Gerri Willis Commentary:
Top Tips by Gerri Willis Column archive
Travel safety
5 Tips: How to safely enjoy your vacation overseas.
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - The investigation into the case of the young groom who disappeared on his honeymoon cruise continues. And if cruises are one of the safest kinds of vacations out there, just how safe are we when traveling abroad?

In today's top 5 Tips we're going to tell you how to keep safe when you're indulging in some overseas R&R.

1. Skip the currency exchange

If you're planning a trip, the first thing you think about is how much cash you should bring. The answer is not very much. Figure on carrying between $75 to $100.

The biggest mistake people make is to carry huge wads of money, says Pauline Frommer of the Frommers' Guides. This is a boon to the pickpocket industry.

Unless you're going to a remote country, take your ATM card. Travellers cheques are outdated, and they have large conversion fees. While there can be expensive fees on using ATMs, (in some cases these fees can be up to $10, according to Tripso.com) your exchange rates are still better, says Frommer.

Some banks and credit bureaus won't charge any fees. Bank of America, for example, has a no-fee ATM agreement with a number of foreign banks including BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank.

2. Know your luggage liability

There has been an uptick of lost and misplaced luggage recently, says Frommer. More people are flying and the airlines are understaffed.

The best way to ensure your valuables are safe is to leave them at home in the first place. But if you can't, make sure you record and document what you're putting in your luggage with pictures and descriptions.

Airlines will only reimburse you so much if your luggage is lost. For domestic flights, that's $2,800. International limits aren't as generous.

If you're traveling with your spouse or a friend, you may also want to consider splitting the clothes up between the both of you. This way, if luggage is lost, you're guaranteed to have some clean socks.

If you are taking medication, it's best stored in your carry-on baggage. And don't forget that there's absolutely no privacy when it comes to what's in your bags. These days you can't even put a lock on your stuff.

3. Check your health insurance

The last thing we want to think about while on vacation is getting sick. But if you're traveling overseas, you'll want to check in with your health insurance policy.

Generally HMOs and Medicare don't cover you if you travel internationally. And often private health insurance won't cover costs of medical evacuation, which could easily cost you thousands of dollars. Remember also to keep a record of your medical contacts, including your doctor, the numbers for your insurance provider and some family contacts.

If you plan on taking an adventure vacation or you have a chronic illness, you may think about getting supplemental health insurance. Check out www.insuremytrip.com for more information.

Before you leave, check out a list of local doctors and hospitals abroad at www.travel.state.gov (click on emergencies and crises). You can also sign up for free membership at the Internal Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers at www.iamat.org. This site also identifies hospitals at your destination with English-speaking doctors.

If you're really stuck, call your credit card company. Major credit card companies can provide the names of local doctors and hospitals abroad. And of course, it's a good idea to pack a medical kit that includes aspirin, an antihistamine for colds and allergies, antibiotics, antiseptic, multivitamins, calamine lotion, throat lozenges, sunscreen, tweezers, Band-Aids and pills for upset stomach.

4. Forget the fanny pack

The last thing you'll want to do is to call attention to yourself as a tourist so that you're not seen as an easy target. Make sure that fanny pack stays in the bottom of the closet. Fanny packs are very easily pocketed according to Frommer, and it can very easily mark you as a tourist. And some thieves actually specialize in pickpocketing these packs, (Spain for example) according to Bob Arno author of of "Travel Advisory!"

Instead, think about using a money belt, which can fit under your clothes and is less visible to strangers. You may want to do away with T-shirts that have American logos or sweatshirts that advertise American universities. While it's more and more common to see the rest of the world dress more like Americans, it's important not to stick out too much.

Keep in mind the local traditions and customs of the region you're traveling too. You wouldn't want to bring a bikini or shorts to a Muslim or Hindu country.

If you do want to research the safety and security of your destination, check out the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at www.smarttraveller.gov.au says Frommer. This Web site is a bit less paranoid than the U.S. Department of State's Web site that lists countries where Americans should take extra precaution.

5. What Uncle Sam will do for you

If you are the victim of a crime overseas, the US Embassy or Consulate is your first line of defense. You can find a list at www.travel.state.gov. Agents can replace a stolen passport, contact your loved ones back home, get information about local resources and find attorneys who speak English.

Officials can't give you legal advice or serve as interpreters, and of course...those medical and legal fees...that's all up to you. In case there is a political upheaval or a natural disaster where it would be unsafe for Americans the government will charter special flights and ground transportation. But if you don't want to go, you don't have to. Americans cannot be forced to leave a foreign country

____________________________

Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.comTop of page

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.