Travel Tips From Your Financial Advisor

 Derek Hartley By: Derek Hartley
Travel Tips From Your Financial Advisor

This past summer my family went on a much-anticipated trip to Mexico. We had delayed our plans from 2020 to celebrate my parents retirement a few times and were finally going to relax and enjoy time together on the beach. What started as a great vacation quickly tested us all physically and emotionally when on our fourth day, my mother suffered a ischemic stroke.

To spare you a lengthy timeline of events and jump to the conclusion, thankfully my mother is doing well today and barring some physical and occupational therapy, has recovered remarkably well. That said, the journey from calling for medical assistance in an isolated area of a foreign country to returning home safely was long and uncharted territory.

The process taught me many things I've been anxious to share with my friends, family, and colleagues. I hope these tips offer you some additional peace of mind ahead of your next trip.

Letter of Coverage While Traveling

If you're traveling outside of the United States, it's important to understand our insurance system may be highly unusual to the medical providers you're speaking with. That's why it is important to carry a letter of coverage while traveling. This letter is a document that confirms whether or not you are covered by your health insurance while traveling abroad, and will often bullet out specific details in multiple languages to speed your path to needed care.

You may be able to download a copy from your app or coverage provider website, or you can reach out to them directly and have them email you a copy. It is a good idea to keep a copy of this letter in your luggage, as well as to keep a copy with you at all times. This is by far the first thing I tell my friends and family to do before embarking on an international trip. It would have saved my family significant stress in the first day had we been aware of this right away.

Additionally, be prepared for international claims to flow differently. These claims are often handled by separate departments, subject to a different level of scrutiny or negotiation. Frankly, my experience was that things were slow and I had to be patient and play phone tag. Take down names, numbers, and stay in touch with those who are helpful.

Trip Insurance

One of the most important things you can do to protect your health and safety while traveling is purchasing trip insurance. Trip insurance is a supplemental insurance policy that covers you for a variety of emergencies, such as trip cancellations, medical expenses, and lost or stolen luggage. It's easy to click 'decline' on this slight added expense, but the peace of mind is worth it. 

To give you a frame of reference, before we were able to process insurance, we were asked to put a hold of $8,000 just to check in at the hospital, and from other stories I've heard, that could be on the low end. Trip insurance may not cover everything that comes up, and you should review your policy in depth to understand any gaps, but generally speaking, trip insurance can help give confidence that at least some expenses can be reimbursed. We had trip insurance and I am thankful for the assistance they provided.

Medical ID

Historically Medical ID bracelets were reserved for those with conditions like diabetes or epilepsy. While those are still common, the concept of a Medical ID has gone digital. This allows you to house important medical information on your phone, accessible to your family and emergency responders even if you are incapacitated. From conditions and allergies to blood type and your doctors contact info, this can significantly improve responders ability to quickly diagnose and treat you with confidence. This is a simple task that will take you 10-15 minutes but could save your life.

Here's a page that details how to set it up on your iPhone, as well as an Android option.

Confirm Your Cell Service

Spotty cell coverage internationally can't always be avoided, but don't wait until you're on the ground in another country to figure out how your plan covers you internationally. It's easy to think you're looking to unplug while on vacation, but know your options so you are able to research on your phone and make important calls while abroad if necessary.

Notify Your Bank & Financial Advisor

Inform your bank of international travel before you leave. This will help to prevent your bank from blocking your card if they detect what would otherwise look like very unusual activity, and it will also help to ensure that you have access to your funds while you are abroad if needed. Don't forget to have multiple forms of payment with you, such as a credit card and some cash, in case of an emergency. Once you're off the beaten path for tourists, cash may be the only viable payment method.

Pro tip: Some emergency situations call for access to larger sums of cash. In our case, we needed to coordinate specialty travel home and that was not cheap. One of my first calls after the incident was to our financial advisor team. I wanted them to be in the loop on the situation for a number of reasons, and they were able to provide us recommendations on contacts who could assist us as well as helped us coordinate payment to secure travel home in a timely manner. I highly recommend you inform your financial advisor before international travel, particularly if it is extended. They will then know to expect emails or phone calls that could otherwise seem like phishing. 

Emergency Contacts

This is basic, but emergency contacts are table stakes. The perfect emergency contact card will include your own information (name, home address, phone number) as well as the contact information of your designated emergency contact. Be sure to notify your contact ahead of time so they don't inadvertently ignore a call from an unusual number and miss something important. Whether you do this on your phone, on a piece of paper in your luggage, or both, this is very important.  

Citizen Resources

If you are a US Citizen, you have certain resources available to you while traveling internationally. Namely, identify the nearest United States consulate. They can assist you in case of an emergency as a local representative of our government. Beyond simple translation services, consulates also provide assistance during medical emergencies and are a critical part of coordinating emergency evacuations in the case of severe weather or natural disasters. Locate and save their information.

Password Vaults

This can get overlooked, but if you are caring for someone who is incapacitated, you may be tasked with logging into things like their health vault or email. While information security experts do not recommend you write down sensitive passwords, a safer option can be to opt into the family plan on a password vault service. 

This experience inspired me to sign my entire family up for a LastPass account where with a click of a button we could share specific passwords or payment methods securely.

Family Meeting

What made this event especially jarring is that my mother tends to be the planner for nearly everything we do. While I undoubtedly could rely on her to rattle off a near full medical history not only for herself but for my father, sister, and nieces, we were all caught incredibly off guard when our rock was the one needing our help the most.

The most impactful thing you do is have a discussion as a family before you travel. Don't let the traditional organizer say things like "oh I've got that" or "I just know," Have a frank discussion about what everyone should do in case of emergency. Share the itinerary, insurance details, and other critical information.

Remember, a little bit of preparation and forethought can go a long way in ensuring that memories and souvenirs are your only takeaways. Safe travels!

Derek joined in 2022 to lead Plancorp’s marketing. He brings a wide variety of experience in digital and traditional marketing, client communications and public relations, expanding our ability to connect with and help more families in the years to come. More »