Update Oct 4, 2016 10 Tips on How to Travel Safer Now: Travel to destinations with political unrest or high crime calls for more careful pre-departure plans and being aware while there.
- navigated low grade African civil wars,
- dodged swine flu in Asia,
- fended off a band of robbers in Europe and
- just missed being a feast for crocodiles.
Both at home and abroad, I have found times that were not safe. I have seen how fast a crisis may happen. This is my list of 10 practical tips at home and abroad.
10 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL SAFER NOW-TIP 1. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO.
Get up-to-date via the Internet/social media and traditional press as to the ongoing problems at your destination. Learn if protests are only in a limited area. For example, many conflicts with against national governments occur in urban areas, especially capital cities.
Identify the specific risk. For example, is the issue kidnapping for ransom? Is it the danger of getting caught up in a peaceful demonstration that turns violence?
10 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL SAFER NOW-TIP 2. BEFORE LEAVING HOME, BOOK RELIABLE AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION.
Taxis in major metropolitan areas may be commonplace. However, I learned when traveling in Africa during a low-grade civil war that only a few specific companies were deemed safe to use.
10 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL SAFER NOW-TIP 3. PICK A HOTEL FOR SECURITY AND A QUICK EXIT.
In visiting the Middle East alone, when I checked into my hotel, I discovered it had been previously bombed. This was initially disturbing. However, the reconstructed site was likely more secure than any other local options. They had the same technology in use in airports. Each guest had to go through a metal detector and x-ray of personal items every time he or she entered the hotel. Taxis had to go through a checkpoint after passing through barriers. The enhanced security made it less likely there could be a successful attack again at the same hotel.
10 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL SAFER NOW-TIP 4. VARY YOUR DAILY ROUTE AND WORK TO BE INCONSPICUOUS.
By being unpredictable and blending in wherever possible, you will lessen the chance of being a target.
10 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL SAFER NOW-TIP 5. REGISTER LOCALLY WITH YOUR EMBASSY/CONSULATE.
In the past during labor and political unrest in a Latin American country, it was recommended that Americans upon arriving register with the US Embassy. I thought that was unnecessary. One night in a remote location, I watched a long protest march with tall torches lighting the way wondering what would happen next. I clearly underestimated the local problems and should have heeded the embassy’s recommendation.
10 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL SAFER NOW-TIP 6. AVOID CROWDS AND POLITICAL DEMONSTRATIONS.
Protests and demonstrations can quickly get out of hand. This is especially true where you don’t speak the language and have a deep understanding of local dynamics. Moreover, if violence breaks out in a large crowd, even innocents bystander may find themselves arrested along with the demonstrators.
10 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL SAFER NOW-TIP 7. DON’T ASSUME YOUR LOCAL CONTACTS/GUIDES WILL ALWAYS TAKE SECURITY INTO ACCOUNT.
While working on affordable housing in a remote region, I accompanied developers and two local residents as we walked through “informal housing” outside a township. I straggled behind as dogs barked. When we climbed back in the van, the developer asked the local driver: “How do we know when it is safe like that?” The driver replied: “That was not safe.” If I had known that, I likely would have stayed in the van!
10 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL SAFER NOW-TIP 8.
BE WARY OF GETTING SEPARATED FROM THE CROWD EVEN IN DAYTIME.
On another foray with a business group abroad, I was walking with our team in an area still politically turbulent. Without a moment’s notice, the only other woman in the group and I had become separated from the others and were standing alone as a crowd of men approached. Having studied the local dialect, I attempted a greeting hoping this would be an amicable meeting. I was pleased, and relieved, to find they were a very friendly team of community organizers. However, this shows how suddenly safety in numbers disappears after getting lost in an unfamiliar area and how circumstances can change without a moment’s notice.
10 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL SAFER NOW-TIP 9. CARRY IDENTIFICATION PAPERS/PASSPORT.
In some countries, this is required whenever you leave the hotel, or arrest can result. The downside? If the host country and your own country are at odds, that could make matters worse. In addition, have a copy of the first page of your passport with your picture and keep it in a difficult place for a pickpocket to get.
10 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL SAFER NOW-TIP 10. ARRANGE TO HAVE A LOCAL CONTACT IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.
This may be your embassy or consulate. However, if the crisis is an epidemic, it could be identifying a qualified medical doctor/hospital and checking your health insurance before arriving. When I set out alone for Asia alone during the Swine Flu epidemic, I was very worried since quarantines of international travelers were being enforced. If I were quarantined in a country where I did not speak the language, where would I be taken upon my release? Would I be standing on a street corner trying to find a taxi to a hotel? Knowing a head of time what to do would have made my arrival after a 14 hour flight go much smoother.
Notwithstanding my experience with the crocodiles, the threat of quarantines, the civil war and the robbers, I do try to avoid calamity. I have managed to extricate myself without serious harm and never had to cancel a trip. If a region is heating up just as you head there, you really only have three options: 1. going ahead while taking precautions, 2. deferring the trip until a later date or 3. diverting to an alternative destination. In the final analysis, each traveler must decide what is right for them and have a Plan B ready. However, being prepared will greatly improve the chance for a successful and safer trip.
For more tips on travel safety, go to our Travel Tipztr.