Is Washington safe?

How to save money at religious retreats; getting insurance for travel abroad.

Published April 22, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

I am planning to go to Washington, D.C., for a convention and am worried
about the safety and security -- should I be? Also, where can I get
information on events happening while I'm there?

While crime has been an issue in the nation's capital, much of it is
confined to areas off the tourist and conventioneer path, and you probably
won't have any problems if you practice the same precautions recommended for
any big city.

In other words, avoid making a target of yourself for those who prey on
tourists. Don't wander alone into unlit or deserted areas, don't flash your
cash or display expensive jewelry on the sidewalk and be alert to your

Any convention city has stories about conventioneers who get pickpocketed or
robbed because they staggered out of a club or restaurant for a lone walk
back to their hotel, only to be confronted by an unofficial greeter.

You should also practice simple cautions in your hotel: Don't open the door
unless you know who's there, lock your valuables in the hotel safe and keep track
of your key.

Happily, most of your visit will be occupied with business and sightseeing.
On the Washington Convention and Visitors Association Web site, you'll find plenty of suggestions for things to
see and do in the capital, as well as a calendar of events. The phone number
for the CVA is 202-789-7000.

Another excellent resource is the visitors guide offered on the Washington Post's Web site. By monitoring the Post, you can also get a feel for
the local crime scene. Except for the occasional big political crime, you'll
find it doesn't differ much from other large cities.

I've heard about staying at religious retreats -- quiet and inexpensive.
Where can I find out about this type of lodging, both in the United States
and abroad?

There are more than 100 monastic guest houses --
low-cost, simple accommodations in monasteries and other religious
institutions -- in the United States. One of the most recently published directories is "A Guide to
Monastic Guest Houses," by Robert Regalbuto, published by Morehouse Publishing Company (third edition,
1998). It's also available in stores or can be ordered from 800-877-0012.

Among similar guides are:

  • "Sanctuaries the Complete United States: A Guide to Lodgings in Monasteries, Abbeys, and Retreats," by Jack and Marcia Kelly (Bell Tower, first edition, 1996).

  • "U.S. and World Wide Guide to Retreat Center Guest Houses," by John and Mary Jensen (CTS
    Publications, 1997).

  • "Overnight or Short Stay at Religious Houses Around the World," by Vicotria D. Hughes, is a
    directory to more than 2,200 houses in 63 countries. Contact Hugen Press,
    Box 2286, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.

  • "Bed and Blessings, Italy: A Guide to Convents and Monasteries Available for Overnight Lodging," by June and Anne Walsh (Paulist Press,

Despite their ancient roots, you can find some monastic guest houses on the
Web. A company called DolceVita Travel books a number of them in Italy. The DolceVita Web site has descriptions of what it's like to stay in such accommodations.

Where can I find names of companies that offer insurance for when you're

The State Department publishes a brochure called "Medical Information for
Americans Traveling Abroad" that includes advice and a listing of insurance
companies. Information on obtaining a brochure is located in the section called "Your trip abroad" under the heading "Health Insurance" on the State Department's Web site.

Foreign hospitals and doctors often require cash payment for their services,
and several companies offer travel medical-care programs that help ensure you
can find and obtain care quickly when you need it.

Before exploring such programs, travelers should check with their regular
insurance provider to see whether benefits apply to medical expenses when
outside of the country. Even if an insurance company will ultimately cover
medical costs, U.S. coverage probably won't pay them directly or immediately.

Another source of medical help abroad is the International Association of
Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT). It's a nonprofit group whose
directory provides help finding doctors who speak either English or French
in addition to their mother tongue and who have had medical training in a Western

Anyone can belong to IAMAT, which does not charge for membership but asks for
a donation. Besides a membership card that entitles the bearer to services
and the fixed IAMAT rates charged by participating physicians, members get
the directory of IAMAT physicians in 125 countries and territories. IAMAT
physicians agree to a set payment schedule for the first visits for members.

Besides the directory, IAMAT offers publications pertaining to malaria and
other diseases and a set of global weather charts. To enroll or for further
information, contact IAMAT, 417 Center St., Lewiston, N.Y., 14092;

I once saw an advertisement for a protective hood one can wear in a
fire to prevent smoke inhalation. Can you help me locate this product as a
precaution when staying in hotels?

Magellan's travel catalog sells a device called the Evac-U8 Smoke Hood
that fits into a 5-by-2-and-a-half-inch canister. If you need to use it, twist
it open, and a transparent, heat-resistant hood pops out that covers your
head and protects your eyes from smoke. The canister becomes the filtering
device through which you breathe, protecting you from toxic gases produced by

The smoke hood is effective for up to 20 minutes. The device is good for five
years and the manufacturer will replace it if you use it in an emergency.

The price tag is $69. Order it from the Magellan's Web site, or call 800-962-4943. Net Results Marketing has more info on the hood, as well as references to a book
that promotes it.

You may be able to find other types of hoods at travel and surplus stores
and in magazines that target travelers.

By Donald D. Groff

Donald D. Groff has been dispensing travel advice for a decade for such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Boston Globe and the Kansas City Star.

MORE FROM Donald D. Groff

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