Dear Fathom: The world has officially gone mad. But I still want to see it all. What steps can I take to prepare for a worst-case scenario?
Dear brave reader,
First of all, we commend for your continued interest in the world at large. In light of recent incidences of terror and political upheaval, it's tempting to cut down on trips and wait for the worst to blow over.
But what if chaos is the new normal? Then it's more important than ever to be aware of your surroundings and take care of yourself and each other. Where to start? Read up on your destination, know what you're getting into, and travel with a backup plan. Here are a few steps you can take at home to help keep you safe should disaster strike while abroad.
LEAVE A DETAILED PAPER TRAIL
Make two copies of your trip itinerary, identification documents, and insurance details. Leave one set with a friend or family member at home who can assist authorities in locating you if you fall ill or off the grid. Keep the other set on your person while traveling and leave the original documents in your hotel room safe. Doing so will help you salvage your trip — or, at the very least, find your way back home — if your belongings get lost or stolen.
PREPARE YOUR PARTY, KIDS INCLUDED
Every person you're traveling with should know how to find help in case your party gets separated for any reason, but especially a crisis. Make sure everyone, including (and especially) kids, keeps a list of important phone numbers on their persons — for local emergency services; home government hotlines; the local embassy or consulate; and vital contacts like friends, family, and employers — as well as scripts written in the local language with useful phrases to use during a crisis. As a final course of action, instruct young ones what to do if they end up separated from their grown-ups. If they can't find a law-enforement official to ask for help (or if they're too scared to approach one), they should approach a family or a nice lady. Someone, in other words, who will be likely to help a child in need.
UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR EMBASSY CAN DO
Knowing how to contact your local embassy or consulate is important. (Click here for a full list of U.S. embassies worldwide.) They can help you secure a new passport quickly if you lose yours, contact relatives and insurers if you're hospitalized, arrange lawyers and translators if you're the victim of a crime, and, if you somehow lose all of your money, arrange transportation home. They won't cover any costs incurred during an emergency, so make sure you have backup funds stashed away or someone back home who is willing to wire you money in a tight situation.
CONSIDER TRAVEL INSURANCE
Even if you normally forgo travel insurance, consider a comprehensive policy if you're traveling to a risky destination. Otherwise, prepare to pay out of pocket to reschedule flights, recoup lost luggage, or cover emergency medical expenses if something drastic happens on your trip. Find out what international coverage you already have through your insurance and credit card providers, then look for a plan that fits your needs. A good policy will cover property loss, sudden cancellations, and at least $100,000 in medical expenses.
STAY CURRENT ON YOUR DESTINATION
The best deterrent to disaster is not being around when it happens. Once you have a destination in mind, get a feel for areas you should avoid by consulting online resources, travel professionals, and friends and family who have recently visited. Better yet, check if your embassy offers an enrollment program, like STEP in the United States, to get travel alerts and warnings on your travel destination, as well as diplomatic assistance should anything happen once you're there. Otherwise, consider downloading an app like Safeture, which delivers real-time security updates in more than 200 countries worldwide.