Anything can happen when you’re traveling. Every year, our hotline assistance team helps thousands of travelers who are experiencing a serious medical emergency overseas.
There’s no way to prevent every possible emergency, but there are ways to reduce your risk of injury. The first, best thing you can do to protect yourself is to purchase travel insurance that includes emergency medical and emergency medical transportation benefits. Together, these benefits can help ensure you receive the best available care for a serious, covered medical emergency — without having to pay huge sums out of pocket.
The other important thing is to avoid risky activities while traveling. (In fact, injuries and losses resulting from participation in many high-risk / ultra-high-risk activities and extreme sports are not covered by travel insurance, so be sure to review your policy. We’ll elaborate more on that below.) If you wouldn’t do something in the United States, don’t do it abroad! Here are a few activities we recommend travelers avoid while overseas.
Hopping on a moped to explore a Caribbean island seems like a fun, harmless way to spend an afternoon. It’s not. Mopeds, motorbikes, and motorcycles pose a major danger to tourists, and we often see travelers suffer serious injuries from riding them. In 2016, about 13 percent of road traffic deaths among American travelers overseas involved motorcycles.1
There are some countries in which the danger is higher. Most American deaths caused by crashes in Thailand and Vietnam involve motorcycles. In Bermuda, moped rentals are popular among visitors and cruise ship passengers looking for a fun, inexpensive way to get around the island. But popular doesn’t mean safe. The rate of motorbike injuries is much higher among tourists in Bermuda than among locals — especially for people aged 50-59.2
ATVs — all-terrain vehicles, also called four-wheelers — are popular on cruise excursions and at many tourist destinations. You can ride an ATV over a swinging wooden bridge in Cabo San Lucas, in the jungle in Belize, or through the desert in Dubai. But we really wish you wouldn’t.
ATVs are dangerous when they roll over or collide with objects. In the United States, they cause around 650 deaths and more than 100,000 injuries each year, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.3 Our hotline assistance team has seen several serious ATV accidents, including some that resulted in death. If you do decide to take an ATV tour, make sure you wear a helmet and fasten safety harnesses, if available.
Road traffic crashes are the number-one cause of injury-related deaths to U.S. citizens while abroad.4 Even in the best-case scenario — cruising down a country lane in France, for instance — driving overseas is stressful. You’re adjusting to different traffic laws, signs in a foreign language, and unfamiliar vehicle controls. That’s why we don’t recommend driving in countries that are known for traffic mayhem. These include (but are not limited to!) the Dominican Republic, Thailand, Venezuela and South Africa. All of these are on the list of the 10 most dangerous countries for drivers, according to the World Health Organization.5
Before you drive overseas, check the U.S. Department of State’s country information for your destination, and be sure to read the “Travel and Transportation” section for recommendations. The section for the Dominican Republic, for instance, describes “disconcerting and dangerous” traffic situations that include people driving at night without headlights, scooters, and motorcycles splitting lanes; and people driving against traffic or on sidewalks. The State Department recommends that American visitors hire a local professional driver instead — which is good advice for many destinations.6 And if you do decide to drive overseas, be sure to purchase the Rental Car Damage Protector, an economical plan that can provide primary coverage for covered collision, loss and damage up to $40,000.
When you’re traveling overseas, you can’t expect every car or bus to match U.S. safety standards. And riding in a colorful camioneta in Guatemala or in a jeepney in Manila is all part of the adventure. But use your common sense — avoid riding in any vehicle if it seems unsafe or if the driver appears to be intoxicated or acting recklessly.
Also, be sure to wear your seatbelt. When a bus carrying Royal Caribbean cruise ship passengers crashed in Mexico in December 2017, killing 12 people, “the seat belts were tied below the seats, so no one told us to put the seatbelts on," one passenger told ABC News.7 Don’t wait to be told — just fasten your seat belts. If you’re traveling with young children, be sure to bring safety seats or booster seats from home.
In 2016, drowning accounted for 20 percent of all deaths of U.S. citizens abroad.8 Drowning is the leading cause of death for American travelers in some countries, such as the Bahamas and Costa Rica. Young men are particularly at risk for head and spinal cord injuries from diving into shallow water.9
To reduce the risk of drowning while traveling:
When you buy travel insurance, make sure you read your plan documents — especially the part labeled “General Exclusions.” These are things your travel insurance plan will not cover. Note that you are not covered for any loss resulting from the use or abuse of alcohol or drugs, or any related physical complications. Also, you are not covered for any loss resulting directly or indirectly from activities including — but not limited to — the following:
Ultra-high-risk sports and activities:
Questions about what travel insurance can cover? Contact us! Travel safe, and have fun.