Lost without your cell phone?  Most of us are accustomed to being a click away from our contacts, the Internet and many useful apps on our smartphones like the camera to record places, people and memories. When we travel, a mobile phone can keep us connected to other parts of the world, help us stay on schedule and get to our destinations, reserve and book our trips and activities, and even keep us safe.

A quick internet search for travel, followed by a quick search for travel safety, is a telltale sign most people just go underprepared.  Google returns about 3.5 trillion hits for travel and about 518 million hits for travel safety.  Clearly, we need to do some pre-prep work to identify and mitigate risks and be prepared when accidents happen.  Your smartphone can become the most important tool to help you.  

Most travelers at least consider whether they can use their cell phones at their destination and what costs are involved.  World travelers need to consider things whether or not their cellular service has coverage, roaming fees, and supports international data.  Knowing these answers prompts people to unlock their devices so they should purchase a disposable sim card at the destination, or a disposable phone, or use social media and wifi connections to stay in touch with friends and family.

Cell phones are a lifeline when you travel abroad if you have it primed for emergencies.

Keep this information on your cellular phone

Ben Franklin’s face is on the U.S. one hundred dollar bill.  Following his advice, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” can save you a lot of Ben Franklins when emergencies happen abroad.  Here are some tips to increase your chances of getting help and out of tight spots when you travel abroad:

In Case of Emergency Contact

  • I.C.E. – In Case of Emergency:   Emergency responders often look for I.C.E. ‘In Case of Emergency’ within the contacts on your mobile device. Choose a responsible person to become your emergency contact and make sure they are willing and capable of acting in your best interests.  Create a contact on your cell phone with the relationship of your emergency contact.  The first name could be ICE – husband, and the last name John Doe.  The contact would appear ICE – Husband John Doe, and it would look something like this:

    Take a screenshot of your ICE contact and upload it as the main screen saver on your cellular phone.  This way, when someone accesses your phone, even if it is locked, they will see your emergency contact.  Your emergency contact should know how to unlock your cell phone.  If you have more than one emergency contact, for example, both parents, label them ICE 1 and ICE 2.

    You can also order I.C.E. labels, or make your own to stick onto your electronic devices, passport, driver’s license, health insurance card, or anywhere an emergency responder might look.

    • Your emergency contacts should have copies of your health and travel insurance and important details pertaining to your health such as allergies, medical conditions, medications, prior procedures, family doctor, etc.  Use this helpful article on personal health records.

United States Embassy Contact Information

The first line of communications when you find yourself in trouble in a foreign country should be your United States Embassy and Consulate. It takes less than three minutes to visit travel.state.gov, and enter the country you will be visiting to find the address, email, and phone numbers for the U.S. Embassy and enter the contact information into your cell phone.

Your U.S. Embassy is your most trusted resource if you are arrested, detained, robbed, assaulted, or injured abroad.  The U.S. Embassy can assist you with lost passports, money transfers, healthcare and legal resources, and more.  

Register your trip in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at the U.S. Department of State. Your U.S. Embassy cannot forewarn or assist you if they do not know where you are or how to reach you on your mobile phone.

Emergency Number Equivalents Abroad

Most of us learn by age five how to call 911 to get help from the police, fire department or summon an ambulance. Astoundingly, most people do not prepare for an unexpected emergency by identifying emergency call numbers in foreign countries, or learning and storing a few key phrases of the local language to ask for help.  

For instance, if you were visiting France, you could create a contact for each of these specific numbers, with key phrases in ‘notes’, to get help in special circumstances:




112 SOS, ALL SERVICES, recommended for mobile reporting.

France also has speed numbers for emergency shelter (115), child protection (119), missing child (116 000), terror or kidnapping (197), and others.  Since January 2017 you can dial 116 or 117 to reach a doctor after hours.

In an emergency, knowing a few key phrases, with appropriate accents, can be a lifesaver. There are many apps and tools you can use, like Google Translate, to find key phrases and listen to appropriate annunciation. Google Translate app for your mobile will allow your smartphone camera lens to translate written words.  It’s very cool and it is accurate enough. Here is an example of how to record key phrases in the notes of an emergency contact on your smartphone for France FIRE, France POLICE, and France Ambulance:

  1. Do you speak English? Parlez vous Anglais?
  2. My name is John Doe.  Mon nom est John Doe.
  3. I am reporting an (Accident, Fire, Crime). Je signale un (accident, feu, la criminalité).
  4. Located at (address). Situé à (adresse).
  5. X number of people need help. X Nombre de personnes ayant besoin d’aide.
  6. Weapons are involved. Les armes sont impliquées.

When seconds can make the difference between life and death, you need to know how to get help fast. Keeping this information in contacts means you have it with you as long as your battery is charged.  

Travel companion contact numbers

You and your travel companions should each know and understand what cell phone and services are available to each other.  Having done your homework, while traveling with a buddy who did not do theirs, can be very problematic.  A code word, only you and your travel companions know, can be a very helpful way to communicate sticky situations or, “I need help.” Share your personal contact information and emergency contacts with each other.

