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International Travel Preparedness: Navigating the Unexpected

When planning our travels, we all envision our journey as idyllic situations where absolutely nothing can go wrong. We wear the ultimate rose-colored glasses, expecting the trip to go 100% as planned, and most of the time, it does. Before traveling, I usually concentrate only on the positive, but once in a while, the concept of “what could go wrong” occasionally flickers through my thoughts. I have found myself traveling in various uncertain or tumultuous situations. In these moments, preparedness for safety during international travel, calm, and adaptability became my most trusted companions.

The Cancer Victory Tour

At the beginning of 2020, I began what I called The Cancer Victory Tour. This would be a 5-month trip through 11 Southeast Asian countries. I planned for this trip in 2019 during my recovery from chemo and all the surgeries I endured. I would be turning 40 in 2020, and I wanted to commemorate reaching this milestone birthday, especially after surviving cancer.

Woman wearing an N95 mask at the airport in Bangkok in February 2020

Facing Uncertainty: The Trip Decision

I asked multiple travel agents and even called my travel insurance for advice. My travel insurance said they would not cover canceling a trip due to fear of an event. They would cover an event after its occurrence. I even called the trip insurance provided by my credit card and received the same answer.

So, I decided to proceed with the trip. I started my journey in Thailand. Overall, it was an uneventful trip. While traveling, plans for leaving Southeast Asia were something I kept in the back of my mind.

I watched the daily news, and according to the US National Library of Medicine, “no new cases were reported in Vietnam from February 27 to March 5, 2020. It seemed that Vietnam would have won the battle against the outbreak.” I certainly felt safe while traveling.

Navigating a World in Crisis

A month into my five-month trip, the world began to shut down its borders. The news of the US closing its borders had been declared during a flight I took from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh. On my arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, my cellphone had hundreds of texts from friends and family, and the airport was pure chaos. Airline counters had lines with hundreds of people. Some airlines even closed their counters and directed people to call the airline’s toll-free numbers. People were crying, and overall, the situation was pure pandemonium. Everyone was panicking because no one knew how long the borders would be shut, and being stuck in a different country was not ideal.

Airport tables with delayed and cancellation information for flights

Pre-Travel Safety Tips

In a country where I didn’t speak the language, with the world rapidly spiraling into uncertainty, many people succumb to panic. But in the eye of this storm, I remembered to remain calm. Before embarking on this trip, the steps I took acted as my safety net, a source of reassurance in moments of turmoil.

Registered with US Embassies and Travel Insurance

  1. Registered with US Embassies in each country I visited: I enrolled in the STEP (Smart Traveller Enrollment Program). If your country offers a similar program, enroll. You can research your country’s embassy or consulate’s safety and information program. This allows your government to contact you in case of an emergency, such as natural disasters, political unrest, or civil disturbances in your destination.

  2. Purchased Travel Insurance: Research and buy comprehensive travel insurance that covers health emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost belongings. No one likes to think about this, but make sure to carefully read and understand the terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy, and if you have questions, contact the insurance provider for clarification. Keep in mind that the coverage of specific events can vary based on the insurance provider and the policy’s specific terms, such as terrorist attacks. Others will not be, like Covid 19 at the beginning stages of the pandemic.

    Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) Coverage: If you are concerned about potential trip disruption and want more flexibility, you can consider purchasing a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy. CFAR policies allow you to cancel your trip for any reason, including concerns about safety related to pandemics. These policies offer a higher level of coverage but may come with higher premiums.

    3. Set Up Travel Alerts: Sign up for travel alerts or advisories from your government’s official travel website. These alerts provide real-time information about safety and security issues in your destination, helping you make informed decisions.

Stay Connected and Prepared

  1. Created a List of Documents and Emergency Contacts: Create a detailed document that includes copies of your passport, visas you obtained for your travels, travel insurance policy, and any other essential travel documents. Share this document with a trusted friend or family member. Additionally, compile a list of emergency contacts at home and your destination. Ensure you know how to contact the police and emergency services if necessary.  I included documentation of my cancer and prescriptions for my medications in case I was searched at borders and asked about the amount of medications I was carrying for 5 months.

  2. Researched My Destinations: Thoroughly researched the destinations, including their culture, customs, and any specific safety concerns for female travelers. Read travel blogs, forums, and guidebooks to gain insights. Be sure to research the political climate of your destination, but keep in mind that things can change very quickly. Protests, civil unrest, border closings, and even wars can happen while visiting a country.

  3. Stayed Connected: I used an international phone plan from T-Mobile and had internet access through Travel Wi-Fi. Ensure your mobile phone is unlocked and capable of working internationally. Buy an eSIM, local SIM card, or an international phone plan to stay connected but have a plan.

