My family and I recently went on a cruise to three Caribbean countries....and yes we had a blast! We are not at all new to the Caribbean, cruising, or international travel so we already knew about some of the common practices that we needed to use to protect ourselves.
I thought it would be nice to share some of our past experiences over the last few years, how we dealt with those experiences at the time, and now how we proactively protect ourselves now. I hope to spare those of you new to travel from the headaches many of us have dealt with while traveling internationally.
Before you go........
So I ALWAYS check out the U.S. State Department website and look for travel advisories months before I travel and up until I travel. I want to keep a thumb on the pulse to see if there is any unrest occurring that might make me reconsider travel dates.
You can search by region if you are planning a multi-destination trip or you can search by specific country. From there you can go to country information such as visa requirements, vaccination requirements, currency restrictions, and safety and security.
The safety and security section will tell you about crime activity that commonly occurs, how to report criminal activity, and contact information for the nearest Embassy. I always make sure I know where the nearest embassy is to my hotel, resort, or Airbnb just in case something happens. Thankfully, I have never needed the Embassy so far.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
Anytime a friend of mine talks about traveling internationally, I always recommend this program. The STEP program is a service, free of charge, for U.S. citizens (and nationals) that travel or live abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
The intent of this program is to
get information about safety conditions in your destination country;
assists the U.S. Embassy in contacting you in an emergency; and
assists family and friends find you and get in touch with you in the case of an emergency.
I have been fortunate enough to never needed this service but I appreciate the peace of mind it brings knowing it is there. For more info, click on the link above or go to Department of State website here.
When you are there......
Inform your credit card companies of your travel plans so you don't have to deal with declined transactions. I thought I had notified mine on our recent cruise but quickly realized I forgot when the ATM declined my transaction. Fortunately it only took a phone call to rectify the situation but it was a hassle and it delayed our plans by about a half hour.
Use local currency whenever possible. Depending on where I am going, I sometimes order some currency from my bank before I leave so that I can pay taxis and local vendors long enough to get to a safe ATM. How much I order depends on how much I have to pay to get it because I often times get a better conversion rate at an ATM when I land or dock. It just depends but please DO NOT USE an ATM that is stand alone or looks to be neglected or in disrepair.
On our most recent trip to Mexico, we used an ATM that was in a tourist area but it malfunctioned and we only got about half the money we requested. We called the bank on the spot and we got our money credited within a couple of days but it was yet another hassle. In retrospect, the ATM looked neglected and may have been tampered with (it appeared to have something stuck in the cash slot).
We always keep our passports and credit cards in RFID sleeves to prevent skimming, also known as electronic pick pocketing. RFID sleeves are not very expensive--I think we spent less than $30 on 3 for our passports--and I think they are worth the minimal investment. We bought sleeves for our credit cards locally for just a few bucks each. The ones we got hold about 4 cards comfortably or maybe a couple of cards and some cash.
Lastly, consider investing in a bra pouch or hidden travel wallet (it attaches to a belt loop and can be hidden inside of your pants). We were warned of pickpockets in Rome and we were glad to have these products. Local vendors were aggressive and did not hesitate to approach us beyond our comfort levels. The only hassle with the bra pouch is accessing it easily to retrieve cards or money.
Aggressive local vendors........
We were seriously annoyed by aggressive vendors in various countries: Bahamas, Cuba, Italy, France, Mexico, etc. I think it is a problem all over the world really but in Italy, jewelry vendors would target our kiddo that travels in a wheelchair by trying to put jewelry on her in an attempt to force us to buy it. We had to be very proactive in keeping them from her but having a 6'5" lumberjack of a hubby helps.
In Cuba, vendors would follow us down the street talking to us.....trying to wear us down to buy stuff we had no interest in. Again, be observant. So many people around that one person could easily distract you while a mate grabs your wallet or cash out of your purse. We kept everything in our front pockets but that doesn't mean it still can't happen!
Once you are back home......
Review your credit card transactions and bank statements for a few weeks after you return. On our last cruise, we settled our bill on the last night on the ship yet found new transactions a couple of days after we returned for the amounts already paid! A call to the cruise line solved it however we had to wait a few days before the authorization of $425 fell off.
Eyes open but have fun!
As you can see, there are so many things that we should do to protect ourselves when travelling abroad. Every trip affords me a new lesson in safety and security and I think it is important to share those lessons with anyone and everyone. Travel is something that we should enjoy and learn from but only if we can do it safely!
Today was a hot one but I hope you still made this beautiful day count!