Issue: June 2014
SECURING LUGGAGE WHILE TRAVELING [Back to Top]
When it comes to keeping your luggage secure during travel, a good rule of thumb is to only take what you really need and if possible, take only carry-on luggage to prevent the loss of your bags. Checked luggage should be well-used, hard-shelled, and lockable. New luggage is an attraction to thieves. For carry-on luggage, choose soft-sided, lockable, zippered bags. Following are more important tips for keeping your luggage secure.
Packing Valuables and Medicines
- Carry the minimum valuables necessary, and plan to carry them on your person or in your carry-on luggage. Keep in mind that that handbags, backpacks, fanny packs, and tummy packs are targets for petty thieves.
- Do not pack jewelry, passports, cash, traveler's checks, vouchers, medications or credit cards in your checked luggage.
- Use a concealed carrier for small valuables and important documents. One of the safest places to carry them is in an under-clothing pouch or concealed money belt.
- To lessen customs disruptions, keep prescription drugs in a carry-on bag and in their original, labeled containers. Bring a copy of each prescription and the generic name for each drug; if a medication is unusual, unique or contains narcotics, carry a letter from your doctor specifying your need for the drug.
Identifying Your Luggage
- Place a copy of your passport information page in each piece of luggage for positive identification in the event your bags are lost.
- Put your name and an address and telephone number at your destination, on a label inside each bag.
- Travel without luggage tags. A ribbon, colored tape or strap is sufficient to identify your luggage on arrival. Thieves sometimes use luggage tags to identify empty homes for burglary.
- If you must use tags, use covered ones to avoid casual observation of your identity or nationality. Only include a name and telephone number; one at your destination if known.
Locking Your Luggage
- If your departure country or destination allows, lock your luggage and secure bags with a strap, preferably one with a combination lock. Combination locks are more secure than key locks. Using locks approved by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will reduce the chances that your lock will be cut off if security officials need to open your luggage. If your departure or destination country does not allow locks, you may still use an unlocked security strap but note it will increase the chance of your luggage to be chosen for hand inspection.
- If you do not use a security strap, run a strip of nylon filament tape around the suitcase to prevent it from opening if dropped or mishandled. Pack a roll of tape in your luggage so you can repeat the process upon your return.
- If locks are used, reset all the locks on suitcases to different combinations.
- When going through airport security, place your bags on the belt only as you are ready to walk through the magnetometer, not while you are still in the line. Immediately recover your belongings on the other side. Thieves are known to work in pairs. One thief stalls in front of you in line while the other removes your items from the other side of the machine.
- Keep your luggage in sight and close by at airports, railway stations or any public place. Unattended luggage may be removed and/or destroyed by security staff. If this happens, you will not be compensated.
- Switching bags is a common practice of thieves at transportation and hotel counters. To help prevent this, mark yours with something easily identifiable.
- Do not approach or remain near someone else's unattended baggage or agree to guard a stranger's luggage.
- Upon arrival, be present when your luggage is delivered to the baggage area, verify your baggage claim checks and quickly inspect your luggage to ensure that it was not tampered with.
- If you must set down your suitcases or bags, place them against a wall or counter and maintain contact with them.
- Watch your luggage being stowed aboard your taxi or van at the airport and hotel. If possible, take your carry-ons inside the vehicle.
- If you take a taxi, pay the fare only after your luggage is unloaded and is under your control.
SAFETY TIPS FOR SURVIVING HOT WEATHER [Back to Top]
Overexposure to sun and heat poses a serious health threat. In a normal year, thousands of people around the world succumb to summer's heat and an abnormally hot summer can claim thousands more. Be especially cautious if visiting an area with temperatures or humidity levels that are higher than you are accustomed to, especially if you plan to engage in outdoor activities.
The human body dissipates heat by varying the rate and depth of blood circulation, by losing water through the skin and sweat glands, and by panting when blood is heated above 37 C (98.6 F). Sweating, by itself, does nothing to cool the body, unless the water is removed by evaporation, and high relative humidity retards evaporation. Under conditions of high temperature (above 32 C/90 F) and high relative humidity, the body is doing everything it can to maintain 37 C (98.6 F) inside.
