How to Keep Your Family Safe When Traveling Abroad

It seems hard not to turn on the news and see or hear about another event related to terror in our world these days. From Manchester to London to Paris to Stockholm, we continue to see events unfold that are meant to cause harm and fear. For the many families who continue to travel domestically and abroad, it is of the utmost importance to do so safely and with exit and safety plans in place.

global emergency travel services
Photo courtesy of MedJet

I had the opportunity to visit via email with John Gobbels, the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Medjet. Medjet is based in Birmingham, Alabama. But their network of air ambulance and medical escort providers, and security experts, extends throughout the world. I learned more about how Medjet works and how travelers can focus on keeping themselves and their families safe while traveling domestically and abroad. John also shared more information on Medjet memberships, providing families and travelers with a global rescue service network at their fingertips in the event of an emergency while traveling.

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Tell us more about what your organization does. What services do you provide?

Medjet was the first to pioneer the air-medical transport membership concept in the United States in 1991. If a member has our MedjetAssist Membership, and is hospitalized 150 miles or more from home, Medjet will arrange air medical transfer to the member’s home hospital, from virtually anywhere in the world. Medjet differentiates itself from other players in the market as it arranges air medical transfer, regardless of whether it’s deemed “medically necessary,” to the member’s hospital of choice – not just the closest hospital. Most travel insurance policies or platinum card plans will only get you to the closest “medically acceptable” hospital. Since first taking off, Medjet has forged connections all over the world, building a global network of air medical transport affiliates. At any given time, Medjet has access to more than 250 private air ambulances and commercial medical escorts staffed with highly qualified and specially trained emergency medical personnel, ready to launch from both domestic and international locations.

Our MedjetHorizon Membership affords all the benefits of the MedjetAssist membership, as well as augmented travel security and crisis response services. It’s a little scary to think of sometimes, but security and crisis response services are becoming things to consider while traveling, things like on-call security advice and evacuation in the event of acts of terrorism, kidnapping, violent crime, and wrongful detention. Unlike other global rescue services, MedjetHorizon does not depend on “hard triggers,” such as official US government-issued evacuation mandates, to act on behalf of its members. We assist with everything from global security evacuation with a personal security detail, ransom negotiation oversight, legal assistance and emergency translation.

How do readers/fellow travelers utilize your services? What is the best way to contact you when traveling abroad?

Following enrollment, members receive an emergency contact card. In the case of a medical emergency or crisis, members call the worldwide collect call number in order to inform Medjet’s team of experts. In a medical emergency, as soon as MedjetAssist is notified of a member’s medical situation, the medical staff will establish communication with both the family and the local attending medical provider, obtain a full understanding of the situation and begin to monitor the member’s condition. Telephone interpretation can also be provided when necessary.
In a security emergency, members call the MedjetHorizon worldwide collect call number. Even if an emerging political threat makes a member feel unsafe, but a government evacuation has not yet been issued, members can contact us and explain their concern. Our team will assess the situation and develop an appropriate, individualized crisis response plan. We also recommend our clients log into our eTravel Alert personal advisory portal before traveling, as part of the pre-trip planning process.

How do the costs of your services break down?

Memberships range in cost depending on the level and duration of coverage. Medjet has short-term and annual memberships, as well as a lot of “specialty” memberships: Domestic travel only, Expatriate (180 and 365 day), Motorcycle (gets both rider and bike home), Collegiate (both domestic and study abroad), the list goes on.

For families, we recommend our family membership plan which includes up to seven family members and can be applied to either short-term coverage for a specific trip or long-term coverage for the entire year (or multiple years). The family membership covers the primary member, spouse/partner under age 75 and up to five, unmarried dependent children under the age of 19 or up to the age of 23 if a full-time student.

The cost to cover the entire family for one trip (eight days) would be $195 for medical transfer only. The cost to cover a family for the entire year, with travel to both domestic and international destinations (up to 90 days consecutively out of the country) would be $395. If MedjetHorizon security protection is added, the cost would be $574. To see the different costs and membership options, we have a great calculator tool available.

Many travelers are feeling more at risk due to the current political climate as well as the recent terror attacks in locations such as London and Manchester. How would Medjet support travelers abroad during a time of emergency?

In the case of any emergency involving an act of terror or political threat, we recommend our MedjetHorizon members contact us. At every step of the process, we can provide security advice and tailored crisis response for each individual situation.

