11 easy steps for researching your journey abroad

By Philip Wagenaar
This item appears on page 59 of the May 2012 issue.

(Part 4 of 4, Go to part 1, part 2 or part 3)

This month, I will conclude my discussion on doing research for a trip overseas, based on the steps shown in the box below.

Step 10: Travel Insurance

Here is a brief outline of three types of travel insurance.


Make sure that the following three features are included in your policy.

  • A waiver of preexisting conditions. These conditions commonly (although this varies with the company) are covered when you pay the insurance premium within 15 days after you have made the first disbursement toward your trip (which may be such a thing as purchasing an airline ticket).
  • Sufficient medical coverage (doctors, hospital) and emergency medical evacuation (EME) coverage.
  • Direct payment to the hospital for all medical expenses. This prevents your having to pay the hospital, yourself, and having to wait for reimbursement by the insurance company at a later date.
11 Easy Steps

11 easy steps for researching your journey abroad

When arranging for a trip overseas, follow these steps in the order in which they are presented.

  1. Check the US State Department travel advisories for the countries of interest.
  2. Investigate the area’s climate, weather and best time to travel.
  3. Peruse public holidays and summer and school vacation periods.
  4. Decide whether you will travel independently or on an escorted tour or do a combination of both.
  5. Obtain medical information related to your own health and to diseases you may encounter.
  6. Buy the appropriate guidebook(s) and overview map(s). On the latter, delineate your tour with the help of the “Itineraries” chapter of each guide.
  7. Contact the appropriate government tourist offices.
  8. Decide how to reach and return from your destination (e.g., by air, ship, train, etc.). Research local transportation (e.g., Japan’s bullet trains).
  9. Integrate any desired accommodation into your plans (ensuring that hotels, etc., will be available on the chosen travel dates).
  10. Investigate trip insurance.
  11. Prepare your finances (debit cards, travelers’ checks) and apply for visas.

To compare the offerings of different companies, visit Squaremouth.com (800/240-0369).

Note that although Medicare doesn’t cover medical care abroad, a few Medigap and HMO plans do.

2. FREESTANDING EMERGENCY MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE (EMI). This type of insurance omits the trip-cancellation option. You might use this type of coverage when, for instance, you go on an independent trip on which you use frequent-flyer mileage for airline travel and thus have no need for trip-cancellation coverage.

Before purchasing freestanding EMI, check whether or not your present health policy will cover overseas journeys.

Visit Squaremouth.com to compare companies. Buy sufficient insurance and make sure that the company will pay the hospital directly.

3. FREESTANDING EMERGENCY MEDICAL EVACUATION (EME) POLICIES, which cover evacuation only. These should include medical costs, which may need to be added as a separate option and must be high enough to cover unforeseen emergencies. Make sure preexisting conditions are covered.

My wife, Flory, and I have a yearly EME family policy with Divers Alert Network, or DAN (800/446-2671), which costs $55 annually and also provides coverage inside the US when you are more than 50 miles away from your home.

DAN also offers trip-cancellation insurance through Travel Guard. Its premium is much less than that of Access America for the same trip, as the price is not age-related. Read the fine print to make sure it suits you.

Before taking out a travel policy through a tour operator, read the policy’s fine print to make sure the insurance will pay you if the operator defaults.

For additional information, go to travel.state.gov and, under “International Travel,” click “A-Z Index of Topics” and then “Insurance.”

Step 11: Prepare Finances & Apply For Visas


  • The best way to pay your expenses overseas is to get cash at an ATM with your DEBIT (NOT CREDIT) card and pay for everything in cash. Keep the cash in your money belt. Learn the term for “ATM” in the foreign language and find out the ATM’s airport location before departure.
  • To limit the risk of card cloning, use ATMs inside banks.
  • Take two credit and also two debit cards all with different numbers. Investigate cards that charge no foreign-exchange fees, such as the ones from Capital One.
  • When taking a trip, make every payment to the tour operator by credit card so you will have recourse if the operator goes bankrupt.
  • To find ATM locations abroad, go here for Visa and Plus and here for MasterCard, Maestro and Cirrus.



