Safety & Sickness - Travel Caveats

Ed Marsh | Sep 12, 2011

Getting Back is Trickier

Getting around the world is easy.  Very easy.  Maybe too easy.  It can be so inexpensive and easy that one can quickly end up in situations which expose one to potential health and safety consequences.

Most of the risk can be ameliorated with some simple planning and basic prophylaxis in just a couple categories.

Planning and Prep

Even if you have traveled safely in the past without consideration for these points, start incorporating them into your travel prep routine now.  You have been lucky in the past if you haven't had problems.  Basic categories for planning and behavior include:

    • General risk assessment - Is there prevalent or increasing unrest?  Violence in neighboring countries?  Meteorological disturbances?  Substantial political discord and a history of protests which accompany such discord?  Elections or major court decisions upcoming?  Just a couple examples but the point is to anticipate and avoid potential flash points and substantial uncertainties.

    • Health issues - Use a travel clinic.  Sure your insurance may balk, and your PCP will assert that they are eminently capable of providing proper pre-travel care.  However the fact is that they are not infectious disease specialists, and further many of the funky and unusual ailments to which international travel exposes you are ones for which the treatment is problematic and the illness quite severe.  Sensible and comprehensive prophylaxis is really essential, and is a process with periodic boosters, as well as medications for every trip in some cases (e.g. malaria) - not a "one time" visit.  The CDC website provides country specific recommendations which you can discuss with your travel clinic physician.

    • Country requirements - some countries require proof of certain vaccinations prior to entry.  others will deny entry based on certain other previous entry/exit stamps from other countries in your passport

    • Situational awareness - this is the most important.  Don't space out.  Sense uncertain circumstances and take steps to secure yourself and your property accordingly.  AVOID problems.

Sensible Action Steps

    • Register with the State Department's STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) and register your travels so that in case of real unrest the local embassy / consulate will know they need to account for you

    • Secure your passport in an appropriate secure location but carry a photocopy with you

    • Subscribe to a global intelligence briefing service like Stratfor.  With very little effort one can easily keep one's "ear to the rail" and monitor circumstances prior to departure or even while in country.

    • Schedule initial (and appropriate follow up) appointment at a nearby travel clinic to ensure that all vaccinations are current and that trip specific meds are adequate, appropriate for the destination, and have not lapsed in expiry

    • Research any country specific requirements for vaccination or other preparation and ensure that no restrictions on previous travel to other countries which might be reflected in your passport would create complications

    • Read and practice the suggestions outlined in Stratfor's special series "Common Sense When Traveling Abroad" - incorporate simple suggestions like carrying a "throw down wallet" and moving quickly through areas of airports and hotels "outside security" to spend time waiting in more secure areas.  General awareness is the central theme

    • Plan your wardrobe to blend in, or at least to "stand out" less.  Speak in measured tones and be circumspect in displaying cash, etc.  Don't make yourself a target for simple theft or draw unnecessary attention to yourself

    • Monitor alcohol consumption and fatigue (harder to do with international travel) since both dull ones situational awareness

    • Research options and purchase membership in a medical evacuation insurance service.  Car accidents are a common cause of serious injury and many people strongly prefer local familiar (and probably higher quality care) as soon as possible.  Yet evacuations can cost literally >$100K.  I have traditionally used Medjet Assist although there are other good options.

Aware but not Worried

People travel to all sorts of exotic and dangerous destinations routinely - and almost always without security or prolonged health challenges.  But there are clearly risks, and understanding and preemptively addressing those to the greatest extent reasonably possible is only prudent.  Ultimately it is a sensible business practice.  Be cognizant and adapt to prevailing conditions.  But don't be paranoid.