No matter where you travel, thinking about travel safety is an important part of any trip. However beautiful somewhere may be, and however friendly the people are, there is always the potential for something to go wrong. Jag Sidhu of Principal Training (www.principaltraining.org) provides the following advice on travel safety that won't get in the way of you having fun!
How can you prepare before you leave?
It is hard to know exactly how we will react when our own personal safety is threatened. When under intense pressure the rational side of our brain shuts down and we go into fight or flight mode. Some people will instinctively fight, and of course risk injury or inflaming the situation, while others will freeze, or just bolt. So it's helpful to think through things that we can do to minimise the chances of getting into risky situations.
"Research where you will be travelling"
There is no excuse for not researching where you will be travelling. As well as getting the usual bits on where to go for the best food, youll also find out about local customs, dress code and etiquette, you can also ask relatives and friends for first hand advice. If youve booked with a hotel, you can also ask them, as well as the tourist bureau and FCO (www.fco.gov.uk).
"Research the local customs, dress code, etiquette and local scams"
Investigate the local scams. These can range from the one way camel ride in Egypt (where they charge $10 for a camel ride but dont tell you its one way. And, of course, the trip back is another $40), or the baby scam popular in Spain where a young mother rides the train with a baby. Just as the train stops the mother drops the baby, you rush to catch it and the mothers accomplice runs off with your luggage, while you are left with nothing but a doll in your hands. Talk to other travellers along the way to get their take on the cons and scams of the moment.
Travelling solo is more risky than travelling with a companion or in a group. Buddy up before you go by using one of the sites like Travel Buddies (www.travel-buddies.com), or find people along the way, which isnt difficult to do. There is safety in numbers.
Arguments while travelling, although inevitable can be dangerous. If someone storms off during an argument they are likely to be emotional and unaware of their surroundings. So, if you are in a group and one of you storms off, the others have a duty of care to stop them leaving the group. This can equally apply to meeting other people. If one of your friends meets a man or woman who wants to leave with them, rather Invite them back to your own space, nearer to the group than letting your pal go off alone.
Whats the best way to protect yourself once there?
We all like to unwind on holiday but as we have a tendency to relax and let our guards down, this not only makes us vulnerable but we may take risks we wouldnt at home but do so willfully in a foreign country. Of course I am not saying we need to stand on guard but taking some precautions will be helpful.
Take a bag to lose
"Use your hotel safe and only carry as much money as you need for the day"
Taking an old bag, or just something that won't break your heart if you lose it is a good idea. You dont want to be flashing around designer names, especially in poorer countries, and even if you know it is fake, you cant be sure a potential thief does (and this goes for jewellery too). Use your hotel or hostel safe and only carry as much money as you need for the day, and perhaps a pre-paid card, so that if someone does get hold of it, they wont be draining your bank account. In many countries thieves will look for a money belt so its worth stashing cash inside a pocket in your bra perhaps, or in your sock.
Dont be a victim
"Avoid being a potential victim and look like you know where you are going"
Know where you are going (check out the route beforehand so youre not standing around looking at a map), walk confidently and pay attention to your surroundings so that you look alert.
Avoid cash points at midnight
Twelve o'clock is a popular time to be kidnapped for cash as thieves can make you take out your limit before midnight and again just after, when you have a new days limit.
What do you do if you feel youre in danger?
Someones following you
One remedy is to join another group, explain you think you are being followed and can you join them for a little while? Most people would be happy with this. Other suggestions would be to go into a shop and look out through the window, if the person or people are hanging around, ask the shopkeeper to call you a taxi to take you back to the hostel, or even a policeman.
Someone is forcing you to drink, eat or smoke something
If someone buys you a drink, you can be gracious but you dont have to drink it: can you empty it somewhere? You may feel that it is rude but saying that you are unwell will work in most circumstances. If it doesnt, it really is time to be extra cautious.
Someone wants you to go somewhere with them
You need to use your wits to get out of there and the best way to do this is to play for time - say yes of course but I just need to give my sister our room key, for instance, and get out of there as soon as you are out of their sight. Do remember you are in a foreign country, with different customs and you may be giving them the wrong idea. You may feel that you have merely been nice but they may be taking your friendliness as a come-on.
Contributor: Jag Sidhu
Jag Sidhu is a personal safety and conflict management specialist who runs personal safety workshops and courses at Principal Training. He has been teaching martial arts since he was 15, and has worked in close protection, security for the leisure sector, training security professionals and as an expert witness in cases of assault.