How to Prepare an Emergency Medical Contact Card Before You Go Abroad

If you’ve ever had to visit an ER or doctor in another country, you know how critical it is to have an emergency medical card, and several supplemental documents, with you at all times (or at least in your hotel room).   Some of this medical and personal information seems pointless to write down since you can reel it off the top of your head, but most of it isn’t — and you don’t want to be kicking yourself for not having the contact info you need when you’re ill or injured so far from home.

Your emergency medical card (or page, printout, etc.) and supplemental info should include your critical health and personal data, and definitely not be left to the last minute since it can take surprisingly long (as in, upwards of eight hours!) to gather and list all the information.  Sound boring and tedious to put together?  It is — but hopefully the following can help.

Your card should include the names, phone numbers, and addresses or email addresses for the following:

Ÿ1. Family member or close contact remaining at home;

Ÿ2. Your doctor at home, your pharmacy, and your health care provider;

3. ŸTravel insurance (and any medevac insurance) information;

Ÿ4. Place(s) of lodging at your destination;

Ÿ5. The U.S. Embassy or consulate in your destination country;

Ÿ6. A list of your medications, including generic and brand names, reason for taking each, dosage information, and how often taken;

Ÿ7. All medical conditions or allergies you have; and

Ÿ8. Documentation of any immunizations required by the country you’re visiting.

Items to attach or keep with this card include:

Ÿ1. A copy of your medical insurance card (keep the original in your wallet);

Ÿ2. At least one insurance claim form (note that you shouldn’t have to navigate through the member services department of your HMO to get insurance claim forms; the travel clinic should carry them);

3. ŸA signed letter from your physician describing your general medical condition(s), and all current medications;

4. ŸThe list of urgent care services and doctors that you have researched in each country (or, more likely, had your physician or travel agent research for you); and, if you’re traveling off the beaten tourist track:

5. ŸThe name of any medication conditions, and medications, written in the local languages of the areas you plan to visit.  For translation services, try asking your travel clinic first since your main care practitioner may not know where to send you within your HMO or PPO.  Note that it’s unwise to use a free online translation service since the software may misunderstand (or not understand at all) complex medical and technical terms and any abbreviations.

Keep the card and all supplemental documents somewhere where they won’t get wet or stolen (to be on the safe side, include one copy in your purse or smaller bag, and one in your checked luggage).  Tell anyone traveling with you about the card and supplements, and their location(s).

While you’re busy compiling all this information, don’t forget to fill out the page inside your passport with the name, address, and telephone number of someone to be contacted in an emergency (you’d be amazed at how many people forget to do this).

Finally, before you go, be sure to register your destination countries, visit dates, and hotel addresses in your country’s traveler enrollment program.  For Americans, this would be the U.S Embassy’s STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) system at https://step.state.gov/step/.  If you do need urgent assistance from an embassy, STEP will already have your basic information on file.

Canadians should go to http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration, U.K. citizens should go to https://www.gov.uk/browse/abroad/travel-abroad, and Australians should go to https://www.orao.dfat.gov.au/orao/weborao.nsf/Homeform?Openform .

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Prepare your card BEFORE your trip — and not while you’re killing time on the train!

Has 9/11 Become the Safest Day of the Year to Travel?

Quite possibly.  Very possibly.  And why, you ask?  Are you kidding?

Have you been to a major American or other Western airport on 9/11?  The lines are shorter, but the screenings take longer, because they’re more thorough.  There are fewer distractions.  The music blaring from Duty-Free is turned down a bit; there isn’t the same raucous chatter from tour groups and families about to depart.  Everyone is watching everyone else.

The pilots and flight attendants are more vigilant.  Passengers don’t leave bags unattended for five seconds (much less a couple minutes) to recheck their boarding time on the screen.  There’s a subtle, but depressing and deadened hush from gate to gate, from terminal to terminal.  Planes are triple-checked instead of double-checked.  Air traffic controllers watch every move on their monitors and across the sky as if their lives depended on it.

Which to me, at least, all suggests that 9/11 may in fact be the safest day of the entire year to get on an airplane — at least in the West, and at any number of other areas scarred by a  terror attack.

But would you care to fly on 9/11?  My guess is no.

As we approach the 12th anniversary of 9/11, it’s worth taking a brief look at what’s happened at airports and on airplanes, both in terms of safety and security.  Besides a couple of terrifying near-misses involving a shoe bomb and liquid gels, there hasn’t been a major incident or threat.  Newer security measures (which are now years old) border on knee-jerk reactions  (no one had to remove their shoes before Richard Reid’s threat; no one had a problem with our jug of water until the scare with the bottles of chemicals onboard).

