I almost died in Japan.
Or at least, it felt a lot like that when I endured a severe case of food poisoning in a hotel room in Tokyo. After calling an American embassy, multiple translators, and my parents, I found myself hunched over in a Japanese clinic, desperate to keep any food down.
When you’re overseas and an emergency strikes, like an illness or a dangerous situation erupting around you, it’s unlikely you’ll be prepared; today, the New York Times tackled this very problem after the recent attacks in Sri Lanka. If you’re leaving for a trip and want to ensure your safety, it’s important to do as much research as possible.
Before heading out for that well-earned vacation, first, be sure to check on any travel advisories at your destination. You can do this using the State Department’s website which rates countries based on ongoing safety and security risks; level one is considered the lowest advisory risk and level four is considered a “Do Not Travel” destination, posing life-threatening risks to those visitors. If you’re headed somewhere considered “dangerous,” it just might be worth it to reconsider your itinerary.
While you’re on the State Department’s website, also be sure to register your trip with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP. Using the program, you can register your trip dates and receive alerts for travel advisories at your destination. (It’s an easy process that just involves including your contact information.) In the event of an emergency (even personal emergencies) and if you’re not able to be reached, the nearest embassy or consulate will attempt to contact you through whatever means possible if your loved ones are trying to get in touch.
As the New York Times recommends, you should also look up official government websites and those for local U.S. embassies, which often offer advisories for those visiting. In the event of an emergency, you can also contact your closest embassy for assistance.
When you’re heading on a week-long trip, it’s easy to think: Who really needs insurance anyway? Well, as we’ve written before, it might be of use if you’re traveling internationally or staying abroad long-term.
Before we dive into insurance itself (which isn’t an enormously fascinating subject, as you might imagine), you should know there are generally two kinds: the basic kind, which covers lost bags or canceled flights, and the medical kind, which will protect you in the event of illness or emergency.
Without an international health insurance plan, you risk an expensive hospital visit if, say, you’re in the midst of a terrible bout of food poisoning. (You can take a look at our extensive guide to travel insurance, too.) That said, often your existing healthcare provider may have an insurance policy intended for traveling abroad. Contact your healthcare provider using the number on the back of your ID card to find out what their travel policy is like.
If your mom wants to make sure you’ll be perfectly safe overseas, there are a number of apps that track users and send automatic alerts as soon as you’ve arrived at a particular destination. As the New York Times recommends, both Life360 and Find My Friends share your location with anyone you choose and send alerts—you still have the option to turn off the tracking feature later, so don’t worry about your parents tracking your every move.
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