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7 ways to prepare for the unexpected while abroad

March 20 2022
5 min read
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Thousands of passengers had their vacation interrupted last week when a Norwegian Cruise Line ship ran aground in the Caribbean. According to the Washington Post, the ship made contact with a channel bed early last week, and passengers had to make their way to the Puerto Plata airport (POP) in the Dominican Republic as the cruise line chartered planes to pick them up.

While it’s certainly not the type of situation any of us want to imagine when planning a cruise (or any type of vacation for that matter), it does serve as a good reminder that emergencies and other unexpected situations can unfold while traveling and being prepared for them is a good practice.

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Here at TPG, we reviewed guidance from the U.S. State Department and leaned on our own travel experience to compile seven steps you should take before traveling (including taking a cruise), to be prepared in case plans change while out of the country.

1. Bring your passport

This goes for any cruise, even closed-loop cruises that may not require a passport. While you may not need a passport for the ports of call included (or where a passport card might suffice), a passport book is going to be required any time you want to fly internationally.

In the situation this past week involving Norwegian Cruise Line, passengers would need to have a passport to fly back into the United States.

The U.S. State Department recommends anyone taking a cruise have a passport book "in case of an emergency, such as an unexpected medical air evacuation or the ship docking in an alternate port.”

(Photo by Getty Images)

Related: 14 things you should do before every cruise

2. Have a plan for returning home if plans change

What documents would you need in case of an emergency? What airport or other transportation hub would you go to? How would you get there? The State Department recommends taking time to make an alternate plan on how to get home whenever you travel abroad.

3. Learn what countries and territories are along your route while on a cruise

While the pre-planned route of your cruise or expedition might not call for a stop in a particular country or territory, a medical emergency or mechanical problem like the one seen last week could require the ship to dock in an alternative port and passengers to disembark in an unexpected area.

This could be a country where requirements for identifying documents might be different than other places where you planned to get off the ship. During the pandemic, this could mean physical vaccination proof is required where it was not somewhere else. It could also mean needing to know what COVID-19 protocols to follow.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

4. Bring medications, as well as an idea of what your insurance covers and what it doesn’t

Certainly you’ll want to bring any medications you take and your medical insurance card. However, it’s a good idea to figure out how you would pay for any type of unexpected medical situation that could develop during your trip. Would your insurance pay for emergency care while abroad? Did you buy travel insurance for your trip that might pay medical costs, and if so, what would be covered?

The State Department recommends travelers have a good sense of the plans they are enrolled in, what they cover and what they do not, and consider purchasing supplemental insurance if needed.

(Photo by Getty Images)

5. Have contact information for the nearest embassy/consulate

This information would be important in the event of an emergency. However, it also could be necessary if you were to lose your passport while abroad.

The State Department recommends international travelers write down contact details for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, and enroll in the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive travel and security updates. This would also help the U.S. government reach you in the event of an emergency.

6. Alert your bank

In addition to bringing any cash you’ll need, and getting a sense for exchange rates at your destination, be sure to notify your bank and credit card companies where you’ll be going. Financial transactions like swiping your credit card in another country can cause your bank to suspect fraudulent activity and freeze your card and/or account. This can be a headache to deal with while abroad.

7. Pack what you need, but be mindful about it

For longer trips including cruises, you will need to be sure to bring enough clothes and other personal items to safely and comfortably get you through your trip. However, also consider that situations can come up where you may end up having to lug around your belongings more than you’d planned.

As thousands of passengers in the Caribbean found out this past week, this could involve having to disembark from a ship in an unexpected place and make their way to an airport for a flight home.

Related: Ways to prepare for any travel disaster

Bottom line

We all hope that our trips go entirely according to plan, but some extra preparation beforehand – particularly before traveling internationally – could go a long way to making solutions easier should something unexpected come up during your journey.

Featured photo by (Photo by Daniel Piraino/EyeEm/Getty Images)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

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