Sun related precautions and treatments
One important way to protect yourself from the sun is to wear sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or more. Apply 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, and replace it hourly, especially if swimming or sweating. Remember to protect your lips, ears, neck and tops of feet. Some sunscreens contain Para-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA), which can cause a contact dermatitis. Look for a sunscreen without this ingredient. In addition:
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Cover up as much as possible, and wear a brimmed hat.
- Use sunglasses with 100 percent ultraviolet protection. Reflected light from snow, sand, or water can be damaging to your eyes. Consider wrap-around sunglasses or glasses with side shields.
- Try to schedule outside activities early in the morning or evening to avoid the period when sun exposure is most intense (between 10am and 3pm, EST)
- Drink lots of nonalcoholic fluids.
- Take regular breaks from the sun in a shaded or air-conditioned area.
Some medications can cause photosensitivity. Read the labels carefully or ask your pharmacist or doctor before you travel. Tetracycline (a medicine that can be an antibiotic or is sometimes used for malaria prevention), oral contraceptives, some antihistamines, diuretics, and tranquilizers may make you more susceptible to sunburn.
For mild to moderate sunburn (deep pink skin, hot burning sensation, itching, stinging), apply cool water compresses and take aspirin or ibuprofen. For more serious burns (bright red skin, blisters, fever, chills, nausea) follow the above advice, but medical attention may be needed as well.
Heat related precautions and treatments
Watch carefully for signs of becoming overheated or suffering from minor "heat stress." Symptoms may include:
Heat cramps may also accompany persons overheated who perspire during strenuous activities. Low salt levels in muscles may cause painful cramping. To treat simple signs of overheating:
- Sit or lie down in a cool place until symptoms pass.
- Slowly drink water or a sports beverage.
- Discontinue activity until symptoms improve.
- Seek medical attention for worsening or for underlying medical conditions, particularly heart or kidney disease.
Heat exhaustion is a more serious form of heat stress and becoming overheated. Generally, strenuous activity in a very hot environment leads to a significant loss of body fluid and salt, leading to significant symptoms. These include:
- Heavy sweating
- Extreme weakness or fatigue
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Dizziness or confusion
- Moist and clammy skin
- Elevated temperature
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Muscle cramps
Rapid treatment of heat exhaustion is necessary to prevent medical complications and worsening of the patient's condition. Treatment should include:
- Resting in a shaded or air-conditioned area to keep cool
- Hydrating with plenty of water or other nonalcoholic beverages
- Moistening the skin with water and allow evaporation to cool the skin more rapidly
Heat stroke is more serious and can be life-threatening. This occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature and cannot cool down on its own. When heat stroke occurs, body temperatures can rise to 106F within 10 to 15 minutes, and death or permanent disability can occur. The symptoms of heat stroke to recognize are:
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
- Hallucinations and confusion or altered consciousness/slurred speech
- Headache and neurological changes
Take rapid first aid and treatment measures if these symptoms occur by:
- Calling emergency medical personnel and obtain medical assistance as soon as possible.
- Relocating to a cool, shaded area.
- Using measures to cool the patient, including wetting the external clothing, showering them with water, and fanning their body.
10 SURPRISING PLACES FOR GERMS [Back to Top]
The last "souvenir" you want to bring home from your vacation is an illness. However, since germs are lurking in hotels, restaurants, and other tourist locations, the chance that you might come into contact with disease-causing organisms is high.
One of the most common ways to pick up and spread disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and other germs is by touching contaminated surfaces. While most hotels, restaurants, and other tourist spots take steps to keep their establishments as clean and germ-free as possible, germs inevitably find places to hide. Knowing where the greatest concentrations of germs are likely to be and how to prevent the germs you come into contact with from making you sick are among the keys to healthy travel.
Be aware of the most common places where you might encounter germs on your vacation:
Handrails. When people are sick, they often carry germs on their hands. This is why germs often lurk on anything people hold onto, such as handrails. The best way to avoid picking up germs from handrails is to avoid touching them altogether if you can do so safely when on stairs, escalators, buses, trains, and other public locations. If you do touch a handrail, avoid touching your mouth and nose right afterwards, and wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer to disinfect as soon as possible.
