Having recently gone on a solo vacation to Madrid -> Seville -> Lisbon, I started wondering what else I needed to do apart from packing my bag. Here is the shortlist of what I did to ensure myself, family, and clients would be taken care of in case of an emergency.

1) Log into your bank and credit card accounts to set a travel alert. If this isn’t done, your first swipe will likely be considered fraud instantly. I then pre-booked a few things, such as train fare, visits to museums, etc for 2 reasons. First, it’s nice to skip the lines and have a ticket on hand (which yes – was awesome), but second, I’ve come to notice that there are two layers of fraud protection with cards. I’d describe it as one at the issuing level and one is at the logo level. For example, I let Fidelity know I was traveling (the institution that issued me the cards) but when I went to book my first train fare Visa had a fraud concern. I was glad to get their secondary level of fraud concern addressed while I was home and not when I’m trying to board a train. 

Lastly, if you do find yourself in a fraud protection bind, there is an international number on the back of your card that will accept the call charges if using a payphone (which I did spot from time to time). 

2) Ask bank and cards about foreign exchange. Most cards use what’s called a “wholesale rate” on the exchange, which is pretty close to published rates. But cards may also tack on a foreign transaction fee. Mine happened to be 1%, which I was ok with since I get 2% cash rewards. Travel cards may offer 0% as a primary perk, but the standard seems to be around 3%. Personally, 3%, especially if there is no cash rewards back, would be too high. I’d likely opt to use a different card if possible or stick to using local currency. Separately, I want to share some fine print I ran into on day one. Almost all of the places I used my card offered to bill me in Euro or USD. One time I said USD just to see what would happen. When I got the receipt, the fine print on the bottom said they use wholesale rate to convert the price + gross up the cost by an additional %. In my case, it was 3%, which seemed fairly common as I continued to read the fine print on my receipts. This was a worse deal for me than just the 1% fee to convert on my card, so that made the decision to respond Euro pretty easy. One gross-up was as high as 6% – glad I didn’t test it out on that one!

3) Question the need for extra travel insurance. There isn’t a wrong or right on this as it’s somewhat a matter of preference. How much is your peace of mind worth? Especially for some who have circumstances that warrant needing as much flexibility as possible. With that said, it’s a shame to pay for something you already have. I honestly still can’t quite tell if I made this mistake myself! To explain, I booked through a travel site and opted for some coverage to be able to call customer service on issues, rebook my flight to a different time/date, and a few other misc perks. But when checking in on the airline’s site directly they had a huge banner saying making changes was easier than ever and included on all flights. So potentially I paid for something I already had. If I could do it again, I would first look at the airline’s website directly to fully understand what’s included with a ticket before deciding on any add-ons through a third-party site. In the same vein, I also looked to understand what services and protections I had through my payment method and any memberships (like AAA). I’d imagine travel cards have even better perks baked in, but for my normal cash rewards card I found out the following:

  • Travel and Emergency Assistance Services: Access to finding local emergency services
  • Lost Luggage Reimbursement: Get up to $3,000 for lost or stolen luggage if your carrier was responsible
  • Travel Accident Insurance: Travel purchased with this card automatically generates a $250,000 life insurance benefit
  • Roadside Dispatch: Get help finding local roadside assistance
  • Emergency Cash and Card Replacement: If you lose your card Visa will quickly get you a replacement and/or help you get emergency cash at a convenient location

Just make sure to tell someone about the insurance and to have the client services phone numbers on hand for accessing some of these benefits in case you lose the card.

4) Traveling is a great reason to double-check your account and policy beneficiaries. You may *think* it’s all updated, but I’d highly recommend to actually lay eyes on the paperwork. Deaths, births, weddings, divorce, new account openings, inheriting accounts, and switching jobs are all triggers for beneficiary changes. It’s amazing how much can change in just a few years time. Similarly, you may have the most perfect estate plan but does anyone know where to find it or who the attorney is? Let someone know these important tidbits in case of emergency.

5) Are you self-employed? What’s your business continuity plan? While travel begs the question, this is really a concern for any day of the week. How are your clients impacted if you’re incapacitated or pass away? While having a document and named person to be your replacement is great, taking it a step further by building out your CRM system to create workflows that guide your replacement through the steps of any required process and creating reporting to quickly help them identify clients and important metrics is even better.

Bonus: This will hopefully be obsolete soon, but I was continuously checking up on COVID measures to make sure I didn’t run into any airport issues. Because yes, they changed throughout my trip. To fly to Spain there was no COVID test requirement, but to fly to Lisbon from Spain and back to the US there was. Quick and affordable testing can be done at the airport, but if you can’t book the appointment ahead of time, I’d recommend getting a test in town the day before departure. For instance, I’d hear from other travelers that testing locations (even in the airport) were closed on Sundays. That’s not a surprise you want to find out 2 hours before your flight. There are also health travel forms to be aware when traveling between countries. The airlines should provide links to these with your virtual boarding passes, just be sure not to glaze over them.  

Bonus Bonus: Did you know you can download google maps to your phone? If you don’t want to pay extra for an international data plan and aren’t connected to wifi, you at least have a map downloaded to the phone that can pinpoint your location and pull up local businesses, landmarks and addresses.