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North Hills Monthly

Paradise Lost: How to Protect Yourself When Traveling

Feb 29, 2020 10:53AM ● By Kathleen Ganster

The perfect vacation can be ruined if you don't take the proper precautions. Photo courtesy AAA

“My computer is gone,” my daughter, Eliza, said. We had just returned to our little villa in St. John USVI for Eliza to catch up on a bit of work.

“Are you sure?” I asked, a typical mom response. 

“Yes, my case is empty,” she said, and then I noticed that she was holding her computer case, which was, indeed, empty. I crossed the room and looked for my iPad—sure enough, it was gone, too. After a quick search, we realized that the electronic devices and a charger were the only things missing, but our mother-daughter getaway instantly changed vibes.

For Hilary Daninhirsch, it was the illness of her daughter, Natalie, that derailed their Paris vacation last September to celebrate Natalie’s high school graduation and 19th birthday. 

“The first four days were perfect—perfect weather, lots of food and shopping, and we saw many of the classic Paris sights,” Daninhirsch said. 

The plan for Natalie’s birthday was a food tour early in the day, a bit of shopping in the Montmartre district, followed by a champagne toast at Moulin Rouge before flying home the next day.

“Instead, on September 9, at the exact moment we were supposed to be drinking champagne at Moulin Rouge, she was being wheeled down to surgery due to appendicitis,” said Daninhirsch.

Although all went well for Natalie—she was able to move into her college dorm on time the following week, the experience was nonetheless traumatic.

“It was beyond scary and stressful for me due to the language barrier,” Daninhirsch said. Fortunately, Natalie spoke fluent French and was able to communicate with medical personnel. 

Theft, illness and other life issues are hard enough to deal with when you’re at home, but what happens if you are faced with these problems while traveling?

“My golden piece of advice: always get the travel insurance, especially when traveling overseas,” said Daninhirsch. 

And that is the exact advice that Marita Williams, AAA manager for product development and travel promotion, shared. “Some people think insurance only covers things like when you fall down and break a leg, but it covers so much more,” she said. 

All of Natalie’s medical costs, as well as changing airlines to get home and additional hotel costs were covered by Daninhirsch’s traveler’s insurance, as were all of their out-of-pocket expenses. Eliza and I also had traveler’s insurance, which covered expenses not included in the electronic device insurance coverage.

Traveler’s insurance is often available through the airlines, travel websites and of course, AAA, where an agent can lead you through the steps as well as help you with other travel planning. 

In addition to traveler’s insurance, there are other steps that you can take before a trip to make it easier if you are faced with a traveler’s mishap.

“Use a TSA-approved suitcase with a lock. That makes it easier for things not to be stolen from your bags. And see if your hotel has a safe in your room,” Williams said. “Always leave all of your good jewelry and other valuables at home.”

When traveling internationally, Williams suggests making and keeping copies of your passport to either share with your travel companion, or to put in separate places. Also carry a list of all prescriptions. Always carry your passport, prescriptions and anything else that you can’t live without in your carry-on luggage. 

When I travel, I always have a change of clothes in my carry-on and my husband and I pack one outfit in each other’s luggage so if one suitcase gets lost, at least we have one clean outfit to wear. 

Williams also recommends registering in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at https://step.state.gov when traveling internationally. “That way, if there is an international incident, the government knows where you are,” she said. 

It goes without saying that loved ones should also have copies of your travel itinerary and how to reach you. It is also wise to notify the banks about all credit cards that will be used overseas prior to leaving the states.  

While a small medicine kit wouldn’t have helped Natalie, it is always a good idea to have a few common medicines with you such as Imodium®, BAND-AIDs®, Tylenol®, seasick medication if necessary, and Clorox® wipes. 

“And duct tape. You can fix anything with duct tape,” Williams said.

Daninhirsch shared additional insights.

“Research the health care system in the country that you are traveling to before you go. I had a difficult time navigating the French health care system while we were in the midst of it, not just due to the language barrier but due to my unfamiliarity with its procedures,” she said, “And if there is a language barrier, Google Translate is a great way to communicate with staff.”

She also echoed Williams advice.

“Make sure you have all of your documents with you, if possible. When the hotel doctor sent us to the hospital, I had the presence of mind—somehow—to remember to take our passports, insurance cards and all travel documents with us,” said Daninhirsch.