The dark side of travelling ranges from the trivial (delayed baggage) to the traumatic (getting mugged in an alleyway). In any case, they all conspire to make a mess of a great trip. With a few easy steps and some preparation however, you can minimise the impact of travel disasters:
1. Take pictures of your luggage before you check it in
Pictures help the baggage handlers locate your luggage faster, should it go missing. Otherwise, they’ll just have to use your written notes. And unless you happen to be a really good writer, it’s hard to pick out your bag among thousands with a 50-word description.
If the handlers have a picture of your luggage, they can breeze down the aisles and find it in minutes.
Also take a picture of what’s inside the luggage. This can help with insurance claims, if you have to list the items you’ve lost.
2. Buy your travel insurance way ahead of time, to prepare for trip cancellations
Don’t wait till you’re boarding to buy your travel insurance. Try to buy it as early as two months before your trip.
Sometimes, events such as earthquakes, epidemics, or terrorist attacks can happen at your destination just before you travel. This will cause you to cancel, and you could be stuck with non-refundable air tickets or hotel bookings.
(Also, if you travel to a location despite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ travel warnings, your insurance won’t cover you there).
Either way, travel insurance tends to be cheaper if you buy it two to three months ahead. This isn’t guaranteed, but you have a better chance of saving money if you buy early.
You can check out our ultimate guide to travel insurance to learn more.
3. Bring extra prescription medication, if it’s not available over the counter
Some medication cannot be sold over-the-counter at pharmacies.
Examples include asthma inhalers (in some countries), most forms of heart medication, and medication such as Xanax and Adderall.
If you lose these medications or run out, you’ll need to consult a doctor before you can buy them. In places such as the United States or Japan, the unsubsidised cost of consultation can easily run into $200 or $300 (and that’s before you even buy the medicine).
There are two ways to deal with this:
First, just bring extra medication. Keep it on you while flying (you might lose it if your baggage goes missing).
Second, check if your insurer will pay out for such consultations – some insurers cover it, others will not.
4. Get familiar with remittance services at your destination and avoid using credit card cash advances
Credit cards are not equally useful everywhere. In some developing countries, for example, most businesses may not take card payments at all. You’ll need some cash on hand, and with that comes the risk of losing it* or running out.
If you run out of hard currency this way, you can get it sent from home via services such as Western Union, or whichever remittance service is available. Try to use these services instead of credit card cash advances, as they’re usually cheaper.
A credit card cash advance costs six per cent of the amount withdrawn, to a minimum of $15. By contrast, many remittance services charge flat fees of between $4 to $10.
So if you expect to use mostly cash, look up remittance services at your intended destination. You might want to familiarise family members with the service, so they know how to send you money while you’re abroad.
*Most insurance policies have a limit to the payout for lost cash; check your policy for more details. Try not to carry more than the covered amount when you go out.
5. Keep a physical list of important phone numbers
During a robbery or theft, phones are often stolen with the rest of your belongings. Unless you’ve memorised your crucial contacts, this can leave you unable to call friends and family.
Write down the list of important numbers and keep it elsewhere (perhaps in the hotel room safe). Numbers to list, besides friends and family, include:
- The Singapore embassy at your destination
- Fellow travellers
- Your hotel / Airbnb host
- Your insurance hotline
- Your bank hotline (to quickly cancel any stolen credit or debit cards)
- Your travel agent, if any
- Your employer
Whatever happens, don’t use the hotel room phone to call! Many hotels charge crazy rates for phone calls, sometimes $12 per minute or more (that’s before adding costs for overseas calls). Exceptions might be made for emergencies, but ask at the concierge first.
It’s usually better to use a payphone on the street, or purchase a prepaid dumbphone.
6. Lower your credit card limit, and don’t bring more than one or two cards
To minimise the impact of theft, fix a lower credit ceiling on your card (call your bank and request it). Instead of four times your monthly income, for example, you could fix the credit limit at $1,500 or $2,000.
Remember that identity theft isn’t the only way for a criminal to use your card. They can charge your card and force you to sign the bills, or get you to use your card for cash advances at an ATM.
By having fewer cards and fixing a low ceiling, you can at least limit the amount they steal. And never presume that your bank won’t hold you liable for the full amount.
7. Anything involving alcohol should be at the end of the day
Insurers can deny claims, if you get injured when you’ve been drinking. If you decide to bike to your hotel after Tequila shots, for example, and you break an arm falling down a hill, you might not get a pay out.
For this reason, try to keep your drinking to the very end of the day, after you’ve done all your swimming, shopping, island-hopping, etc.
Since we’re on the topic
AXA Smart Traveller can pay up to $12,000 to compensate you for cancelled trips, and up to $1,600 for trip postponement. Not to mention, we have a 24-hour in-house emergency response team and provide unlimited coverage on emergency medical evacuation - so you know we’ve got your back should you face the worst while away from home.