Travel insurance hotline

Travel insurance should never be optional.  Most providers will give you an international hotline accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with translation service and emergency medical evacuation.  It can cost upwards of $50,000-300,000 to get you home if you are seriously ill or injured.  Keep your travel insurance contact information in your cell phone so you can reach them in an emergency.

Google My Map it

Use Google My Maps to create a custom map of your trip abroad.  You will need a Gmail account.  Use a laptop or desktop to sign in on Google Chrome to your Gmail account.  Go to Google My Maps to create a custom map for your destination.  You can drop a map pin on important locations such as the U.S. Embassy, best hospital, police department, airport, bus or train station, and other important hot spots like housing, grocery, pharmacy, etc.  On the map pin, you can identify key phrases in the local language. Then, do a quick Google search on crime and create a layer of ‘do not enter areas’ using the line features to make a box or circle to help you avoid crime areas.  Name your map something like “France Vacation with John Doe” and share it with your emergency contacts and travel companions.  On your smartphone, you open Google Maps, click the menu bar and select your saved map.  Now, everything is just one map pin click away.

Travel Budget

You can budget and keep track of your travel expenses on your smartphone. Download a budget app to set daily or weekly budgets and track your spending. You might try Mint for free, by Intuit.  Mint can schedule and pay bills and send alerts when your balance is low.  Use a credit card with no conversion fees and integrate it with Mint to have a cash flow monitor. Cash payments can be tracked with a quick manual entry. Need help deciding what to include in your travel budget? Try this travel budget calculator by Independent Traveler.

Local News

The best way to find an app or a link for local news in your destination in English is a Google search.  For France, we searched, “France’s news in English” to find the Local FR. Star the link for the news resource on Google Chrome to add to favorites and you are good to go.  Local news keeps you updated on civil unrest, crime, weather and fun and eventful happenings near you.

Vault important documents

Any traveler’s worst nightmare is having their wallet or passport stolen.  Keeping copies of important documents in a secure place, backed up on another secure place, helps you replace lost or stolen items like a passport, driver’s license, medical and travel insurance cards, credit cards, etc.   You’ll need multiple forms of identification in order to get a new one from your local United States embassy or consulate. You can store scans of these important documents in a secure space on your phone. Apps like Dropbox and Google Drive can help.  Or you can search and discover apps with password lock features. If you choose to store your critically important documents on your phone, a secure password is the only protection between personal data security and theft.  

Personal health record

Your personal health record is an online account of all important health details a medical provider would need to make informed decisions to care for you in an emergency. This includes any medical condition, medications, prior procedures, living will, and more. If your health information is in English, but your destination is not, spend extra time and money if needed to translate personal health information into the foreign language.   

About passwords

You may be tempted to keep your passwords in plain text in your address book. This is a bad idea to guard against hackers and thieves. Address books are vulnerable to theft. Instead, use something easy to remember but obscure. Like a word made up of a travel companion name and travel date, S@m17622////, would be Sam departing on June 22, 2017. When in doubt, change your passcode often.

Guard your phone

Your phone and all the important ways you use it should be kept safe. These helpful, responsible phone security tips can guide you:

Find my phone

Walking around with your attention on a cell phone in any location is risky, even more so in a foreign country where you are unfamiliar and may look and act like a tourist.  Store your cell phone with your wallet in a slash proof pack or purse is a better choice.  Check for your cell phone before leaving an area, so it stays with you. Use a cell phone app tracker like Find My iPhone or Where’s My Droid.  The app will locate your phone as long as it is on and charged, provide a map of its location and even make it ping so you can hear it.  It is not advisable to enter into an altercation if someone has your phone.  Travel insurance should cover your device if it is lost or stolen, and the app will allow you to erase it.  Your cellular service provider might also be helpful.


All WiFi are not created equal.  Use mobile phone settings to prohibit automatically connecting to a network.  Most web browsers will warn you if you are using an insecure network. An open, unsecured WiFi means your data is open to anyone, including malicious thieves.  Lifewire says,
“Beware of public Wi-Fi hotspots too. A few hot spots may appear legit but are actually operated by criminals with the goal of fooling unsuspecting people into connecting.

When connected to a rogue hotspot, the operates can spy on all of the data you transmit over the connection including passwords any other unprotected personal data submitted online while logged in. Try to limit your activity to hotspot locations recommended by friends or affiliated with well-known retailers. Also consider subscribing to an online Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, which garbles network traffic in ways that prevent all but the most determined attackers from reading it.”

Password managers

The best passwords are obscure and often difficult to remember. Using the same password for multiple accounts is a poor practice, making it easier to intrude. Keeping passwords in your mobile phone is a poor security practice.  “You might install a secure password manager for good online hygiene,” says Wired. A password manager creates, stores and reminds you of secure passwords.  There are many free apps to use.  


Sensitive information can be stored on your phone as long as it is encrypted. You might try an app like Silent Phone to scramble digital data so thieves cannot interpret it.

Paper trail

Even if you back your phone up on iCloud or another service, it is a good idea to keep a paper trail with you in case networks are down or unavailable. Hard copies safely stored in a room safe are a good alternative. Paper copies of your passport, driver’s license, insurance cards, etc. and give one set to your emergency contacts.  
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