Friday, September 02, 2016

International travel in 2016

Report from the field: international travel in 2016.

Here is a checklist of things that I recommend that you consider doing; however, you have to decide what’s right for you and only follow them at your own discretion. The sections below include: “before you go”, “while on the road”, and other “after traveling”.

Before you go:

1. Sign up with the US State Department to let them know about your travel plans, and also register for notifications in your selection of countries about status, alerts, and warnings. See about registering in the STEP program.
  • a. Example: The events around the coup in Turkey generated an alert about an expected demonstration at the embassy in Istanbul at 2pm on a certain day, and it stated that US citizens not attempt to visit the embassy during such events.
  • b. Other in-country contacts (e.g. phone numbers of embassy services) are also part of these notifications.
  • c. There is a State Dept issued app that you can install on your smartphone, that is another tool for receiving notifications of danger abroad.
2. Write down all the Make, Model, and Serial numbers of all your devices that you will bring with you. Keep the copy in a “safe place” that you can reach, say with your passport. Do not just keep images on your phone: if it’s stolen or lost, all that information goes with it.
  • a. Before you go, put all your cards on a copier and make a copy of the front and back of all your credit, id, insurance, and other cards – at least you will have that information – ideally leave a copy at home with someone you trust, and a second paper copy separate from your wallet.
3. Get a power converter to recharge your mobile devices: phone, tablets, etc. Many power bricks are rated not only for American (110V, 60cycle) but also World (Europe, Asia)(220-240V, 50cycle) power. It is usually printed on the tiny print somewhere on your power brick – use a magnifying glass or sometimes your smartphone camera can zoom in while you have your “flashlight” app on, to see better.
  • a. Personally I also carry a separate battery, they are inexpensive and do not have to be heavy.
4. Get at least a basic AT&T “Passport” service – it’s $40 for the next 30 days, and while phone calls are $1/minute, my understanding is that it covers unlimited texting, including multimedia (e.g. with photos), are included. The base only allows for 200 megabytes of data, so I never turn it on. If you purchase the “Passport” service AT&T should send you a text with a link to the “Passport App”. In theory it shows you where the local WiFi hot spots are, with whom AT&T has agreements to carry WiFi for you. This is great in the airport if you can get it. Istanbul airport did not have any I could reach, although Ljubljana (Slovenia) airport in Brnik had free and open Wifi available even without the AT&T service.
  • a. Yes, it’s true you “should not use free wifi (promiscuously)”, but use your judgement: certainly don’t connect to an ESSID like “devilhacker20”. But at the airport, if the poster on the wall advertises the sponsored wifi, I don’t feel too bad about using it.
  • b. If you have several people traveling together, and you play well together, you might get one and share.
  • c. If you like alternatives you can purchase a local SIM card with local (pre)paid services. You probably need to “unlock” your phone beforehand.
  • d. I thought about this but my trip was short (5 days) so I just used the AT&T “Passport” service.
  • e. Another option is to get a T-Mobile phone with international roaming (check your countries), but it has to be a postpaid deal (prepaid does not have international data roaming). See if the phone will actually support being configured as a hotspot or tether (e.g. for your laptop) if you really want to do this. See
5. Check which of your credit cards or ATM cards impose what fees when they convert the non-US currency. Some can be surprisingly high; others (in theory) such as ones offered by community banks say they often have low or no fees.

6. Put a card with your name and a traveling companion’s phone number in your wallet, or tape it to your phone, or both, so on the off chance your valuables do get turned in to police or the local embassy, they can contact your travel group directly.

7. A nice convenience is to sign up for Global Entry. that will shorten lines to re-enter the US, both at immigration and at customs (look for the signs and learn to recognize the logo) for processing. There is a fee and some lead time, but I’ve personally experienced its benefit. This has become a very popular program, and lead times for interviews have become rather long – register and book one soon. CBP (customs and border patrol) have expanded Global Entry to UK citizens, and registered travelers will also get faster entry into UK. See the website for more information.

While Traveling:

8. Beware of pickpockets, they are everywhere. Put your phone away. Put your wallet in the pocket that as a zipper or button over it.
  • a. The cleverness of petty criminals is amazing: in the Paris subway, from a firsthand account: friend’s wife felt someone tapping on shoulder, looked back, at that instant a well dressed young person unzipped her fanny pack, grabbed the wallet out of it, and then the subway door closed.
  • b. In a new place, time-zone dazed, it is easy to just put your phone in an outside pocket that is handy for both yourself and someone who wants your phone or wallet.
9. In some countries you are required to carry your identification (passport) with you. So if you are actually go to a beach or other casual location, perhaps it’s better that not everyone go into the water at the same time (someone should watch the valuables?).

10. If you do not speak the local lingo, get a card from the concierge or write out the address where you are staying. If you stray from the main avenue, you can always point to the card, and ask for directions even if you can’t say the name of the street.

11. When (or before) you arrive in the area you are visiting, get a local map, find and mark the police station in case you need to make a report of a theft or loss or other event – hopefully this will not ever be needed, but if you do need it, it’s nice to have handy.
  • a. When you report the loss, ask if someone will take a police report rather than just taking your phone number. The former is a formal report that indicates where the pickpockets are working, the latter is a scrap of litter that will be discarded or lost.
  • b. The Ljubljana (Slovenia) police department was very polite, helpful, and wrote up the report.
12. If you do get pickpocketed or your wallet falls out of your pocket, do report the theft or loss to the local US embassy. It turns out there are instances where the wallet is returned to the embassy and the embassy will attempt to call people identified by either business cards or other means in the wallet.
  • a. Put a card in your wallet that identifies who to call in case it is found. Perhaps it can be the phone number of someone traveling with you. In an ideal world perhaps the wallet and cards and find their way back to you (in at least two cases this has worked out).
  • b. Credit reporting organizations should be notified to be on the alert as well, if any of that information is potentially compromised.  

After Traveling:

Welcome home !

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