Better safe than sorry: travel tips for spring breakers

As many Canadians head off on vacation this week, the government is advising people on how to stay safe while abroad.

Canadian travellers urged to get insurance and check travel advisories online

As spring break gets underway, the Canadian government is offering travelling tips to keep people safe while abroad. (Ken Leedham/CBC)

As reading week gets underway this week for many Ontario universities, lots of people are headed off on vacation, but as travellers prepare for their holidays the Canadian government is reminding people to take the right precautions. 

Global Affairs Canada offers consular services, which helps travellers when they get into trouble abroad.

It sees around 200,000 cases every year said Omar Alghabra, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs specializing in consular affairs.  

"Obviously they vary in nature, but what that tells us is that there are a lot of people that need assistance at times when they are abroad," said Alghabra.

Omar Alghabra, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Consular Affairs, said it's important for Canadians travelling abroad over spring break to check government travel advisories online and buy travel insurance. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Alghabra said that people often hear stories of travel incidents but they don't think it'll happen to them. 

He said two of the biggest problems for travellers are stolen, damaged or lost passports, and medical emergencies.

Alghabra said that many people think their provincial healthcare will cover their medical needs while travelling. In fact the provincial coverage is limited and travellers could be left with a hefty bill if they don't have traveller's insurance.

According to the OHIP website, Ontario travellers will be covered up to $50 a day for outpatient services and up to $400 a day for inpatient services– this includes operations or intensive care.

Alghabra stressed the importance of travel insurance.

"They may think that they are different than other Canadians who end up getting into trouble but one day, God forbid, they might find themselves in a difficult situation and it's much better to be prepared than to be surprised," he said.

When the Government can and cannot help

Depending on the situation, the Canadian government might not be able to help. 

" [Travellers] may think that if they're ever in trouble Canada can get them out of trouble immediately, but that is unfortunately not always the case," said Alghabra. 

According to a Global Affairs pamphlet, Canadian Government officials can help travellers with:

  • Legal resources (including information for local police)
  • Replace a lost, stolen or expired passport
  • Lists of medical centres nearby, and hospitals in the area
  • Contact family or friends on your behalf (with permission)
  • Help in case of a death abroad
  • Advocate on the behalf of  travellers with the host government and refer Canadians to consulates nearby. 

The government cannot offer legal advice, provide lawyers, cover health expenses, perform investigations into crimes or get travellers out of jail. 

Alghabra said it's important for travellers to educate themselves about the local laws and customs before their trip. 

Alternative Spring Break

This week students from Western University and Carleton University will be heading off on trips for a program called Alternative Spring Break, which offer volunteer opportunities instead of partying. 

This year some of the destinations include Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala and Peru. There are also trips offered within Canada. 

Rick Ezekiel is Western's Interim Senior Director for Student Experience and helps organize the Alternative Spring Break trip at the university. 

Western University students participate in Alternative Spring Break in Costa Rica in 2017 (Western University)

He said although the trips are very organized, there have been instances where student have lost their passports or had a medical emergency.  He added students are not travelling alone, so they can easily get help or find a consulate if needed.

Students are advised to keep their personal belongings like passports, visas, and other important documents in secure place. Travel insurance, including medical coverage, is included in the trips fees for students at both Carleton University and  Western University. 

Organizers for both trips also check the government's travel advisory website for updates on their destinations. 

For all travellers who do find themselves in trouble the government has emergency contact information. Other travel tips include checking travel advisories , and downloading the Smart Travel App for up-to-date travel advice and advisories.