According to the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization),there were over 922 million international tourist arrivals in the world in 2008, the amount can more than double if you include business arrivals. Unfortunately a great part of these trips include some sort of incident. Have you ever wondered what could go wrong during your trip? You think you are immune to issues while you travel?
Incidents can go from simply losing your luggage to serious health issues or natural disasters. More than 1 million pieces of luggage were lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered by U.S. airlines from May to July, 2007. The Australian Government handles over 25,000 cases involving Australians in difficulty overseas every year. This includes over 1,200 hospitalisations, 900 deaths and 50 evacuations of Australians to another location for medical purposes.
Unfortunately I was the latest addition to the statistics. After a long and tiring 30+ hour work trip, I went through one of the most annoying travel experiences a traveller can go through: I lost both my passports and was in the countryside of a foreign country without identification or a way out. One could say that “these things happen”, however it is a pretty serious situation that can have very serious consequences.
Later, I was surprised to find out that there is an average of about 600 identified cases of fraud to Australian passports every year and some 15000 passports being lost/stolen. The Australian government keeps a Document Alert List (DAL) database within the national Movement Alert List (MAL) system holding information on over 1.6 million problematical travel documents such as lost, stolen or fraudulently altered passports.
I have to admit that this information made me feel a bit better as I am not the only traveller to lose my passport overseas. However the statistics didn’t help me to solve my problem. I was very lucky to be able to rely on the FANTASTIC support of both Brazilian and Australian consulates who were friendly, helpful and supportive to ensure that I could go back home the safest way and as quick as possible.
After this experience, I thought I would share a few of my learnings. Following these tips can help you avoid issues or, if you get in trouble, to find your way out the best way possible
Here we go:
1. First one is pretty obvious but it never hurts to reinforce: Don’t lose your passport! EVER! Keep it close and protected. Avoid keeping it your back pocket as it can fall or be stolen without you noticing. Leave it in a protected place and create your own routine to get it in and out. For you to have an idea of the incentive, a passport can be sold for up to A$10k on the black market.
2. Let the local Embassy know that you are travelling to that foreign country, for how long and where you will be staying. A simple e-mail or phone call is normally sufficient and, in case of an emergency such as a natural disaster, they can not only find you and provide support but also let your loved ones back home know that you are safe. Regardless of what nationality you are, it is very easy to find out Embassy contact details on the internet.
3. Get insurance. Again: GET INSURANCE! Medical emergencies are the most obvious situations where you would need this type of support, however even losing your passport can be very troublesome and expensive. You will incur in additional costs with accommodation, phone calls, flights which are very likely to be substantial. This can easily reach thousands of dollars while it usually only costs you $100 or so to get insurance. Do not rely only on the insurance of your credit card – if you want to do so make sure you check the conditions and what type of cover is being offered. There is nothing worse than being caught off-guard.
4. Do your research. While doing your travel planning, check official travel advice from your Government. The Australian Government maintains a very good website called smarttraveller.org which provide details about safety and special conditions Australians need to be aware of when in that country. The Brazilian Governement also has a website (check) however it is not as good as the Australian one.
5. If you have dual citizenship, consider carefully which one you use to get into a country: remember that what you use to get in is what you need to use to get out and in case of an emergency you will normally be treated by the nationality that you used to get in the country.
6. Give yourself plenty of time at the airport. I appreciate it is terrible to wait but it is much more likely to lose your stuff when you are in a hurry. Also, airport security procedures take time and you need to make sure you do comply with all the requirements – especially immigration. As a rule of thumb, arrive at the airport a couple of hours before the flight if it is international and at least an hour if you are flying domestic. Make sure you are in front of the gate at least 25 minutes before your scheduled departure. If you are keen to shop on duty free – arrive earlier and shop with time. You can always use time to compare prices and, who knows, find a bargain?
Travel can be a great experience – a great opportunity to relax and enjoy or just to get things done if it is a business trip. When traveling be careful and travel safe. You don’t want to ruin your holiday or business trip because of a silly mistake.