    Staying updated during uncertain times is essential. While it’s important to use social media apps to stay informed about developments, managing your energy and emotions is equally vital. Seek credible sources, take breaks, and focus on self-care to stay strong and informed.
Cell phone screen with an image of social media app icons

Emergency Preparedness

  1. Carry Important Documents: Make photocopies of your passport, visas, and essential travel documents. Store them separately from the originals and consider using a secure digital backup.

  2. Contact transportation providers: Call, email, tweet, and use any channel available to reach your airline or transportation provider to understand their policies regarding cancellations or rescheduling.

  3. Kept a separate budget for emergency flights: I set aside $2,000 in case I needed to buy an emergency plane ticket back to the US because even though in February 2020 we never thought the pandemic would be the catastrophic event it was, I wanted to make sure I could purchase a return flight quickly if I needed to.

Navigating the Crisis

During the chaos at the airport, I decided to remain calm and research what routes I could take back to Miami that were not closed. On March 11, the President announced that entry to the US through European countries was banned as of March 13. I had to find a way to return to the US through a country that was not banned yet.

I began to search for flights through the Middle East or other regions of the world. Luckily, I found a flight through Qatar Airways from Ho Chi Minh City on March 13. I had to somehow be lucky enough to make it through 2 separate flights, and flights were being canceled right and left. I prayed that these flights would not be canceled.

I took the first 8-hour flight without any problems. I had a hotel reservation in Doha, but women were kept from leaving the airport when we arrived. Luckily, I found a lounge that had space, and 24 hours later, I was able to take the longest flight I have ever been on from Doha to Miami (15hr and 23 minutes) without any further delays.

Staying Safe During Conflicts

Here are tips that you can use if you ever find yourself traveling in a country where conflict or uncertainty erupts during your travels:

Stay Informed and Connected

  • Stay Informed: Keep yourself updated on the situation by following reliable news sources. Consulate or embassy websites can also provide valuable information for travelers.

  • Contact Your Embassy or Consulate: Reach out to your country’s embassy or consulate for guidance and assistance. They can provide essential information and support.

  • Insurance: Contact your travel insurance provider and request their assistance.

Emergency Plans and Safety Measures

  • Travel Plans: If you have plans to leave the country, contact your airline or transportation provider for updates.

  • Communication: Maintain communication with your family or friends to inform them that you’re safe and provide updates.

  • Stay In a Safe Location: Seek shelter in a secure and safe place. Follow the guidance of local authorities, your embassy, or consulate regarding safety zones or evacuation procedures.

  • Stock Up: Ensure you have essential supplies, such as food, water, medications, and personal documents.

Behavior and Compliance

  • Keep a Low Profile: During times of conflict, it’s advisable to keep a low profile and avoid public gatherings or demonstrations.

  • Follow Local Laws: Respect and follow local laws and regulations. Be aware of curfews and other restrictions.

  • Evacuation: Your embassy or consulate may organize evacuations for its citizens. Follow their instructions.

In any such situation, maintaining a sense of calm is essential. Panic and fear can lead to unnecessary risks. While my journey took unexpected turns, these steps helped me stay safe and eventually return home. Traveling can be unpredictable, but with preparation and a level head, you can navigate challenging situations and return home.

Airplane taxied at the gate

Prioritize Safety in Your Travel Choices

While being prepared for international travel is crucial, one of the best ways to ensure your safety is to carefully research your destination beforehand. It’s advisable to avoid traveling to places that recently suffered a natural disaster, are already in conflict or experiencing significant unrest.

Remember that while travel can be an exciting adventure, safety should always be a top priority. If a destination is known for instability or conflict, consider alternative locations for your journey. Your well-being and peace of mind should guide your travel choices, ensuring a smoother and more enjoyable experience.

For general travel tips, please make sure to read 10 TIPS FOR SAFE SOLO TRAVEL LATINAS PART 1

If this is your first time visiting my blog, this article is part of The Ultimate Guide for Solo Travel. The Guide is an ever-growing sequence of posts that will help you with everything from Changing your mindset about Solo Travel, Building your Confidence to Solo Travel by Self Dating, and Learning how to Afford To Travel More. Make sure to subscribe to the blog for the next post in the guide. Soon enough you will be embarking on your own solo journey!

Wishing you Safe Travels,

Meet Maribel, The Queen of Trips, a survivor who turned her cancer journey into a source of inspiration for fellow travelers. Join her as she fearlessly explores the world, showing that life after cancer is a testament to resilience and the power of living fully.

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