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We leave this Friday for Panama and it kicks into gears some tips that have helped me:

1. Open your wallet and take out every piece of plastic. Do a 'yes/no' to see if it is really needed. Take only those needed.
2. Xerox the front side of each, now the flip side.
3. Give the data to a trust friend.

Cash - find a nice, thick rubber band. Cut a piece of cardboard about the side of a folded dollar bill. Use this as a backing for the cash you need just for that day. Wrap the thick rubber band around it and it helps keep it in place when you are seated on that chicken bus, train, etc.

Think about air evac insurance. I have back issues so thru our auto association, I purchase a travel insurance package for $40 that includes $50,000 of medical insurance.

Check with your company health insurance. Find out what is and what isn't covered overseas.

Meds - take only what you need in the form of prescription. Leave them in the dispensed container. Carry them in your carry-on luggage (my budd, when he met us in Costa Rica, packed his insulin materials. You guessed it...luggage showed up...not).

Jewlery - Do an inventory. Are those rings, watches, necklaces, etc. necessary, needed, and country-appropriate?

Credit cards ... take the one that offers the most travel assistance and take the contact numbers for the "I am in the soup...help-line." In our case, it is our Continental Airlines Chase Card.

Call that credit card company and say, "I am going to be in Panama. Note in advance that I authorize hotel, food, in-country transit, etc." Chase keys this right into the account so that when they run the outliers software, I don't get pinched when I am out looking for some obscure coffee bean on a plantation that interests me. Our daughter has the account number to cancel if lost/stolen.

ATMs...do a quick net search to see what ATMs are available. Flip the card over and type that provider and the name of the country. Read up. In our case, we learned before going of the tendency of the ATMs to not work in Honduras but Panama is fine (our correspondence with our reserved hotels confirm that).

Leave a signed check with a trusted friend/relative (in our case, the travel insurance has a hotline which expedites the transfer of those funds).

Leave a rough itinerary (I need to keep quasi-in-touch) in case of emergencies. My daughter has periodic phone contacts with hotels that I am likely to be at. She can find me every 3rd day or so.

Packing - My wife and I use back-packs and pack together. 1/2 of each of our things go into each back-pack. In case one pack gets lost, the trip goes on, unimpeded. Place everything you think you need on the bed. Now, randomly toss half of it on the floor. Pack the 1/2 that remains on the bed and put the other half back into the drawers.

Accounts - our daughter has the number, address, etc for every account I have; bank, mortgage, brokerage, savings, retirement, etc. As well, she has a key to our strong box at the bank and the addresses/phone numbers to the HR offices of my wife's and my employers. In the case of our unfortunate deaths, she:

1. can access and draw on the accounts to handle probate;
2. has a copy of our will, and
3. knows that between all of our work insurance, the travel insurance, and the credit card purchase insurance, she and her sister are wealthy women<grins>.

Travel safely all,

Ivan
http://sidewalkmystic.com
My Honduras Travel Site
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Nice checklist, Ivan. That said, do I do all that just to go to Mexico or Panama? No, I do not. So far, so good, knock on wood. Actually, the worst disaster came when I was camping in my home state and the cell didn't work and I was unknowingly out of touch for several days and my dad nearly died and no one could reach me. Yikes. So maybe we should take these precautious before traveling ANYWHERE not just Latin America. Thank goodness, my dad is doing great now.
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Ivan,

You've got a very good list. I would add a few things. While you are copying your credit cards, make a copy of your passport and keep it apart from you orginal, just in case it is lost of stolen. It is also a good idea to keep a copy with someone back at home as well.

Have the address and / or phone number to your home country's embassy or consulate in the country you are visiting. For US citizens, you can get this information at: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/embassies/embassies_1214.html

JP
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You're very well-meaning JP, but the U.S. consulate and a quarter won't even get a cup of coffee these days. I'm shocked at the stories I'm hearing about how helpful (not!) the U.S. embassies and consulates are to American travelers stranded by the tsunami for instance.

I think we need to take seriously those State Dept. warnings that tell us, in a mealy-mouth roundabout way, that if you're in an American and you get in trouble in a foreign country...you are on your own.
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You're very well-meaning JP, but the U.S. consulate and a quarter won't even get a cup of coffee these days. I'm shocked at the stories I'm hearing about how helpful (not!) the U.S. embassies and consulates are to American travelers stranded by the tsunami for instance.

I've heard the stories too, but I attribute a lot of it to the overwhelming scale of the distaster. The have had a huge number of people they have had to deal with. For most consultates, they went from a normal pre-holday workweek to dealing with thousands of people missing, dead, or in the best case, just needing paperwork to get back home.

I guess I've had better luck then you have. They have always been more than helpful for someone living and traveling overseas. I've done everything from obtaining tax forms to registering an overseas birth of a US citizen. They have been able to provide me with a list of english speaking doctors in several countries. I have a friend who got a list of english speaking lawyers from the consulate to help with a legal problem.

The bottom line is if you lose your passport in a foreign country, the consulate or embassy is the only place that can probably help you out. It's probably a good idea to know how to contact them just in case.

If you are injured or get into trouble, there is only so much the state department can do. but they can point someone in the right direction. That's why the evacuation insurance is a must.

