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  If you do need urgent assistance from an embassy, STEP will already have your basic information on file.

Canadians should go to, U.K. citizens should go to, and Australians should go to .


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

You Did WHAT on Your Trip?! Travel, Adrenaline, and Taking Risks: The Connection

Have you ever sat next to someone like this on the plane ride home from your vacation?:

  • A 45-year old woman with a bulging disc in her spine who felt so fantastic in Auckland that she went bungy jumping… then wondered why she couldn’t walk the next morning
  • A bipolar, alcoholic Swede who blew his entire food budget to take a helicopter ride over a volcano blowing near Reykjavik
  • A guy arrested for slipping into St. Basil’s Cathedral for his own “private tour.”  Twice.
  • A 25-year-old woman from Australia who decided to learn how to drive on the right…  on the Autobahn

Do these things sound crazy, stupid, reckless, and just plain thrilling?  Before you answer, think about some of the things you’ve done on a trip that have made you, well, question your better judgment.   I’ll even leave room for you to mentally write them out:



(it was)



Are you smiling, or grimacing?  Well, it probably depends on how your adventure turned out.  You may want to roll your head in your hands and say, what was I thinking? Or you may want to say: Hell, yeah.  What happened in _______ stays in _______.  And you know: you’d never pull such a “stunt” at home.

We do different things in a new and different environment; that’s one reason travel makes us feel so good, makes us feel so alive again.  We see something we like, and we do it.  It‘s quite often as simple as that.  The future doesn’t enter much into our minds.  We haven’t had time to obsess over the consequences.  And the same often holds true whether you are a natural daredevil — or a hesitant, and even anxious person.

It’s in the latter case that the effects of travel-inspired risk-taking can rear their ugly head.  Many sensitive, cautious individuals have low tolerances for stress, or — to put it more eloquently — for “shit happening.”  The violate their personal limits more easily; they raise the stakes on their psychological well-being.   If things work out, they feel euphoric.  If their risk ends up in minor (or major) disaster, they can feel terrified and regretful.

All four of my plane mates briefly described above — Terri, Edvard, Josh, and Amy — are what I’d describe as hesitant, cautious people.  Maybe even worrywarts.  Certainly, people who view the glass as half-full only as long as things are going “as they should.”   And yet they did what they did.  I could tell that each of them would spend a lot of time thinking about their thrill-seeking quests.  They would probably have some psychological scars.  They were amazed — and scared — over what a short memory they’d had when they decided to seize the moment.  Their own tunnel vision both frightened them and inspired them.  And finally, I got the sense that most of them were going to become bold wanderlusts; maybe even minor adrenaline junkies.  (Amy is still fighting with her car insurance company.)

So what happens for you when you cross the line from adventurous to risk-taker? Do you feel thrilled, or just plain reckless?  Many times, that extra shot of adrenaline helps you do something that you never thought you could pull off.    There’s a big long definition for adrenaline, but I have a simple description: it’s that stir of now setting both your mind and body free.

Some of the happiest travelers I’ve met live like they’re not planning to come back home from their vacation.  That might not be you — or it may be you to a lesser degree.  Either way, we get a high off that first impulse, that first sense of possibility.  It keeps us traveling; it keeps us moving forward.  It keeps us thrilled.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Wow, that looks great!  And this whiplash of mine is, like, almost totally healed