It’s impossible to say if terrorists want an encore of  a certain tragedy to drive their message home.  From what I’ve observed, they usually move on to some other tactic once they’re successful at a particular “mission.”  Take the World Trade Center, for example: after some unsuccessful tries to bring it down, the jihadists accomplished their “mission” and moved on to… well, a variety of other things.  Embassies will always remain vulnerable targets.  Car bombings are smaller-scale, but accomplish the same basic “goal.”

To me, the people that seem most scared — and maybe rightfully so — are the ones with the Eurail or Amtrak passes.  I need to glance through my own travel anxiety book every time I get on a train now.  Of course I’m scared.  Isn’t everyone?

Will I be flying on 9/11 this year?  No, because it’s still a little too hot in Turkey during the first half of September.  I’ve given myself a good reason (excuse?) to fly on the less auspicious date of 9/26 instead.

Will you be flying on 9/11 this year?  Maybe not, since it’s coming up fast, you might have other plans, and it still holds that sickening power of imagination and dread over us.  But would you consider doing so in the future?  You might.  From my look around during the last 9/11, it seems about as safe as you can get, and your courage — and indifference to the date — flies right in the face of what every jihadist most wants.

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It’s 9/11.  Am I all alone in here?

 

How to Pack a Travel Medical Kit

Yes, a kit will take up quite a bit of room in your luggage, but you could save yourself a lot of stress and misery by having it along — especially if you’ll be traveling to a remote destination.

Many of us automatically buy prepackaged first aid kits and don’t check to make sure that it truly has everything that we need as travelers.  The fact is, many first aid kits are packaged more for sports enthusiasts or in the case of on-the-job accidents.  You can start out with one of those kits, but there will be things you need to add to it.

So here’s what belongs in your travel medical kit:

  • Bandaids of all sizes
  • gauze, and one stretch bandage
  • medical tape
  • an extra bottle of hand sanitizer (in addition to what you should be carrying around with you at all times)
  • antacid
  • anti–motion sickness medication, or ginger root
  • pain medication (of course)
  • a cold compress
  • insect repellant wipes
  • antifungal and antibacterial ointment
  • hydrocortisone cream
  • scissors
  • antidiarrheal medication (bismuth subsalicylate, loperamide)
  • a mild laxative
  • cotton balls

Optional:

  • lubricating eye drops
  • cough suppressant/expectorant
  • cough drops
  • antihistamine
  • Ziploc bags and Q-Tips
  • rubber gloves

What looks like “overkill” to be shoving in next to your toiletry bag  could save your day abroad — or someone else’s.

kit6

Relaxation Opportunities in the World’s Airports

As many of us can attest to, dozens of modern international airports are like mini-cities, complete with malls, chapels, huge kid’s play areas, two-story food plazas, and sometimes even golf courses and movie theaters.  As travel services have evolved into an art, more and more airports have focused on offering the weary, anxious, or downright cranky traveler the chance to de-stress — to the point that some of us might even forget we’re in an airport.  Spas?  Art galleries?  Gardens?  They’re in many of the world’s largest and most popular hubs — maybe even in the one you call your own.

You don’t have to belong to an airline’s VIP club to access most of these relaxing amenities; you just have to find the right terminal.  So, if you have a choice of where to spend a long layover on your next trip, I offer these observations about some of the best airports out there where you can settle your frazzled nerves instead of dreading the next bout of altitude.  I’m sure you can think of a few other airports where you wouldn’t mind killing some time at all.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia

  • Rainforest
  • Reflexology and massage center

Narita International Airport, Tokyo

  • Silence room
  • Reflexology center
  • Oxygen bar

Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates

  • Two indoor Zen gardens, located on either end of the concourse

San Francisco International Airport

  • Yoga room
  • Library
  • Aquarium
  • Art galleries

Schiphol International, Amsterdam

  • Library
  • Museum

(No offense to Schiphol, but besides the library and museum, this has to be one of the noisiest, most hectic airports on earth… and this is after they ditched the one-terminal concept!)

Beijing International Airport

  • Temples and pond

Chicago O’Hare International Airport

  • The “Backrub Hub,” offering neck and back massages

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

  • Self-service yoga studio

Incheon International Airport, South Korea

  • Spa
  • Indoor gardens
  • Museum
  • Private sleeping rooms

Heathrow, London

  • Art Gallery
  • Be Relax Spa

Taiwan International Airport

  • Library featuring e-books, regular books, and magazines and newspapers

Charles de Gaulle, Paris

  • Be Relax Spa
  • Movie theater

Changi Airport, Singapore

  • Five themed gardens, one of them home to more than a thousand butterflies
  • Free calf-massage stations
  • Designated napping facilities

Vancouver International Airport

  • Sleep pods, complete with noise-canceling earphones

I can think of some airports I’d put on a different list for being the loudest, most irritating, panic attack-inducing places on earth, but alas, one of the best ways to manage stress is to keep things positive.  So, I’ll leave you with this image — wherever you may be right now.

