanks, RJeanR!


If I can add a few words here, I got pick pocket attempt in Madrid and Rome one time each. Fortunately I noticed their hands and they ran away. That was more than 15 years ago and ever since then, I use a waist money belt which is invisible (it is surprisingly comfy). I still use my wallet in my pocket, but there I carry little currencies for immediate use for each time when I go out of hotel.


For foreign currencies, rather than bring US dollars and exchange, I use a Charles Schwab debit card to get local currencies from local ATMs. Charles Schwab refunds all ATM fees worldwide. So, basically you do not lose any money for getting foreign currencies. In addition, you do not need to bring US dollar bills. 


For health emergency, I have never experinced any real emergency in foreign travels. I had a few minor issues like food poisioning, fever, blister, etc., but visiting local drug stores and rest took care of it. I know in principle my health insurance covers emergency treatment anywhere in the world, but fortunately I did not have any chance to know the details. 


I store my passport, credit card and bank information in the Cloud storage so I have access to information anytime in emergency if I have access to the internet. 



Internationally Known

Re: Preparing for the Unexpected ...

@Ed4000, unfortunately, my initial response disappeared. Maybe it was deleted because it contained a link. 

The bags we have were made by Travelon. I checked but they are no longer part of their inventory. They have other ones in the meantime, maybe you can find one which fits your needs.

Enclosed some pics of the two bags we have:

The right one opens on top and can hold larger itemsThe right one opens on top and can hold larger itemsthis is the one for the tablets and/or documents  (opened)this is the one for the tablets and/or documents (opened)that's how it looks closed, the cable goes through the visible ringthat's how it looks closed, the cable goes through the visible ringThat's how you close the large bag and where you put the cable throughThat's how you close the large bag and where you put the cable through

Internationally Known

Re: Preparing for the Unexpected ...

Glad to hear some of the ideas will work for you! Here are some more...

1. Check the Seat Guru site before you select airplane seats. This site will tell you which seats are the best/worst and why.

2. Try to stay ahead of germs with a small travel size pack of Lysol Sanitizing wipes to disinfect the airplane or train tray table and seat belt metal clasp. Give one to the person sitting next to you too and maybe they won't hog the armrest for the entire flight. I also use these at the hotel on the TV remote and light switches.

3. Sometimes it pays to buy tickets in advance. In Milan if you want to see the Last Supper painting at the Duomo, tickets are scooped up by tour operators, but if you can plan far in advance you can purchase tickets without getting roped into a tour.

4. Use Google Earth to see the exact location of your hotel.

5. Tie a bright colored ribbon on your luggage so it is easy to spot on the carousel.

6. Sidewalk cafes sometimes charge much more if you sit and have a coffee or light treat than if you take it to go.

7. Typically, if the restaurant adds a service charge, you do not have to leave an additonal tip, unless you want to. 

8. Bread and that nice little tray of olives are not always free, so don't be surprised when you get a small charge for them.

9. Mesh travel bags are great for keeping clothes separated and organized in your luggage. TJ Maxx sells several sizes at a good discount. (55+ senior discount on Mondays.)

10. Even if you aren't taking a Hop On Hop Off Bus tour, get one of their maps so you can see where the hot spots are. You can even see these online before your trip.

11. Avoid buying single metro and bus tickets, they are cheaper in bulk.

12. Groupons are available all over the world. Sometimes they are worth it.

13. Ziplock bags are good for wet bathing suits rather than the free plastic laundry bag from the hotel (they usually have air vent holes in them.)

14. Pack a few band aids and hope you never have to use them.

15. Be careful buying leather goods, sometimes it is spray-painted leather to look like natural leather grain.

16. Google the Bed Bug Registry to see if your hotel is listed. Yipes. Do this before you book a non refundable room.

17. Many restaurants serve gigantic portions. Sometimes, we order a salad or soup for each and split an entree. Always remember French fries are a vegetable and always save plenty of room for dessert. 

Internationally Known

Re: Preparing for the Unexpected ...

@Ed4000, I found the article numbers (42647, 42694) for the Travelon anti theft bags and saw the images on google. Dormco (a college student supply online retailer) is selling them.

For the smaller bag I just bought a more solid lock at a hardware store. Love those bags, real good quality and super helpful.