Telephones. Telephones are often contaminated with germs, making them a key object to be wary of in your hotel room and out in public. It's a good idea to bring household disinfectant wipes with you to your hotel so that you can disinfect germ-susceptible items like a telephone before using them.
Doorknobs. Public doorknobs are also likely to harbor germs. Wipe down the doorknobs in your hotel room and avoid touching doorknobs in public when possible. If you do touch a doorknob, again take care not to touch your mouth or nose, and wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer to disinfect as soon as possible.
Faucets. Public faucets can also be havens for germs. Touch faucets as little as possible while you are washing your hands — use a paper towel to turn them on and off to reduce your risk of coming into contact with germs.
Remote controls. There is a good chance that the TV remote control in your hotel room wasn't disinfected after the last person touched it. Give it the once-over with a disinfecting wipe before using it.
Light switches. Light switches are touched by many people, quite possibly contaminating them with germs. Use the back of your hand when turning on and off light switches in public places and disinfect the light switches in your hotel room before touching them.
Public tables. Restaurants generally do a good job of disinfecting the surface of tables between guests, but outdoor dining and picnic tables may not be cleaned as regularly. Bring disinfecting wipes along with you, and wipe down outdoor tables and seats before sitting down.
Shopping carts. The handles of shopping carts are notoriously contaminated with germs. Many grocery stores now offer disinfecting wipes for you to use to clean off the handle of your grocery cart, or use your own wipes.
Condiment containers. Mustard and ketchup bottles, salt and pepper shakers, and other condiment containers are often contaminated with germs. When possible, avoid using these containers and ask your server for—or bring along your own—single-serving packages of these items.
Airplane tray tables. Flight attendants and maintenance crews have limited time to clean an aircraft between flights, so the chances that your tray table was cleaned are slim. Use disinfecting wipes to clean off your tray table, seat controls, and other surfaces in and around your airplane seat.
Even if you take all of the necessary steps to avoid coming into contact with germs, chances are you will encounter some. One of your best defenses against getting sick is regular hand washing. Wash your hands often, using soap and water, for at least 15 seconds to clean away viruses, bacteria, and other disease-causing germs. And for those times when you can't readily wash your hands, have alcohol-based hand sanitizer rub with you to use.
You can also reduce your risk of getting sick when you encounter germs by getting the flu vaccine and any other vaccines that your health care provider recommends. If you are going to be traveling abroad, be sure to discuss any specific vaccines that are recommended for your travel destination at least four to six weeks beforehand if you're traveling to an exotic location for which numerous immunizations are suggested.
FROM THE ASSIST AMERICA CASE FILES [Back to Top]
Series of strokes in New York
Twelve year-old Anna* was visiting her grandparents in New York City when she suffered a series of terrifying strokes. Her grandparents rushed her to the local hospital, who suggested she be transferred to a children's specialty hospital. Her father, back home in Colorado, was beside himself. His concerned employer contacted their insurance broker, who reached out to Assist America on the family's behalf.
With one phone call, Assist America began monitoring Anna's care and learned that she would require surgery for a dissection of the vertebral artery. Luckily, she was receiving the best possible care and was in highly competent hands for the surgery. Assist America monitored her surgery, keeping her father updated and making sure he fully understood the complicated events unfolding. Once the surgery was complete, Assist America arranged and paid for Anna to be transported via air ambulance to a rehabilitation facility close to her father in Colorado.
*name changed for privacy
"You saved us: we were able to get our daughter home 2-3 weeks quicker than we would have without your help. Our daughter is doing great!! She is now in school full time with great grades. She now walks without a walker and is adjusting to a normal life. Thank you!!!!"
BUYER BEWARE: 10 COMMON TRAVEL SCAMS [Back to Top]
While you're often safer overseas than you are in your hometown, a few scams seem to pop up all over the world. Repeat the mantra: if it looks too good to be true, it must be too good to be true…
1. Fake police
Sometimes also the real police, they'll demand to see your passport and find something wrong with your visa, but then suggest your troubles will all be over if you pay a fine to them, in cash, right on the spot.
Standing your ground and offering to accompany them to the station will usually see the error 'excused'.