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Too bad more of us don’t find laying over in Tallinn, Estonia convenient.  The international airport, Lennart Meri Tallinn, has passenger relaxation at every gate down to an art.

Montevideo: South America’s Urban Realm of Calm

Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, is perpetually overshadowed by its more glamorous neighbors, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.  Sure, millions of people love BA and Rio, but if your stress has reached unhealthy levels, they’re not the best cities in which to unwind. If you’re planning a dream trip to South America, be sure to fit Montevideo into your itinerary — preferably in the middle of all that tango-dancing, bullfight-riding, favela-touring, and bargain shopping.  Montevideo, Uruguay offers the perfect respite to recover from a bout of anxiety.

The Rambla stretches out for over a dozen miles

The Rambla stretches along a dozen miles of the Montevideo’s coastline.  But where are all the crowds?

Not quite The Caribbean, but Montevideo's beaches are stunningly pristine considering the number of people who live here.

Not quite The Caribbean, but Montevideo’s beaches are stunningly pristine considering the number of people who live here.

Solo moment anyone?

Solo moment anyone?

Make new friends who won't judge you based on your suitcase brand or your credit limit.

Make new friends who won’t judge you by your suitcase brand or your credit card limit.

Feel your anxiety drift into the ocean breeze...

Feel your anxiety drift into the ocean breeze…

The relative chaos of Rio and Buenos Aires will feel thousands of miles away.

The relative chaos of Rio and Buenos Aires will feel thousands of miles away.

Find new ways to meditate -- and forget your Xanax.

Find new ways to meditate — and forget your Xanax.

How to Find a Quiet Place to Relax in a Crowded Foreign City

Do you often come back from a trip and feel like you need a “vacation to recover from your vacation?”  You’re not alone.

Many people feel this way because they didn’t let themselves decompress at any time while they were away.  Given the greater emotional and physical energy exerted during a trip, it’s easy to feel drained or overstimulated during and after travel.   Finding a tranquil place to relax and regroup during your trip is one of the most obvious ways to prevent mental or emotional burnout — and keep every day of your vacation feeling (almost) like the first day you arrived.

Unfortunately, traditional “quiet” places may turn into anything but if everyone else decides to go there for their own relaxation.  Think of oceanside cafés that get so loud you can’t hear the waves washing up; well-known churches that sound like malls inside; and parks that put you in the path of an impromptu tag game – hardly anyone’s idea of peace.  Don’t think you have to return to your hotel room mid-day, or wander into an isolated (and potentially dangerous) area in order to “get away from it all.”  Here are a few universal, but often overlooked, places to unwind.

Botanical gardens.  These can sound like a bore to those not interested in plants, but botanical gardens have all of the relaxing characteristics of parks, but because of the (usually) small entrance fee, attract a different crowd; your chances of encountering skateboarding teenagers, drunks, or soccer practice are slim to none.   There is usually no shortage of places to sit down, and you can generally stay as long as you want after paying the day’s admission.

Universities.  Many universities have the look and feel of self-sustaining villages, and you’d have a hard time finding one without some green areas and benches (and often a pond and some wildlife).  Frat and sorority houses are less common outside North America, and while there’s obviously going to be plenty of activity on the main thoroughfares on weekdays, the overall atmosphere – especially on weekends – is subdued.  Another plus is that many universities are easily accessed within metropolitan areas, and even the grounds of most private universities are open to anyone.

Zoos.  You’d be hard pressed to find a zoo without an attractive, natural setting – and interacting with (or just watching) animals can quickly pull you out of your head and back into the moment.  About half of all major world cities have a zoo within three miles of tourist areas.  Try visiting on a weekday evening, or mid-afternoon after school groups have cleared out.

Embassy areas. These neighborhoods are particularly prominent in capital cities, and are often in easily accessible areas.  Although there aren’t many places to sit down, they are certainly a great place for a quiet stroll.  Embassy neighborhoods are rarely crowded, aesthetically pleasing, and you can let your guard down because security is second to none.

Stationed trains.  Particularly in European cities, long-distance trains pull into a station well before departure – by an hour, and sometimes more (especially if your city is the route terminus).  A parked train can be a very peaceful alternative to trying to rest your mind and feet in the chaotic main station hallway.  I’ve done it many times and not been bothered by attendants or conductors (unlike airplanes, which are usually swept and cleaned after every flight, the usual train is only serviced at the end of the day).

