Travel safety is a complex issue, but is travel the most dangerous thing you can do? Should you just stay at home? As weird as it may sound, home is the most dangerous place for us in the light of the statistics. However, going to places can get risky as well, if you don’t pay attention. What can you do to make sure you’ll return with good memories and in one piece? Prevention is the best practice. Knowing what to and what not to do.
Choose your location well
Many of us have sort of bucket lists, fixed or more ameba-like, that seem to guide our destination choices if possible.
But if you’ve had a destination on your list for ages and then the political climate or natural conditions change, should you pick some other destination? Do you really need to travel to that conflict zone? Or to that destination that just faced a horrific natural disaster? Do you think that you are immune to phenomena like each quakes, mud slides, kidnappings of the foreigners, gang violence or diseases?
Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is our source for the latest updates on countries and areas. As exiting as Robert Young Pelton’s “Come Back Alive” approach to world may be in theory, in reality we are no longer that experimental these days.
Your destination can be off the beaten path, but try to avoid obvious hazards.
Take Care of Your Health
Of all the available destinations and especially activities, you’ll have to choose by analyzing your overall wellbeing. How and how long will you travel? Is it worth traveling half the world up in the air for just a couple of days and suffer from the horrid jetlag, problems in blood flow and such or would you be able to find something nearer to you? Or could you take a longer trip and travel by train, for example?
Do your homework also on the weather: do you really want to travel to a boiling hot destination in the middle of the summer? (We’ve done that many times when that has been the only option in our calendars). Extreme weathers are not good for anyone, but especially if you have health problems, do think of this as well when planning.
Vaccinations are a hot potato these days. Don’t play around with these, so many lethal conditions have been destroyed by vaccinating that there is super strong evidence of that being a good thing. Get the basic vaccines like the tetanus, rubella and mumps to avoid unpleasant surprises. Also, do follow the vaccination recommendations: if they say an area is a yellow fever risk area, get the vaccination. If you plan to stay in malaria areas for a longer time, get the meds. You would not want to bring home such conditions as leprosy. A certification of the yellow fever vaccination is required for some countries in the world even if you’ve never been to a risk area.
What you eat and drink makes a difference. If in doubt of the quality of the tap water, only drink bottled one and avoid ice. Stay away from raw and all uncooked items. Salads, peeled fruit, raw seafood and uncooked eggs are examples of products that may get you really ill. Having said this, experiencing local cuisine should definitely be on your list. Just get used to the idea of getting some stomach problems as the bacteria in other parts of the world is different from home, even things like different type of cooking oil can do that. So, carry Imodeum around. Using some lactic acid products before your trip and on the road may help balancing the stomach. Last but not least: constantly wash your hands, avoid touching nose, mouth & eyes and carry hand sanitizer with you. Hand washing can’t be highlighted enough, that is the cheapest life insurance.
Travel Insurance is worth it
This is one thing you do not want to save on. We all think we are immortal, nothing will ever happen to us, we’ll only have these perfect moments and return as new people. Wrong.
One of the best practices is to combine all your insurances if you travel a lot. You don’t have to worry about it every time. But if you opt for the insurance that covers a single trip, that is a good alternative as well.
What ever you do, do not travel without an insurance. Ever. Have your insurance card with you and have the necessary contact numbers with you.
If you are a resident in an EU country, apply for the free of charge European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) from your government. That will help you with costs.
Does someone know your whereabouts?
Let someone at home know your travel plans. In our changing world a sudden crisis, anything from a political climate change to a natural disaster may affect a great number of people and many governments have services for contacting their residents abroad in such a situation. In our resident country Finland the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a service for Finnish residents: you can fill in your personal data, the details of your travel itinerary and valid contact details on the road. Check out the service here.
Find out if your government has a service you can use. Anyways, finding out the contact details of the nearest embassy or consulate of your country before hitting the road is a good practice. If you are a resident of an EU country, you’ll also get help from other EU member country consulates and embassies if your own country is not represented in the country you are visiting.
Jump or not to jump?
Learning new stuff on vacation can be an excellent idea. We are not the ones saying what is safe and what isn’t, but try to make sure your service provider is taking safety seriously. Stuff like diving, driving any vehicles or any extreme sports are examples of activities you will want to be guided by experienced and responsible operators. Remember, your insurance may have limitations here, check before buying that high altitude rock climbing experience.
Also, respect nature. The flora and the fauna may surprise you in good and in dangerous ways. Even the smallest of creatures can be poisonous, even touching some plants will burn your skin. Underwater life has it’s dangers, too. Be curious in a good way, learn about the place and it’s natural specialities and challenges before going all in.
Traffic is one of the most dangerous things you’ll face abroad. If you read the previous part of the insurance, this has a lot to do with it. If you rent a vehicle, please find out what you are covering if something happens.
Also, never trust your rules in traffic apply to the traffic somewhere else. The traffic cultures in many countries are actually so horrid, we’d recommend paying some extra and using taxis or hiring a driver. Your health and life or the price?
If you drive in Europe, download the free Going Abroad app to follow local traffic rules where ever you drive within EU.
Curiosity killed the cat
Where ever you go to, staying in public areas is a good idea. Dark alleys and closed areas are probable risks anywhere in the world. Under the same theme goes the idea of not wearing all the most expensive jewellery and that flashy watch everywhere. By analyzing your destination you should know if they are better left at home or the hotel safe.
If heading to the Great Outdoors, pay attention to where you poke your nose to. You may be your worst enemy if curiosity means stupidity.
Respecting local culture and traditions
Responsible travel means learning about the local cultural traditions before going. However, it is totally ok to ask about the details when you meet locals. You don’t have to know the dining styles, social codes and religious traditions. Part of the travel experience at best are the moments of learning. Respect means safety as well. Your own culture and the local traditions may not have a common ground, your safest bet is to respect the local way of life.
At home you may party away like there’s no tomorrow. When you travel abroad your routines are smashed. Please don’t go crazy and trust everything is going to be ok. It doesn’t have to mean someone takes advantage and robs you or does harm to you, but the authorities may be a lot unfriendlier than you think. One drunken night may mean a ticket or even, many nights in a jail.
Illegal substances are a big nono everywhere – don’t think your holiday justifies them in any way. In some countries you may face a death penalty for even possession of illegal substances.
Also, in a bar, never ever leave your drink alone or let anyone offer you an unbottled or an opened drink – an unopened bottle is probably ok, if you see the bartender opening it. Better safe than sorry.
And if you plan to have sex, make sure you’ll have protection with you. Nasty STD’s are spreading all the time due to the irresponsible behavior of traveling people. Don’t take strangers along to your hotel room or follow strangers alone. Leaving with strangers is never a good idea. But well, if you do so, think of how you’ll be able to leave if things get strange.
At the end, travel should be fun. It is good for your mind and spirits, it lifts you above the everyday and hopefully you get to relax and rewind. Enjoy new things, maybe learn new skills. Experience the local cuisine, get to know people.