2. Gem or carpet deals
On entry into a store, often prompted by an enthusiastic taxi or rickshaw driver, you will be offered a deal so preposterously lucrative that refusing it seems unthinkable. Think again - those gems are going to be worthless and the carpet you buy may not make it home at all. There are legitimate traders selling both jewels and rugs, and they don't operate this way.
3. Airport taxis
Drivers taking you into town might try every trick in the book, from asking you for an inflated fare to driving around the streets to raise the price higher. This is usually harmless, but you should only travel with licensed taxis and, if you can't pay in advance, agree on a fee before starting out and don't pay until you get where you want to be.
You're approached by an extremely genial young man who offers you a "scratchie" card, no strings attached. He's friendly, so you accept the "scratchie" card and, lo and behold, you've won some sort of prize, which could be anything from a t-shirt to cash to a vacation. What's the catch? The local insists you must accompany him to a hotel (which might be an hour's drive away) to collect your prize. You feel uncomfortable but the seemingly-genuine local says that if you don't come with him, then he won't get paid for his job. However, if you do end up going with him, on arriving at the hotel you'll be shuffled into a room with a bunch of other tourists and forced into watching an hour-long presentation about timeshare apartments, which you are pressured into buying at a very special discounted price by slick Westerners. If you come out of it with your wallet intact, at worst you would have wasted an entire afternoon you could have spent lying on the beach.
5. 'This is closed'
In some countries, everyone from tour operators to taxi drivers will try to tell you that your chosen hotel, restaurant or shop is closed; but there's another, even better one you should visit, where they can pick up a commission. This is more annoying than harmful but always insist on having a look for yourself.
6. Motorbike scam #1
Living out your dream of riding a scooter for a day around the countryside quickly turns into a nightmare when the bike you're riding breaks down or you have an accident. The owner of the motorbike is quick to escort you and your damaged bike (which doesn't look in that bad a state) to the repair joint of their choice, where the mechanic makes a grossly overinflated estimate of the damage costs. The owner of the motorbike insists you cover the costs, otherwise no customers will want to rent his bike. You shell out hundreds of dollars to cover the costs of the damage you possibly made, plus cosmetic improvements to the bike that you have now also covered for the owner.
More than likely, you've just lined their pockets with more cash than the locals would earn in a month. Take photographs of the bike before you start riding, preferably with the renter in them, so they can't blame you for imaginary damage costs to the vehicle. And don't rent from companies that are attached to hotels or guest houses.
7. Motorbike scam #2
The motorbike you have hired comes with a lock and two keys: you have one, and your rental company has the other. When you park the scooter and wander off, an enterprising person from the rental company arrives and 'steals' your scooter, thus later requesting you pay a large sum of money to replace the 'stolen' scooter. As you handed them your passport and you signed a contract, you're obligated to pay for it. Carry your own lock and key and an old passport to avoid getting sucked into this scam.
8. Bird poop
The surprising splat of bird poop landing on you from a great height is followed by the swift appearance of a stranger who towels you down. In the confusion, valuables are removed from your person, never to be seen again. Another variation on the same scam has someone 'accidentally' spilling mustard or other condiments on you.
9. Bar/tea shop scam
Notoriously aimed at male travelers, young local girls approach a tourist and, after gaining trust with some idle chit-chat, you agree to accompany them to a local bar/tea shop. Thrilled at the opportunity to converse with a couple of local lasses, you offer to buy them a drink. On receipt of the bill, the girls are gone, and all you are left with is a massive shock when you glimpse the sum total, which can amount to hundreds of dollars.
10. Hotel scams
As you hop off the train or bus into a strange town and into a waiting taxi, you ask them to take you to a specific hotel. You're dropped off, hand over the money for several night's worth of accommodations, sign up for a number of day tours and then are escorted to your hotel room. The hotel's unusually quiet and it doesn't seem like the advertised atmosphere. Alarm bells ring—you've been duped by the friendly local who talked to you on the bus, and the quick phone call he had to make was to the awaiting taxi, whose driver was very quick to escort you to the hotel of their choice. Like a well-oiled machine, they worked together to ensure you handed over all your cash immediately, and fleeced you for a couple of tours while they were at it. Many hotels trade on the names of popular hotels and are rarely of the same standard, so make sure you check the name and address of the place before you're shuffled in to sign your life away.