Obviously, you need to make sure the train doesn’t roll away taking you someplace you don’t want to go, but the chances of this happening are minimal as you’ll notice people start trickling in about ten minutes before departure.

Off-hours and hideaways in hotels.  After the maids have come through, and before the next round of guests check in, is an ideal time to get some peace in your hotel room, especially if it’s anything but tranquil in the evening and early morning. The ideal time window is usually between noon and three p.m.

If you’ve already checked out of a hotel, don’t feel bad about relaxing in the lobby a few hours after giving up your key.  It’s unlikely that any hotel employee will ask you to leave just because you’re done and paid for; after all, they want you to come back on your next trip, and write a nice online review about your stay.

Finally, a surprising number of hotels – particularly in Europe – have rooftop terraces.  These are often underutilized, because 1) guests aren’t aware of them, or 2) they simply forget to head up there.  The terrace can be a great escape when everyone else on your floor seems to be checking in, or coming in and out of their rooms, at the same time.  An added benefit is that you get to see the city from a bird’s-eye view, which can make it look less intimidating and give you a better perspective of where you are.

Airport quiet spots.  For some peace and space, many people know to head to the waiting area of a deserted gate.  Less commonly sought, but equally quiet places include interdenominational chapels (many international airports have one, and you don’t have to pray in order to use the room), and the lobbies of pre-check-in areas.  Most people automatically rush to the check-in counter and through security when they arrive at the airport, passing by many empty waiting areas adjacent to the airline ticket counters.

It's not always practical to find a place like this to unwind, but there are still plenty of places to relax if you know where to look. ( Pictured: Suomenlinna, Helsinki, Finland.)

It’s not always realistic to find a place like this to unwind, but there are still plenty of places to relax out there — if you know where to look. (Pictured: Suomenlinna, Helsinki, Finland.)

How to Relax in Russia: Some Tasty Suggestions

Mmm.  Russia isn’t anyone’s idea of a great place to de-stress these days, is it?  War… invasions… questionable allies… political incorrectness up the yin-yang…nasty stewardesses on Aeroflot… I mean, how do you spell anxiety in Cyrillic?

Perhaps the path to inner peace in Russia is not through its heart, but its stomach.  Look around on your next real or virtual visit to the Matryoshka Motherland, and feast your eyes — and your soul.  Much of its two urban gems, Moscow and St. Peterburg, are pretty enough to eat.  And when I say “pretty,” I mean that the czars of times past didn’t exactly hold back on the sumptuous domes, cake-grade colors, and sugary paint.  So the next time Putin’s ugly mug gives you indigestion, try biting off a piece of Russia’s calorie-laden beauty… your blood pressure (if not your glucose levels) will plummet.

Raspberry swirl meets dark chocolate and caramel. (St. Petersburg)

Raspberry swirl meets dark chocolate and caramel. (St. Petersburg)

Bolshoi

The Bolshoi ballerinas don’t eat much, but you can gorge on their pastel palace (The Bolshoi Theater, Moscow)

Russian take on the Gingerbread House? (Red Square, Moscow)

Russian take on the Gingerbread House? (Red Square, Moscow)

Somewhere, a wedding is missing the top of its cake (Smolniy Convent, St. Petersburg)

Somewhere, a wedding is missing the top of its cake (Smolniy Convent, St. Petersburg)

Pour me a river of chocolate syrup to enjoy this one (Neva River, Moscow)

Pour me a river of chocolate syrup to enjoy this one (Neva River, Moscow)

I would like my three scoops of scenery with extra sprinkles, please. (Novodevichiy Convent, Moscow)

I would like my three scoops of scenery with extra sprinkles, please. (Novodevichiy Convent, Moscow)

Another cupcake, please -- just go easy on the frosting. (St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow)

Another cupcake, please — just go easy on the frosting. (St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow)

This peach pastry just needs some vanilla wafers (Kazan Cathedral, Moscow)

This peach pastry just needs some vanilla wafers (Kazan Cathedral, Moscow)

Jell-O has never tasted this good (outside Red Square, Moscow)

Jell-O has never tasted this good (outside Red Square, Moscow)

Forget the mint icing; I'll take this one with brown sugar (Red Square, Moscow)

Forget the mint icing; I’ll take this one with brown sugar (Red Square, Moscow)

A spy's fantasy of the perfect lemon tart? (Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg)

A spy’s fantasy of the perfect lemon tart? (Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg)