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Essential Pieces of Information to Carry When Traveling Overseas

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I travel a lot.  As such, I find myself in a strange city and country on a biweekly basis during the busy times.  While a traveler’s list of vitally important information will differ from person to person, many years in the State Department has helped me boil it down to a few key items I will not consider leaving home without memorizing.  I am interested in your comments too; does anyone- especially experienced travelers- have a similar list?

Blood type– Do you know your blood type?  If you need a rapid transfusion, this bit of information will literally save your life.  This is a maximum of two words; there’s no excuse for not memorizing this one immediately.  If you don’t know, ask your doctor.

Embassy Phone Number– A simple Google search of “emergency phone number embassy [country]” will get you this number (Example).  Memorize it.  Write it down and stick it underneath the sole of your shoe (along with your blood type!).  Make sure your travel companions have it as well.

Passport Number– If you lose your passport and don’t have a copy available (which you should also have in your luggage or travel belongings), the passport number is the easiest way (I’m told) for Consular Affairs to “look you up.”

Medicinal Allergies/Medications– If you find yourself in a foreign hospital, knowing what your allergies are (the medicinal names) and any current prescriptions can also be a lifesaver.  Prescription cards are even better.

These are the four I commit to memory before I step out the door.  Your blood type is easy- it doesn’t change.  Your passport number only changes once every 10 years (unless you lose it and get a new one).  Your allergies and prescriptions you will probably know.  The Embassy phone number is the most difficult, but can be your ticket out of a crisis situation.

Two stories to exemplify how much knowing this information can help you:

I had a friend’s niece studying at American University in Cairo in the spring semester of 2011.  Some of you may have heard that in late January, Egypt erupted in revolution.  The Mubarak government managed to shut down the internet in an attempt to quiet the protests.  If she hadn’t been smart and decided to rely on internet service being available by the time she needed to call the Embassy to get out, she might have been in serious trouble.  Commit the Embassy phone number to memory.

I lost my tourist passport on vacation in Kenya.  Since we aren’t allowed to use our official passports on personal vacations, I had nothing.  I walked into the consular section of Embassy Nairobi with nothing more than the clothes on my back and my old passport number.  In an hour I had a new passport and was able to continue my vacation without incident.  Contrast my situation to another traveling couple I stood inline with that got pick-pocketed and had nothing; they had to wait days for the embassy to verify their identities.

Spending 30 minutes to obtain, copy, and memorize these four simple pieces of information can save you major inconvenience as well as your health and, in severe cases, your life.  It’s worth it.

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