Travel Problems: prevention and what to do when things go wrong

Navigating the Chinese healthcare system would have been impossible without my tour guide/translator.

Navigating the Chinese healthcare system would have been impossible without my tour guide/translator. I was lucky. I had my translator and the cost was low. If this hadn’t been the case I would have been on the phone to my travel insurance provider right away.

You’re it!

When traveling solo it’s all up to you.

If something goes wrong you’re on your own to find a solution. If it’s resolved easily it will make you feel strong and capable. If not, it could make you question your abilities.

It’s important to plan for success should things go wrong. And travel insurance is an important element of the plan. It’s a great backup if you need it but it’s even better not to need it at all. So, I’ll begin with tips to avoid problems in the first place and then delve into how to address problems should they arise.

Navimag ferry

You never know when something will go wrong. The Navimag Ferry I took to Patagonia hit an island. Another near miss for me. With luck, I had no need for my travel insurance.

Prevention: how to minimize travel problems before you leave.

To avoid problems when traveling you have to look at your trip from all angles. Here are a few…

  1. Avoid problems at home: Leave your keys with a trusted friend, put out the garbage before leaving, unplug devices to conserve power, pay anticipated bills in advance, have someone pop by to water plants or, if your insurance policy requires, to check on your home in general.
  2. Plan in advance for security when using public WiFi on the road: Sign up for a VPN service before leaving so that you can access important sites securely. For example, this will allow you to manage your banking online.  Read Travel Technology: Increase your security and reduce costs.
  3. Backup important documents in the cloud: Carry your passport, travel insurance and other documents in a safe place – a money belt or pouch is a good idea. But you also need to have backups of your documents in case you need them. Our tech columnist shares how to have access to your documents while maintaining your privacy here.
  4. Ensure you have access to money: Inform your credit card company when and where you will be traveling. Carry more than one kind of credit card with you in case your preferred card is not accepted. Use ATMs to get money but don’t take out large sums. Keep emergency backup funds in a separate place. It’s always a good idea to have some American money on you. Keep it in a couple of places.
  5. Address health issues before leaving: Check with your doctor to determine whether you need special shots for your destination. Book an appointment with a travel clinic if you do. Make sure that you have enough of any medication that you take regularly and travel with it in the bottle labeled by the pharmacy where you bought it.
  6. Pack wisely: Whether you only take a carry-on or you travel with more, it’s a good idea to put your ownership information inside your bag. Check the airlines policies regarding carry-on luggage and make sure that you meet their restrictions in terms of size and weight. If you’re over on weight try wearing the heavier items and packing the lighter ones.
  7. Carry and back up all travel arrangements: With so much travel planning done online, you’re responsible for managing your tickets and flight information. At the beginning of planning a trip I start a new folder in my travel folder on my computer. I store all flights, bookings, etc., in that folder. Before leaving print out all documents and back up the folder in the cloud so that you have access to it even if you lose your hard copies.
  8. Buy travel insurance: I have a premium credit card but I still never travel without buying specific travel insurance. I buy multi-trip insurance which covers me for an entire year of travel. You’ll need to decide on what’s best for you – insurance for one trip or multiple trips. Also, if you’re planning a long trip, watch carefully for the duration of trips allowed. Note: you must buy insurance before leaving on a trip.

Like going the wrong way on a one-way street, there are mistakes your don’t want to make.

During your trip: what to do when things go wrong…

Unfortunately, there are some travel problems, medical and non-medical, that you can’t plan for. In these cases, travel insurance comes to the rescue.

  1. If you need to delay, cancel or shorten your trip:  You may not be able to travel due to an illness, job loss or an immediate family member’s medical emergency. You may need to return home earlier than planned for similar reasons. In cases like these, travel insurance can protect your travel investment. But call your insurance provider before changing your plans.
  2. If you have a medical emergency: When selecting your medical insurance, make sure that it includes upfront payment for claims and adequate emergency medical coverage. When an emergency happens, call the emergency contact number as soon as possible. You will reach multilingual representatives who are experienced in coordinating emergency care for travelers. They know your coverage and will coordinate your care with the hospital nearest to you. If the emergency prevents you from calling, call when you can or have someone else call on your behalf. This will protect your from receiving treatment that is not covered by your policy.
  3. If your luggage is lost: You are more likely to be one of the 18%* of Canadians to lose their luggage if you are taking many flights with connectors or using small carriers with planes that cannot manage the standard carry-on. Unfortunately, many airlines will not reimburse you for lost luggage. Make sure your travel insurance covers lost luggage and contact your travel insurance provider should this problem arise.

To learn more about travel insurance and find out what type is best for you, check-out the AMEX Travel Insurance website.

This post was sponsored by Amex Bank of Canada. The views and opinions expressed in this blog, however, are purely my own.

*Source: National survey conducted by a third party on behalf of American Express Canada in July 2013. Sample size included 1006 respondents from across Canada.

  • Sally Croft

    I use PureVPN while travelling to foreign countries. Works great for me

  • Janice Waugh

    I use StrongVPN as recommended by my tech advisor. It’s been working great for me.

