Q-Legal: Be safe, not sorry when you travel

The recent incident of a gay couple on a cruise ship in a foreign port who were accused of public sex on the balcony of their stateroom reminds us to research the laws and customs of other countries, and to be very aware of our actions that might be misconstrued. Here are some important points to consider when you travel – along with some tips to help prevent crooks from taking advantage of you.

Learn as much as you can about your travel destination and points in between. Are there laws that support and protect LGBT persons? In many areas of the world, laws and customs demonize and criminalize homosexuals. Remember that rural areas in most countries are likely to be more conservative and less tolerant. Hotels there may not accept bookings from same-sex couples. Exercise discretion everywhere. Unfortunately, it is best to avoid excessive physical shows of affection.

Find out about the situation from local LGBT groups or a trusted and savvy travel agent or tour operator. They know the attitudes and issues of the country or city. Be especially careful if you intend to frequent cruising areas or Internet chat rooms. Police in some countries have been known to carry out entrapment campaigns.

The often open and relaxed nature of the gay scene can mask criminal activity. Be wary of new-found “friends” who may simply be out to exploit you. Stay alert to who and what is around you, and stay away from places that aren’t well lit or seem suspicious. It makes sense to give your itinerary to a relative or friend, and to have a plan with your travel partner for possible emergency situations that could arise.

Check your health care coverage to see what medical care will be covered outside the U.S. Many policies provide for very limited or no services at all in other countries, and you may need a supplemental health insurance policy to provide coverage in case of a medical emergency. Make sure to have a copy of your Advance Health Care Directive with you.

Travelers are often targets of identity thieves. Here are some tips that may reduce your risk:

Don’t use hotel or other public computers or Wi-Fi networks to access your financial or personal data. You have no way of knowing whether they are secure.

It is best not to bring debit cards on a trip, but if you do need to access cash at ATMs, use ATM machines in bank lobbies rather than other locations. Banks are most likely to be secure, and usually have camera surveillance.

Don’t bring your checkbook, your social security card, or more than two credit cards. Keep only your driver’s license and one credit card in your wallet, and keep the second credit card in the hotel safe (or in your luggage if on the road) in case your wallet is stolen.

Consider carrying a “sham” wallet with a few dollars and some old hotel key cards or other worthless plastic cards in it. If a thief targets you, hand over the sham wallet, and he is likely to run away thinking he made a big score. You will still have your regular wallet, which you should always keep in a buttoned shirt or pants pocket.

Let your credit card providers know when and where you will be traveling. Then they will not freeze your accounts due to unusual activity, and they can monitor any charges made to your accounts from locations where you are not traveling.

The U.S. Department of State has a website at travel.state.gov which offers a wealth of information for international travelers. It also offers the “Smart Traveler” app for the iPhone. The website and app provide information about each country and its culture, laws, travel alerts and warnings, U.S. embassy locations, safety information, and what to do if you are a victim of a crime.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is another valuable service of the Department of State, offering assistance in an emergency. You file your travel plans online, and then you can be contacted in case of a family or other emergency home, or a crisis or change in safety level in the areas you are planning to travel to or through.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles pertaining to legal issues relevant to the LGBT community, and is intended for general information purposes only – not legal advice. Christopher Heritage is an attorney in Palm Springs, and San Diego, CA, who focuses on LGBT estate planning, domestic partnerships, same-sex marriage, probate, trust administration, and bankruptcy. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be contacted at 760.325.2020, or by email: chris@heritagelegal.com

This article originally appeared HERE.