IN-FLIGHT OXYGEN — The following was modified from this website.

Supplemental oxygen on commercial airlines

1. Several weeks to months before leaving, determine if supplemental oxygen will be needed. Note that US airlines are not required to provide oxygen services (besides emergency oxygen) on board their aircraft. To determine if you need in-flight oxygen, it is essential that you receive a preflight assessment from your doctor well in advance of a trip.

2. Most airlines require a letter on the doctor’s letterhead with his or her name and contact information, a description of your specific underlying lung condition, approval for air travel, verification of need for in-flight oxygen, and information specifying the required oxygen flow rate in liters per minute as well as duration of use. Be sure to bring enough copies of this letter for all flights.

3. The Federal Aviation Administration does not allow travelers to carry their own oxygen tanks or liquid oxygen aboard commercial aircraft. Instead, most patients can use a battery-powered portable oxygen concentrator approved by the Department of Transportation. Airlines landing in the United States are now required to allow use of these devices throughout the flight.

4. You can rent portable, battery-operated oxygen concentrators on a short-term basis from an oxygen-supply company. Alternatively, some airlines provide oxygen in canisters packaged in flame-proof “super boxes.”

“Shop around” for an appropriate airline — Oxygen policies and charges can be very different, depending upon the airline. It is important to obtain the most up-to-date information about an airline’s specific requirements to make sure that your needs will be met.

The website of the Airline Oxygen Council of America lists various airlines’ policies regarding in-flight oxygen use and equipment. The European Lung Foundation (phone +44 1142672874) has compiled such information on European airlines, whose rules and charges regarding in-flight oxygen may differ from those of American carriers


Buy phrase books and DVDs at bookstores. Make sure the phrase book lists the translation for “ATM” and has a dictionary in the back.



  • Travel with a carry-on only.
  • On foreign airlines, check the maximum weight and size allowed for carry-ons, as they often are considerably less than those of US carriers.
  • Wear a money belt and put your passport’s information page plus two passport-sized pictures of yourself inside.
  • Send yourself an e-mail (only if encrypted) with your itinerary.
  • Take an international cell phone. Alternatively, buy or rent an unlocked phone in the country in which you are traveling and replace the SIM cards whenever you enter a different country.


For automatic tax payments when you are away, go to the website of the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System and click on “Enrollment.” Alternatively, call 800/555-8778 or 800/316-6541.


To cut down on your food expenses…

  • Buy your own food at a delicatessen or supermarket.
  • Eat a warm lunch (at a department store or cafeteria).
  • When dining, order the “menu of the day.”
  • Stand at the counter/table instead of sitting down (varies with the establishment).
  • In France, order a carafe d’eau (carafe of water), which is free.
  • In other countries, ask if there is a charge for the water. If possible and if it is safe, order water from the faucet.
  • Buy house wine by the carafe or liter instead of by the bottle.
  • Check if taxes are included. They commonly are.
  • To make sure whether a service fee is included or not, carefully check the menu or ask fellow diners.

The following establishments frequently offer low-cost meals:

  • Italian restaurants in all European countries, especially in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
  • University restaurants.
  • Buffet-style restaurants (cafeterias, which also are found inside larger stores and which usually are open until 6:30 p.m. during the week and until mid afternoon on Saturday.


  • Don’t drive or stay in large cities. Overnight in the suburbs.
  • Turn on your four-way flasher when somebody is tailgating or when you suddenly have to slow down.
  • The blue disability sticker is accepted in Europe, but its use may cause your vehicle to be burglarized.
  • Return your rental car on the eve of your departure. If impossible, do a trial run to locate the drop-off area.

I hope that these suggestions are helpful and I encourage you to actively keep a list of tips and strategies that work best for you.