  • David Clark

    Sign up for a VPN service before leaving so that you can access important sites securely?? Please also describe which VPN is good as i can see so many providers on internet like bestvpnservice

  • Linda Luah Castle

    Some countries that require visa it is illegal to travel without travel -medical insurance . I never travel without insurance . My mother visitedme without insurance and she fell and broke her leg. I sold my jewellery to pay the medical bill cash within 3 days . My son is a musician who travels and I pay a lot for his instrument but still a tiny fraction the cost of replacing his limited edition instruments. Also if you read my other post here where I had to ship a dead traveller home … please especially travelling to Europe or Asia. Insurance is paramount !

  • Linda Luah Castle

    As someone one whose first job aged 18 was having to transport a dead body across the world home , please #1 has to be Travel / medical insurance
    And make sure you have a will at home that states and account for the cost of what to do with your body should anything happen abroad . My budget is $20,000 for that. Extremely Important when I am a single mum .

  • Janice Waugh

    Thanks Darcy. Good points.

  • Darcy Sharman

    I know this is an old post, but…an addendum to #5: be sure to find out whether the drugs you are travelling with are allowed into your country of travel. I lived in the UAE for four years, for example, and they restrict many drugs that we would think of as common (including antianxiety drugs and codeine) or even non-prescription. Original packaging/prescription may not be enough if these drugs are discovered in your luggage at the airport, and the consequences can be, at best, disruptive.

  • Faith

    Great tips! In addition to backing up documents in the cloud, I also make sure my son and one trusted friend has a copy of my Passport and travel information. Also Tripit is a very nice application for reservations, airline tickets etc. It is easily accessible and great when you arrive in a new city to show to the cab driver.

  • Janice Waugh

    HI Corinne. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sorry for your loss but glad that you at least has some financial backup.


  • Corinne

    I always buy travel insurance and had often asked if it was worth it…until one time I had to use it. My husband got seriously ill in Europe and we had to make an emergency flight home…so I sent in the claim for doctor bills, flight changes, etc and thankfully we did make it home. (He was seriously ill and passed away 7 months later, but at the time we didn’t know what we were dealing with) Having that insurance was a big help and peace of mind..they were able to direct and support us,and then reimbursed us eventually for the full costs. It could have been much worse, ie if he had ended up in the hospital, or passed away there….but still I’m very thankful for the insurance and always buy it. Another time I was stranded due to a small aircraft not being able to land, and had to wait for another flight. That inconvenience was also covered by insurance.
    You never need it until you need it, and then its too late to get it. I’d buy some if I were you:)

  • Sarah Milton-Lomax

    Just a thought … about 8 years ago, I decided to go hiking on the coastal path in Devon, by myself without telling anyone where I was or where I was going. Not a smart move, it was done spontaneously. Given that a few years after this, I fell on a hike and broke my leg (luckily, I was not in a remote space, and I was with people), I began to think “what on earth would have happened?” if I had fallen when I was on the coastal path. So take my advice, please, tell people where you are going, and when you plan to be back. Give someone the route you plan to take .. and if it isn’t a walk you would normally do “at home”, you might want to think about it before you do it. Happy Trails!

  • Carolyn V. Hamilton

    Just wanted to share that what I’ve done to be sure I never lose luggage is paint huge colored polka dots on the pieces with acrylic paint. I have never lost a piece of luggage, and lots of people point and smile when they see my bags in the airport. Once when a flight was changed, the agent said, “I can’t promise you your luggage will make this close flight. What does it look like?” I told her it had big hot pink polka dots on it, they went right to it, and my luggage made the flight.

  • Deborah

    I totally agree with Janice – do you know what the medical expenses would be if you hadto go into the hospital in the States? Enormous!
    If its something serious in other countries they will fly you back to medical help in Canada if you have insurance. How would you like to end up in a hospital in say Calcutta?

  • John Emmanuel Cruz

    Great tips! Easy to remember. Have a safe travel everyone! Even if there are delays or minor problems along the way, keep the excitement and enjoy it. Travelling is fun!

  • Janice Waugh

    Hi Jen,

    I have never had to use my travel insurance but I would never, ever travel without it. Give the cost of insurance compared to the financial devastation that a medical problem could cause I think its well worthwhile. For me, flight and baggage insurance is a nice bonus for most insurance policies. It’s the medical insurance that I want. As a Canadian, my provincial insurance plan covers a very limited amount out of country. If you have medical insurance through your employer, read the small print carefully. Maybe you’re already covered. Maybe you’re not.

    Hope that helps,

  • jen

    How often have you used travel insurance? And for what reasons? I am asking to make a wise money decision on this as I embark on a long-term travel journey. In an insurance-heavy society I find its money never well spent or needed so I would love to hear when you have actually needed to fall back on the insurance you’ve purchased. Thanks!

  • Round the World we go

    Great tips Janice, especially when it comes to backing up important documents onto the cloud! A great idea