With regard to the London and Manchester attacks, there are a few ways Medjet would have supported our members:

If a MedjetAssist or MedjetHorizon member was injured in the attack, they would probably have been transferred first, by local Emergency Medical Services, to one of the surrounding hospitals that were receiving the wounded. At that time the member, member’s family or other traveling companion would contact Medjet and advise us of the situation. From there, the team at Medjet would begin coordination of the member’s transfer back to the hospital of their choice in their home country. This coordination would include assessing the medical condition with the treating physician to determine treatments and stability for transfer, logistics of the transfer and coordination with the home doctor and/or hospital so that they’re ready to receive them when they land.

If a MedjetHorizon member was there, not injured so not hospitalized, but no longer felt safe, we would have assessed the current situation, and figured out what they needed and how to get them to a place they felt safe. Thankfully, we did not get any calls related to that, but our security network did reach out to members known to be traveling in the area to make sure they were aware, safe and knew that we were here if they needed us.

One of my biggest fears is being separated from my children in an emergency. How do you ensure families can stay together during an emergency?

A member being medically transferred has the ability to take 1-2 traveling companions or family members without additional cost in an air-ambulance. In security situations, the family would be moved together (as long as they were all under a MedjetHorizon Family Membership), and no additional costs would be incurred.

As a mom to three young children, safety while traveling is always one of our top concerns – what safety advice would you give families traveling abroad in order to help minimize their worries and fears?

Here are a few top tips for families traveling with young children:

  • Stay in hotels on well-traveled streets in safer areas of any city. The more expensive hotels usually have better security. Stay on lower-level floors in case of fire or other need to evacuate quickly.
  • Keep a low profile and do not discuss your travel plans or itinerary publicly. Parents should dress down if possible, leave the expensive jewelry and watches at home and do not display large amounts of cash.
  • Use GPS based phone tracking applications, like the iPhone’s Find My Friends app, or the FocusPoint MyTrac service that provides satellite tracking and help at the push of a button. Each family member that has a smart phone can register for the service.
  • Have a predetermined meeting point and secondary meeting point established in the event of an emergency. This provides a plan B & C for the family.

What do you think is the most important thing for travelers to carry with them when traveling abroad? Does this change at all when traveling with kids?

Carry the hotel’s business card with you—the one written in the local language. There’s nothing worse than being in a foreign country where you don’t speak or understand the language and getting lost with no way of knowing how to get back to the safety of their hotel – especially if you are traveling with young children.

Other important things to consider carrying:

  • Carry any and all medications you think you may need. “Over-the-counter” availability in one country is not necessarily the same in another.
  • Carry a list, or pre-program into your phone, each country’s 911 number (they can differ by country).

What should I be looking for while traveling that could alert me of a situation about to turn into something dangerous?

  • Stay away from large gatherings of people even if things seem subdued. Riots can erupt without notice and turn violent quickly.
  • Be alert for individuals following you when walking outside and even when you return to your hotel. Never enter your hotel room if you believe someone is following you. Always walk past your room and return to the front desk area if you believe it warrants such action.
  • Don’t look like an easy target. This isn’t just a tip for traveling internationally, it’s just as important when at home or traveling domestically.

What is the first step I should take if my family is hurt or in a location experiencing a terrorism related event?

Each situation can be so different, based on the location and type of event (armed gunman, explosion, chemical release, etc). In the event of an active shooter, always assess the situation as calmly as possible, and use your best judgement to determine whether to stay put or try to move away from the situation. If you choose to stay, move away from windows and lock any doors you can, hide if you can. If you choose to move to safety, be wary approaching exits, especially if in a crowd. Often times more people are hurt by being trampled than are hurt in the actual event. If someone is injured, provide immediate first aid to the victim, and call for help locally. Here’s a great pocket card with some very basic instructions to remember during an active shooter scenario.

For MedjetHorizon members, when safe to do so, make contact with the Crisis Response number listed on the back of their membership card.

For everyone else, if traveling internationally, contact the US State Department or local Consulate. Social media is now faster and better than normal media outlets for real-time updates on situations, usually the US State Department will also keep a running stream of updates of what local authorities are doing (translated or reposted). Be sure to add the following to your Twitter: @TravelGov and the full list of US Embassies.

About Kayla Keigley

Kayla KeigleyKayla Keigley is a wife, mom to three daughters under the age of 7, public health professional and an enthusiastic wanderer and traveler. Kayla and her husband believe travel is best done off the beaten path and strive to raise their daughters as global citizens, by fostering a love for language, culture, food and adventure. Follow her on her blog or on Instagram.

Click here to read Kayla's articles

If you find yourself in an emergency situation while traveling, you'll wish you had global emergency travel services. Here's how to keep your family safe.

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