10 Tips for Ensuring Your Health and Safety on the Road
Your safety while travelling overseas from both a security and health aspect is probably the most important part of planning your holiday.
I’m not afraid of much- I’ve been to places like Rwanda and Kenya and I’m planning on solo travelling to destinations such as Egypt, Jordan, Central and South America. My mum and other members of my family are worried out of their mind, and I think my godfather would really like to follow me to keep me safe. However the truth is that with the exception of outright warzones the majority of destinations can be made completely safe given you take the right precautions for your health and safety.
So here is the list of things I do to ensure I stay safe on the road- so far they have worked although I’d love to revisit this list after 15 months solo travelling.
1. GET GOOD TRAVEL INSURANCE
I’m so surprised to learn that people set off across the globe without purchasing travel insurance. I guess it has always been ingrained in me as a travel essential and I would never risk not purchasing a policy before heading overseas.
People justify their irresponsibility (and yes it is irresponsible to not purchase travel insurance) with phrases like ‘well I’m not doing anything extreme like skiing’ or ‘I don’t think it would cost very much to see a doctor in Asia’. However there is no way to predict what might happen when you are overseas. The thousands of tourists settling into resort life on Koh Phi Phi on Boxing Day in 2004 certainly didn’t predict the tsunami that would send many of them to hospital and require emergency medical evacuations that would cost tens of thousands of dollars without travel insurance. And Dave from one of my favourite travel blogs The Planet D only recently had to be medically evacuated from both the Amazon and then back to Canada after he slipped over while on a leisurely Amazon River Cruise and broke his back.
Also make sure that you carefully read the PDS. It makes for dry reading but it’s no use buying travel insurance if the activities you want to be covered for are going to be excluded anyways. Common exclusions include medical coverage for activities such as rock climbing and skiing, as well as luggage and baggage cover for frequently stolen items like laptops, tablets, cameras and mobile phones. If you absolutely won’t read the PDS at least use the find tool to search for items like ‘snorkelling’ or ‘laptop’ etc.
It doesn’t have to be expensive either- My sister and I got a comprehensive policy with Woolworths for Thailand for 3 weeks for $90 each. If we wanted just basic medical cover we could have gotten it for $30 each.
2. VISIT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Many destinations will require special medication such as malarials or vaccinations such as Typhoid, Yellow Fever and Hep A. Many countries with Yellow Fever won’t even let you into the country if you haven’t been vaccinated so this is especially important. Also make sure you budget for these costs as they can run you a couple of hundred dollars.
Outside of just supplying you with medication your doctor is also a well of information on ways to maintain your health while on the road and can often print you out destination specific information.
3. BRING CERTAIN HEALTH AND SANITARY ITEMS WITH YOU
There are many items that you want to pack with you, given in many countries, most especially developing countries they either won’t be available or won’t be held to the same health standards as what you can buy back home. For women sanitary items is a very big one, I’d advise investing in a JuJu cup if you are brave enough (It’s not really that scary). Contraception is another huge one- even if you don’t think you’ll need them you never know who you will meet on the road. Condoms can be extremely hard to find in many countries and when you do find them they are often out of date or not effective- bring them with you!
4. REGISTER YOUR TRAVEL PLANS WITH YOUR LOCAL TRAVEL DEPARTMENT
I’m not sure how available this service is for other governments but in Australia you can register your details with the government department under a scheme called Smart Traveller. This basically sets you up for alerts if something happens when you are overseas such as a change in the travel warning or a sudden surge in civil rest. While you are there read the information and warnings provided for your particular destination/destinations.
5. DO YOUR RESEARCH
Certain places/suburbs of a city are known for high rates of crime against tourists. In fact there are many hikes in parts of Central America where the local tourism office will actually provide you with an armed escort to go on them because of high incidences of muggings. If you know this stuff in advance you won’t get caught out.
6. DON’T LOOK LOST
You make yourself a target by looking lost. Make sure you look determined and confident about where you are going. By looking lost you open yourself up to things like scams or pick pocketing.
7. SECURE YOUR BELONGINGS
Investing in an effective lock to put on your bag, daypack and/or a locker in a hostel will help to prevent theft. I also like a retractable lock to secure your bag to things such as part of your bed on an overnight train or the bottom of bus. It adds peace of mind and ensures you will sleep properly without the stress of your stuff going missing. I’d also recommend splitting your cash and cards between your day pack and actual bag incase you are mugged. I own this one.
8. DON’T DO ANYTHING YOU WOULDN’T DO AT HOME
I would never buy a motorbike and get my license in Australia because of the risk. So why the hell would I choose to hop on one in South East Asia with half the manufacturing safety standards and ten times the crazy drivers? I find it strange that many travellers throw caution out the window when they head off on their travellers. If you wouldn’t go out and get drunk by yourself at home, then don’t do it overseas. If you wouldn’t walk home in the dark by yourself at home then don’t do it in an unfamiliar place.
9. HOP ON A TOUR
10. INVEST IN SAFETY GEAR
Other than the locks mentioned above there might be some travel gear out there that will make you feel safer. I know many travellers who take a caribenna with them to hook their bag onto tables in restaurants, or a mugging wallet to throw down with a couple of cancelled cards and a little bit of cash in it. Many also recommend a doorstop to put in the door so you can hear/block people from coming into your room. I myself carry this Vigilante personal security alarm that makes a god awful sound that would hopefully scare away any potential criminals. It also comes with a handy LED light.
As a closing note- People are often using concerns about health and safety as an excuse not to travel. Just the other day I was sitting having brunch and at the table next to me I overheard a conversation between a group of girls. One of them was talking about her upcoming travel plans and the other three were trying to convince her not to go alone. I really wanted to interject with a ‘don’t be afraid’. Embrace your travel dreams and with the exception of a few places in the world, don’t let fear dictate what they are.
99% of the time you will be safe, and you’ll get it closer to 100% with these few tips.