It's not the usual potluck banter, but somewhere between the appetizer and sitting down for dinner, a friend asked if I was scared about getting injured or worse while traveling. Usually, she asks where I'm off to next, so I was surprised. But relieved too.

Setting up a strategy beyond travel insurance allows you to relax before taking off across borders, and knowing that your travel buddies have also taken care of the necessities clears the way for easier conversation starters like, "Where are you headed next?"

You probably know retired couples who book flights on a whim, friends who travel with elderly relatives, or millennials off on their next adrenaline rush adventure. Expats may find affordable health plans in other countries. But how many of them are prepared for the worst? How many of us know what to do if we get seriously sick or die overseas?

As morbid as it may seem, it's important for your peace of mind and for your family that you answer these questions before you travel.

Plane wing seen from window, sun and clouds at rear

Travel insurance isn't enough

There are lots of details in planning for your dream vacation. Some people love that process, others avoid it and surrender to chance. Most of us fall somewhere in between.

Start simple. Having travel insurance is always a good idea, and having an extended policy, covering a year or more and perhaps including your family, makes good sense.

Find out what your policy covers regarding repatriation (bringing a body back home). Some plans won't cover older travelers. Pre-existing conditions may lead to having a claim rejected. Will insurance cover you if you haven't declared a health condition or die while doing something that's considered high risk, like skydiving?

Ask the tough questions before you purchase that insurance. Once you do, be sure to keep your insurance card in your passport wallet and keep a copy at home in case you need it.

Don't leave your friends and family on the hook

Moving a body across borders is expensive. It can cost $10,000 or more. It's also complicated, as every country has a different protocol. That's one reason why an end-of-life plan, like that offered by the Trident Society, is helpful and cost-effective. Their repatriation plan is included no matter where in the world you might pass away. There is a cremation agreement with countries around the world, and Trident will bring a body to the nearest facility then transport the remains to the registered survivor back home.

When a box is not just a box

Movies have made light about mishaps when someone is trying to transport ashes on airplanes. In real life, it's more complicated than Hollywood portrays. Countries and airlines have rules and regulations about how to pack and seal an urn. It can't be in your carry on or the seat next to you. Check with the airlines and make careful arrangements, especially if no one is accompanying the urn. This is no time for lost baggage!

Know where to get help

It's the call that you never want to get. However, the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs will attempt to locate and inform the next-of-kin. If you are from another country and have reason to believe that the worst may have happened, contact your embassy or consular office. These officials have resources and can answer questions about local burials, processes, and how to return remains. Funding is not part of their service, but will they can advise you on how to send money to cover costs. If the deceased has no representative or family, the consulate will take possession of personal effects and inventory them before arranging to return them.

Leave a letter with details in a secure place at home and let family or friends know where that is. Your travel buddy needs to have access to this information. Your travel file should contain:

  • Full Name
  • Date of birth
  • Passport Number: Where and what date it was issued
  • Close friend or immediate family member
  • Details about any communicable illness
  • Names and contact details of the travel insurance company
  • Affidavit for next of kin or spouse. The US form is available here.
Two people skydiving
Some insurance plans may punish you for doing things like skydiving. Unsplash / Muzammil Soorma

Other considerations whether you travel across the planet or across town

Do you have your papers in order in case you need to be hospitalized? You can set up a 'Living Will' with free forms online to ensure your wishes are honored. This will set up your medical treatment and care according to your desires -- including "do not resuscitate" orders.

Another important step for your next of kin or agent of choice is to make them a Medical Power of Attorney. It will go a long way toward settling difficult questions when you might not be in a position to answer for yourself.

The next time someone asks where you're going and whether you're scared, ask them how much time they have or refer them to this post. Once you both have everything in order, they just might join your next adventure!

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