Feeling safe while traveling can make the whole experience so much better. Chances are everything will go as planned, but a little diligence goes a long way in keeping you and your family healthy and secure while away. Whether traveling domestically or overseas, the excitement of going to new places may distract you and have you let down your guard. Unfortunately, this is exactly when you can become sick, injured or become easy prey for thieves.
Here are some tips to help you have a safe and enjoyable holiday or business trip:
Before hitting the road, it’s always a good idea to check with a doctor if you have any pre-existing health conditions. Know the risks and plan accordingly.
- Know the generic names of any medications you may be taking in case you need refills while away. It’s also a good idea to keep them in their original containers where possible to help with identification or any issues at customs.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet if you have any serious allergies, and be sure to bring any medications like epi-pens with you
- Do some research to see if you need any specific vaccinations or medications for where you’re traveling to (eg. hepatitis or malaria drugs etc.)
- Understand if there may be issues with the water or food before you go. Know what to avoid and don’t be tempted. You wouldn’t want to spend your whole vacation in the bathroom or worse.
- Bring spares for any eyeglasses, contacts or hearing aids (+ spare batteries). There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to get replacements.
- It’s usually a good idea to know where the closest medical facilities are to your hotel in case of an emergency and/or language barrier issue. This is especially important when traveling with kids, seniors or if anyone has a pre-existing condition.
- A basic first aid kit for minor bumps, bruises, headaches and sunburns probably wouldn’t hurt
Having adequate travel insurance for your trip is great for peace-of-mind and can (literally) be a lifesaver.
- Be sure that the policy is appropriate for your needs and covers all days away from home
- Check the policy thoroughly and look for any exceptions or destination restrictions
- Know whether the policy offers up-front coverage or reimbursement after-the-fact
- Does it cover medication replacements?
- Will you be participating in any hazardous activities that may void your policy?
- Be sure to let others in your party know the policy number and contact info in case of an emergency
A little common sense applied to your luggage can ensure that it doesn’t become a liability.
- Rule #1 – don’t over pack. Much better to stay light and mobile while traveling. Most people pack about twice as much as they’ll actually need (and it’s harder on the back).
- Use luggage appropriate for your destination. Suitcases with wheels are great for a hotel lobby, but not so much for a campsite.
- No matter what type of luggage you use, make sure that it’s well designed, ergonomically friendly and provides easy access to everything you need.
- Use covered identification tags with your office address instead of home
- At airport luggage carousels, don’t hang back from the crowd to wait. Spot your bags and grab them right away (before someone else does).
- Always keep your luggage, backpacks and purses within your view and never leave them unattended
- Try to avoid keeping valuables in the outside pockets of backpacks, especially in crowded areas. This is always a good target for thieves.
- If traveling by air, check your baggage as soon as you arrive at the airport and only allow airline personnel and uniformed skycaps to handle your baggage.
Stay In Touch
Safety basics for documentation and contact info include:
- Be sure to give your itinerary and contact info to a friend or family member not traveling with you
- Make copies of passports, credit cards and other ID – leave one set with a contact at home and keep one with you, but separate from the originals
- If in doubt, keep your documents in the hotel safe for added security
- Know the contact info for the local government office or consulate in case of emergencies. It’s also a good idea to register with them if you’ll be in the country for longer than 3 months or if there are any security concerns in the region.
- Parents traveling alone with their kids should always carry a signed letter of consent from the other parent in order to avoid any confusion or issues
How Will You Be Paying For That?
Managing your money while traveling is always a big part of your trip. It also presents one of the biggest risks you’re likely to encounter.
- Keep it simple and use only one credit card plus a small amount of cash and traveler’s cheques. Also avoid keeping all of your funds in one place. You wouldn’t want to lose it all at once.
- Familiarize yourself with local currencies to avoid confusion or the potential of getting cheated
- Use ATM’s during the day when there are plenty of people around and be sure to protect your PIN
- Keep a small amount of local cash separately for small purchases. Never flash large amounts of cash in public.
- Take your receipts at retail and at ATM’s and don’t linger or stop to count your money
- Avoid changing money at airports, as thieves could be watching
- If feeling particularly vulnerable, wear your money belt somewhere other than around your waist. Thieves know all about money belts too.
Driving & Transportation
If you thought the foreign language was tough, wait until you try driving in some places...
- Always be sure to plan your road travel well. Know the routes to take and the areas to avoid. Account for fuel stops, accommodations, washroom breaks, sightseeing and food along the way. A good map and a GPS device may be your best friends.
- Learn the local rules of the road before you get started. Driving on the other side, negotiating roundabouts and giving-way to random livestock etc. is likely to be a different experience for you.
- Try not to travel at night if you can help it
- Definitely do not pick up hitchhikers or accept offers of a ‘special tour’ from locals
- Keep windows up and doors locked if the area looks dodgy
- Be aware of potentially rough weather conditions or difficult terrain that you may encounter
- Be alert when using public transportation. Try to get a seat close to the driver and avoid the top floors of trains or buses at night.
- Avoid using unlicensed taxis wherever possible. Most hotels can recommend which ones are OK to use or can arrange for a reputable car or shuttle service for you.
General Safety & Security
Here are some random hints and tips to help ensure a healthy and safe trip:
- Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs to avoid getting yourself into trouble
- Check for regional travel advisories before you leave
- Don’t put your travel plans on social media sites. You may come home only to discover that you’ve had a break-in.
- Always be aware of your surroundings when out on the street. Walk with confidence and try not to look too much like a tourist.
- Thieves often choreograph situations to create confusion and opportunities to steal from you. This could come in the form of a minor auto accident, a loud argument, a spilled drink, bumping or jostling, suddenly becoming surrounded by beggars or someone holding a newspaper up toward your face. It only takes a second, but if you’re aware, you can usually see it coming. Keep your hands on your valuables and step-back from the situation.
- Don’t give money to beggars but DO give your wallet up if you’re being mugged. It’s not worth it. Some folks go so far as to carry a ‘dummy’ wallet for just these types of situations.
- Leave any unnecessary valuables at home. Expensive jewelry and electronics are prime targets for thieves.
- Phone home regularly if you don’t have a fixed schedule for your trip. It’s always good for someone to know where you are.
- City streets with women and kids are generally safer
- Best not to learn how to ride a scooter, motorcycle or jet ski if you’ve never done it before (hint – this is where your travel health insurance may come in handy)
- At your hotel, be sure to keep windows and doors locked, make note of fire escapes and emergency exits and never let anyone know your room number
Remember that it’s important to research, plan well and to try not to take anything for granted, especially in a foreign country where the language and customs may be unfamiliar. Ultimately, it’s all about minimizing the risk and maximizes the fun.