U.S. travel to overseas markets is up by 10 percent already this year, according to data published by the U.S. Department of Commerce. With the summer season upon us, it is likely this number could climb even higher as many Americans take advantage of time off from work and school to travel abroad. The team at International SOS, a medical and security services company which handled 4.2 million calls from travelers last year alone, has compiled these seven pieces of advice every outbound U.S. traveler should heed.
“At International SOS, we receive and respond to thousands of calls each day through our 27 alarm centers around the globe, and we see that certain issues are more prevalent depending on the season,” said Patrick Deroose, Corporate Assistance Division Group General Manager at International SOS. “In the summer months, many of our members take trips further from home, often to unfamiliar destinations, where they tend to spend more time outdoors. During this busy season, extra vigilance and advance planning can go a long way toward avoiding common summer travel pitfalls.”
While each destination has its own set of unique challenges, the tips that follow are applicable to most international travel locations.
Be aware of the economic climate – Many countries, primarily those in Europe, are facing increasing levels of financial hardship and as a result, there have been some reports of increasing instances of opportunistic street crime targeting foreign travelers. Travelers should be particularly aware of low-level scams at airports or railway stations, attempted over-charging by taxis, or attempted theft or manipulation of credit card details. Constraints on government spending have led to mounting tensions between governments and public sector employees and there have been numerous strikes in countries including Greece, France, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary. Strikes can occur with little or no notice and may result in scale backs or closures of public transportation. Prepare for a worst case scenario by researching ways to get around in the event of a shutdown.
Call sooner rather than later – Many U.S. travelers assume they will be able to get immediate medical attention should a minor annoyance turn into a more urgent problem. However, in many countries that is not the case. In some locations, it can take hours or days to locate and travel to an appropriate, medical treatment center. When you are in unfamiliar territory, you can’t afford to wait and see if a problem worsens. Travelers should act quickly at the first sign of a health issue and seek help through a travel assistance provider or local resource as soon as possible.
Test the waters – Each summer travel season, International SOS sees an uptick in water-related accidents and illness. When swimming, remember that the water does not need to be very deep to cause trouble. Swift currents, rocks, tree branches and other submerged objects can cause serious bodily harm. While resort beaches typically have lifeguards, public beaches and those off the beaten track often do not. Cold water can also be extremely dangerous, causing hypothermia even in hot weather. When combined with alcohol consumption and an unfamiliar environment, the dangers mount significantly. When it comes to consuming liquids, from tap water to ice cubes, be sure to familiarise yourself with the country’s water safety recommendations to avoid illness, and when in doubt, stick to sealed bottled water.
Mind the bite – Bites and scratches from animals and insects – including dogs, cats, monkeys, bats and mosquitoes – can cause major issues for travelers. Rabies is fatal unless treated, and that treatment is not readily available in many locations. Keep your distance from animals when traveling and avoid the temptation to pet them, no matter how cute they may be. For travelers with severe allergies, be sure to carry a fresh epinephrine injection provided by your physician for immediate response to a foreign bite.
Manage your medications – When traveling, carry a copy of the prescription written by your physician and keep all medications in their original containers with labels intact. Note that some medications must be kept within a certain temperature range. Avoid leaving these prescriptions in a hot luggage compartment or car trunk. Bring at least a week’s worth of extra doses of any medication you take regularly, to avoid running out if you are sidelined by an extended travel delay.
Take care of your skin – One of the quickest and most damaging injuries affecting travelers is sunburn, particularly in locations close to the Equator where the sun is strongest. Exposed and unprotected skin can burn in as little as 15 minutes, and those burns can become quite severe. An SPF of 45+ is recommended, as is limiting time spent in direct sun light, particularly during peak hours (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Reapply sunscreen often, particularly after enjoying a dip in the pool or ocean.
Mind your surroundings – Many travelers let their guard down when touring a new country, when, in fact, this is the time to be most vigilant. Robbery and pick pocketing are problems in many places, even cities that are not known for high crime rates. Always keep your credit cards, cash, and passport concealed in an interior pocket, and store copies of your travel documents in a secure place in your hotel room. Limit the risk of walking into the trap of a scam artist by leaving valuables at home and remaining in touch with your traveling companions.