When you think about preparing to travel abroad, what comes to mind? Before a trip, I always check the expiration date on my passport, look up the weather forecast to pack the right clothing, arrange for a dog sitter, and research the best places to stay, see, and eat in every city. But there’s a lot more to planning than meets the eye.
After traveling to 9 countries over the past 7 years, I’ve come to realize that there are several important (and often overlooked) things to consider before leaving home – your safety and security, the loved ones you’re leaving behind, and the unknown.
Your Safety and Security
Clients come to me for advice on how to be financially safe and secure. As a Certified Financial Planner™, I help them navigate the risks of not properly planning for the future (i.e. bad investments, overspending, no emergency fund), so they can reach their financial goals and have the freedom to enjoy what matters most. Many of us find our enjoyment through travel, but we generally don’t have someone advising us on the potential risks and how to mitigate them. Based on my experiences, here are two ways to protect yourself.
Getting Vaccinated: Most countries don’t require vaccinations for entry, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get them. The Center for Disease Control’s website lists the ones to consider for your destination. Some vaccines require more than one dose (like Hepatitis A), and many of them must be administered at least 2 weeks prior to travel. There are certain vaccines that primary care physicians don’t typically offer, so I recommend going to a travel doctor for everything (if you live in the L.A. area, I know a great one).
Travel Advisories: You should be aware of the current civil and political climate of where you’re headed. The U.S. State Department’s website is a great resource to find out the advisories currently in effect for every country. Advisory levels range from 1-4, with 4 being the least safe (i.e. “Do Not Travel”). Because the advisories are constantly updated, the best way to stay in-the-know, especially if you’re already overseas, is to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive notifications for advisory-level changes.
The Loved Ones You’re Leaving Behind
Once you’ve taken the reasonable steps to ensure your safety and security, it’s time to think about what happens if you don’t make it home. This is where estate documents (like wills and trusts) come in. Whether you’re traveling down the street, across the U.S., or overseas, it’s important to have these in place.
I know this isn’t something you really want to think about when planning an exciting adventure, but do you want your death to be a burden on your loved ones? My guess is no. I encourage clients to have estate documents in place, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally took my own advice. In 2014, our church’s planned trip to Israel coincided with a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza. Acknowledging the possibility that the ceasefire could end right before we left or, even worse, while we were there, I created a living will (and advanced healthcare directives). I wanted to make sure that my family would know what to do with my belongings and that my dog, Katie, would be well cared for. By doing this, I knew that my final wishes would be fulfilled.
I have clients who buy life insurance for the benefit of their family, but don’t see the value of purchasing travel insurance. It’s true, you might not need it for your trip, but you should still have it to protect yourself from the unknown. I never understood the value of travel insurance either, but a trip to Africa changed my mind.
In 2011, my friends and I signed up to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, which is one of the highest mountains in the world. Given the risks of the expedition, our tour company encouraged us to buy travel insurance that would cover emergency services should something go wrong. We didn’t think it was necessary, which was almost a very costly mistake. During the 8-hour climb from base camp to the summit we began to experience severe altitude sickness. We were very lucky to have experienced guides who sensed trouble and got us down quickly and safely from the top, but it could’ve ended much differently. For around $500, climbers can purchase policies that cover an evacuation (up to $150K) and medical care (up to $15K). That’s a small price to pay for not having to worry about the cost of emergency assistance in a foreign country.
If travel brings you as much joy as it does for me, and you have a lot of places on your bucket list, take the time to plan ahead for your safety and security, those you’re leaving behind, and the unknown. Preparing for the worst doesn’t mean that you can’t experience the best the world has to offer. So, to my fellow Wanderlusters, I wish you safe and amazing adventures!