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Call that credit card company and say, "I am going to be in Panama. Note in advance that I authorize hotel, food, in-country transit, etc." Chase keys this right into the account so that when they run the outliers software, I don't get pinched when I am out looking for some obscure coffee bean on a plantation that interests me. Our daughter has the account number to cancel if lost/stolen.

We lived on St. Croix for about 8 years with mainland credit cards. More than once when grocery shopping, my credit provider insisted on talking to me before approving the charge. "Mam, we felt this to be unusual activity and wanted to ask you your security questions before continuing...." Hello! Can you look at the billing address! These were charges I made on a weekly basis. Security is great, but brains are too.

IP

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I'm just the opposite. I have never told the CC company of my whereabouts, and they've allowed me to make charges on four continents without question. Once it was charges on 3 continents in 3 weeks. I wonder how they decide these things.
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>>>I wonder how they decide these things. >>>

Depends upon the credit card company, the software they apply and how tightly the outlier filters are set.

I was sitting at work 6 months ago. "Ring...ring.."

"Yes," I began, that would be my credit card.

"Did you buy something in Moscow last evening?" was the customer service rep's question from a Visa card associated with my bank account.

"Moscow? Moscow, Pennsylvania?" I asked.

"Nope, Russia. Guess it isn't yours. We won't honor it. Cut your card up and we will send out a new one with a new number this afternoon."

Like anything else, how strictly or loosely the outlier software it is applied is their decision. How well, how lax it is followed is another ballgame.

Often they will set a threshold for $$ amount. In this case, they were using geography.

Ivan

Ivan
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The CC company often questions our purchases throughout the world.

They call us after we get home.

Gayle
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>>>While you are copying your credit cards, make a copy of your passport and keep it apart from you orginal, just in case it is lost of stolen. It is also a good idea to keep a copy with someone back at home as well.>>>

Thank you. Nice catch.

I make copies, one with daughter, and wife and I each carry each other's duplicate in the belt we wear under our clothing.

One item I forgot that has become helpful. Small plastic bag in my purse (I carry a woven purse in Central America and always wonder how I get by without one at home).

When it comes time to play, "Line up and empty your pockets for the x-ray equipment," it is so much easier to slam all that pocket junk into the bag and drop it into their plastic basket than fish around for it. Especially when you are late for the plane.

I always pack $7 poncho's bought at the drug store here...great when the sky opens up and you have just descended from the bus and you are waiting for a connection without a roof.

Ivan
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I had a phone card automatically cancelled while I was on a trip b/c of unusual activity (I'm not normally calling Edinburgh from London). Today I registered some games for my PDA online, for $29.95. Not 5 minutes later I got a call - apparently that, combined with a couple $1.50 charges (I'm in Denver ATM, and the vending machines at the hotel no longer take cash), prompted them to call me.

Kaiti
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As annoying as it is for the CC company to call to check charges, I sure did appreciate it on Black Friday 2004, when AmEx called to ask whether I'd made about 30 charges online (many of them for $1)!! Someone had phished for my CC# & stupid me fell for it!!! Anyway, AmEx caught it within 2 hours, cleared the account & reissued the card within 4 days.

Ivan, thank you for all these wonderful reminders! I'm going to make DH follow this one next time:
Packing - My wife and I use back-packs and pack together. 1/2 of each of our things go into each back-pack. In case one pack gets lost, the trip goes on, unimpeded. Place everything you think you need on the bed. Now, randomly toss half of it on the floor. Pack the 1/2 that remains on the bed and put the other half back into the drawers.
He tends to OVERPACK (we go for 3 days, he packs like he's going for 2 weeks)!
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Hi Ivan,

Nice list - I'm a travel counselor and think I will copy it off for myself. One concern is your low amount of travel coverage. I know I am like the Doctor and see all the terrible things that can happen, but $50K isn't much if you need to be evacuated. Happened recently to a client in Costa Rica and cost $90,000 by the time he got home. Life changing amount if don't have enough coverage. I use Travelex Plus insurance covers to $500,000 plus a lot of other great stuff. You get what you pay for with insurance and it is worth it.

All the best and enjoy your trip.

Karlee
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>>>life changing amount if don't have enough coverage. I use Travelex Plus insurance covers to $500,000 plus a lot of other great stuff...>>>

Your suggested coverage is a far superior product. The primary reason I buy insurance is for the air evac:

The plan I bought >> $50K air evac>$44
Your suggestion >> $500K air evac>$65 (for my age/ticket price)

Thanks for the note. Here is the link if others wanted to bookmark it:

http://tripinsurancestore.com/travelex.shtml

I will use it when we go to El Salvador in 2/2007. Right now, I am focused on our thermometer which is supposed to drop to 0º this evening. It won't be difficult calling that cab for the ride to the airport in the morning.

Ivan
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Also go to www.state.gov where you can print off country reports, visa requirements for where you're going, info on the embassy incl phone number to call for help, all sorts of info sheets on how to stay safe, etc. Although the embassy/consulate can't be your doctor/lawyer/ATM, they can refer you to local English-speaking doctors, lawyers, can contact folks back home for $, etc. Don't believe all the movie hype about pinstripe cookie pusher-up-tight jerks. We're real people and can help you within legal boundaries. And we're happy to. The primary mission of the consular section is to help and protect American citizens overseas.

A Foreign Service Officer

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