Common Travel Emergencies to Avoid on Study Abroad

by Michael Kelly / Mar 17, 2014 / 0 comments

With study abroad programs at an all-time high - approximately 274,000 American students traveled abroad during the 2010-2011 school year - educators need to plan ahead to avoid common travel emergencies for themselves and their students. Taking preventive measures is essential. Advance preparations will keep your travels memorable…for all the right reasons.


Common Travel Emergencies to Avoid on Study Abroad

Red Alert: Learn your destination’s health risks

At least 4–6 weeks before departure, visit the CDC’s Traveler’s Health website to familiarize yourself with the health landscape of your destination. Then make an appointment with your primary care physician and/or a travel medicine specialist to discuss the proper vaccinations and medicines you may need in advance of your trip.

•    Make sure you are up-to-date on all routine vaccinations (such as influenza, measles, and mumps) and any other specific vaccines you may need for your destination.

•    If you have any health conditions (e.g. allergies, diabetes, asthma), discuss with your doctor how to manage them while abroad.

•    If your trip will last an entire semester or longer, make sure to get all your routine health check-ups before you leave (including an appointment with your dentist) as the quality of medical care may be different than what you are accustomed to in the United States.


Stock up on medication for your entire stay

If you take medications, keep them clearly labeled in their original containers and bring a written prescription with your physician’s explanation of your condition in case you are prompted by international customs agents. Check with the local embassy to make sure that your medication is acceptable to carry into the country, as some countries consider certain prescription medications illegal. Additionally, some popular destinations like Italy do not honor foreign prescriptions, nor allow medications to be shipped. So to avoid potential mix-ups at the pharmacy, it’s a good idea to research the local name of your prescription and double check that your medication is actually available in your host country. Often the simplest and fastest way to get your prescriptions replaced is making sure you have a travel assistance service that you can contact for help. 

If you prefer certain brands of over-the-counter medicines for common ailments, it may be wise to bring them from home. While there will be drug stores in your destination, specific brands you know and trust may not be available. Always pack your prescription drugs in your carry-on bag. In the unlikely event your airline misplaces your checked luggage, tracking down your belongings will be even more stressful when you realize your essential medication is packed away in your missing suitcase.


Check the terms of your health insurance policy

Many U.S. health insurance plans do not provide coverage outside of the United States, so it is important to know if you are covered abroad. If you are covered, review the details of your policy since all medical bills incurred during your stay abroad will be your responsibility. Again, consider investing in a travel assistance membership which can provide emergency medical evacuation -- especially if you’re traveling to an area with little or no access to quality medical care. Some memberships even offer evacuation to your hospital of choice, allowing you to come home to your own doctors for treatment. This not only saves you money if your health insurance does not have international coverage, but with medical evacuations generally costing upwards of $50,000 (which is not a covered expense in most health insurance plans!), this is something you should avoid paying out of pocket. 


Take the proper safety precautions

•    Stay up-to-date on the U.S. State Department’s current travel warnings to ensure that your destination – or surrounding countries you may be visiting – is not included in the list. 

•    Before leaving, get a sense of your destination’s security landscape by reviewing Country Specific Information for safety information on crime rates, places to avoid, and any other threats to your personal safety.

•    Register your trip with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) for automatic and timely updates on travel warnings and travel alerts via email – but more importantly so your information (including your emergency contacts) can help the nearest embassy or consulate locate you in an emergency.

•    Find the American embassies and consulates  in your destination country and carry this information with you at all times.

•    Keep your mobile phone fully charged and with you at all times. Save the local emergency response number on your cellphone contacts. has a handy list compiled by the State Department for emergency contact numbers in foreign countries.

•    With motor vehicle crashes — not terrorism, crime, infectious disease or plane travel — being the number one cause of death to healthy Americans traveling abroad, take precautions when driving, understand the laws and driving customs, bring a GPS (yes, it’s compatible in other countries!) and obtain an international driving permit.

•    Stay alert and trust your instincts –be extra cautious  at night; stick to well-lit streets and avoid bus and train stations, subways and empty parks and use Google Maps to help adjust to the streets near your university and appear more confident, reducing your chances of getting hassled.

•    Don’t carry lots of money in your wallet, and keep both your wallet and smartphone tucked away securely on your person.   Avoid wearing clothing that identifies you as an American such as “I Love NY” and travel with a group. If you must travel somewhere alone, always tell someone where you’re going.


Wishing you happy and safe travels.




Michael J. Kelly is CEO of On Call International, which for nearly 20 years has provided fully-customized travel assistance plans protecting millions of travelers, their families, and the companies they work for.