STRATEGIES AND TACTICS FOR ENLIGHTENED TRAVEL
It's one of the most durable evergreens of practical international travel: Always make a photocopy of your passport's photo page, your driver's license and other important travel documents. Then keep them in a safe (and separate) place while you're on the road. If you ever lose your passport or other crucial documents, the chestnut goes, you'll have paper backup to get quick, emergency replacements. But here's the 21st century twist: Rather than copy the documents and carry the paperwork around, scan them into your personal computer, then E-mail the scans to yourself. The documents are always safely tucked away in your mailbox and, if necessary, you can go to any computer with Internet access and quickly print out the scans. Pre-PC frequent flyers may find this an unnecessary complication. PC-Generation travelers know the scan strategy is a great way to avoid the paper chase. Those of us who straddle the Great Cyber Divide and move effortlessly between paper and electrons consider it six of one. Travel paranoids, of course, will do both.
For better and for worse, English is quickly becoming the world's universal language. But that does not give you linguistic license to be an Ugly American. Make a serious effort to speak and understand at least a few phrases of the local tongue. Wonderful cheat sheets and pocket-sized phrase books are available for every language. I use a series called Just Enough… because I like how it puts a language in conversational context and stresses phonetic pronunciation over grammatical perfection. You can surely find a phrasebook that organizes and explains a language in a way that appeals to you. You'll also be surprised how quickly you can absorb the conversational basics of almost any tongue when you're not being hectored by an obsessive high-school language teacher.
A clear-eyed and unsentimental view of how things have changed in the last generation is useful when it comes to jettisoning some things that were once considered "must have" road-warrior accoutrements. For example, I've dumped my dual-time wristwatch. Why? My mobile phone and my laptop both have clocks. Also gone: my folding travel alarm clock. Why? My mobile phone has an alarm feature. Also left behind: a stash of emergency road cash (There's always an ATM nearby.); my portable short-wave radio (I now get streaming radio from around the world off the Internet.); and my calculator (There's one on my laptop and my mobile phone.). And now I also leave behind my beloved, ultra-slim, ultra-sharp, Japanese-made scissors (a concession to airport security) and my lace-up shoes and sneakers (ditto).
Forget traveler's checks or converting dollars to euros or other currencies before you go overseas. The most cost-effective way to get cash is from ATMs at your destination. But make sure that you have your financial ducks in order. Make sure your banking card is accessible with a 4-digit numeric PIN because most overseas ATMs only use four digits and the keypads aren't alphanumeric. And have a clear understanding of what, if anything, your bank will charge for an overseas ATM withdrawal. If your bank charges you for overseas ATM access then, frankly, you're with the wrong bank or have the wrong kind of checking or savings account. And don't use cash for larger overseas purchases. Use your Visa or MasterCard, or, even better, your American Express card. You'll get the wholesale rate on the exchange. That can be as much as 10 percent better than the exchange rate for cash. Just watch the credit card's cross-border and transaction fees. Make sure that they don't exceed 2 or 3 percent. One final note: Never accept a credit-card charge denominated in dollars overseas. That's a relatively new trick and it's designed to rip you off. Always insist your credit-card charge be presented to you only in local currency.
Sometimes injuries or illnesses are so serious that travelers require emergency evacuation from where they are working. An evacuation could cost upwards of $50,000, travel insurers say, and few traditional health-insurance policies cover this contingency. Many specialty firms sell evacuation coverage separately or as part of more comprehensive travel-health policies. But there are hitches: The insurer usually decides if the medical facility at your destination is adequate and the insurer almost always decides if you should be evacuated and where you will be sent. But Medjet Assist specializes in medical-evacuation services. If you're hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, Medjet Assist will evacuate you to the hospital of your choice and cover all the costs. This on-demand policy sets Medjet Assist apart. Membership in Medjet Assist is available per trip (plans start at $75 a person for 7-day plans) or, more economically, on an annual basis ($205 for an individual or $325 for families).
THE FINE PRINT
JoeSentMe is Copyright © 2005 by Joe Brancatelli.