SEVEN WAYS TO AVOID BAGGAGE FEES [Back to Top]
In the first half of 2012, U.S. airlines brought in $1.7 billion in baggage fees, the largest amount ever collected by the industry in a six-month period. By the end of 2013, passenger airlines brought in $797 million in fees, according to the US Department of Transportation. With baggage fees continuing to rise, savvy travelers are always looking for ways to help avoid some of these fees, which can be accomplished with a little know-how and pre-trip planning. Following are seven smart strategies for avoiding expensive airline baggage fees on every trip.
Choose Your Airline Wisely
Not all domestic airlines are equal when it comes to baggage fees. Southwest and JetBlue stand out from the rest: Southwest offers two free checked bags, while JetBlue offers one. Conversely, the legacy airlines—American, Delta, United, and US Airways—charge fees for first and second checked bags, which generally start at $25. Spirit's arguably the highest priced, charging $100 for a carry-on bag checked at the gate. If you're looking for a flight and planning on checking luggage, a good place to start your search is TripAdvisor Flights. This fare aggregator calculates costs while factoring in selected extras, such as number of checked bags and in-flight services.
Get Elite Status
We know: It's not exactly easy to get elite status with an airline. You have to log 25,000 miles in a year before you're eligible for the perks of elite status on a legacy airline. (Other airline's elite-mileage requirements differ.) But once you do, you'll enjoy baggage-fee waivers and additional perks like priority boarding and access to preferred seating.
Pack Light With Cool Products
Sure, fitting everything into a carry-on bag is an obvious solution to the baggage-fee problem. Still, there are those travelers for whom packing light is as improbable as flying the plane themselves—especially on long-haul trips. But we know of a few products that can help. Use compression sacks (also known as vacuum bags), like these ones from Eagle Creek. Take advantage of pocket space by investing in the Scottevest travel vest, which, with its 24 pockets, does double duty as a wearable carry-on bag. And look for squishy, foldable travel essentials that take up minimal suitcase space whenever you can—some good ones include CitySlips, the Vapur Anti-Bottle, and the inflatable Travelrest Pillow.
Read Your Airline's Baggage Policy Carefully
One of the biggest mistakes an over packing traveler can make is booking a ticket without first reading the airline's baggage-fee policy closely and carefully. Airline baggage-fee policies (and policies regarding extra fees in general) differ significantly, and they're often very complicated. Size, weight, and the number of bags all factor into the cost of checked luggage, as well as route, miles flown, and frequent-flyer status. If you don't read your policy, you could easily end up paying way more than you bargained for.
Know How Much Your Suitcase Weighs
Overweight-bag fees can be far costlier than base charges for checked luggage. Generally, bags that weigh at least 51 pounds are qualified as overweight, and airline fees for too-heavy bags often start at $50 or more. But some airlines charge even higher prices: American and United, for example, issue a fee of $100 for each checked bag weighing more than 50 pounds on domestic flights. Bring a small portable luggage scale with you so you can weigh your bags prior to your departure and return flights, and make sure it's calibrated correctly.
Get An Airline Credit Card
Baggage-fee savings are a big incentive to sign up for airline-branded credit cards. Several cards waive fees for the first bag you check, including Gold Delta Skymiles, Citi Platinum Select/AAdvantage Visa Signature, and United Mileageplus Explorer Card. Most credit cards that offer free checked bags come with an annual fee, so be sure to do the math. Balance the baggage fees you usually pay against your annual credit-card fee and you could see significant savings, even if you only check luggage a few times a year.
Ship Your Stuff
Shipping luggage could save you some money, not to mention the stress of worrying about a possible lost suitcase. Here's an example of possible cost savings: American Airlines charges $100 for checked bags weighing more than 50 lb. on flights within the U.S. In comparison, UPS charges $66.24 (for 4-day shipping) to ship a 55-lb. bag from Los Angeles to Chicago. Sure, it takes longer to arrive but if time permits prior to your trip, the savings could be worth it.
For the latest, up-to-date information regarding key regions, click on the links below:
EAST ASIA PACIFIC
SOUTH CENTRAL ASIA
Sources for this document include, but are not limited to: iJet, everydayhealth.com, lonelyplanet.com, and smartertravel.com.