Thursday, September 3, 2015

Stay safe while traveling

As I'm writing this, Bangkok is reeling from a bomb attack at the Erawan shrine, killing 20 innocent people. Friends who were planning a trip there are now canceling their flight and hotel bookings. The truth is, anything can happen anywhere. Air crashes, earthquakes and terrorist attacks are sadly becoming more commonplace but it doesn't mean we should just stay at home. For New Yorkers in 2011, the most unimaginable horror happened right in their own backyard. As they say, if you stop traveling, the terrorists win.
For me, there's so much of the world out there that I still want to explore and experience. I think that we can still travel and stay safe, by planning carefully and taking some extra precautions. Here are some travel tips  have found useful:

• Invest in travel insurance.
All plans are different so read the fine print. Check what qualifies as "terrorism" (which is usually covered), versus "civil unrest or an act of war" (which are usually not covered).

• Set up a check-in plan with family and friends.
Whether you email once a day or tag your location on Facebook, it's a good idea for people back home to know where you are. In an emergency or crisis, no time is wasted on trying to get in touch with you.

• Let credit card companies know you're traveling.
Give them your locations and dates of travel so that your credit card doesn't suddenly get shut off when you really need it.

 Take some cash.
I always travel with some local currency of the place I'm going to. If I'm with a friend or family member, we divide up the cash between us, so that in the event one of us loses the cash, we still have some more. While you don't want to travel with large amounts of money, when things do go wrong, cash is still king.

• Get your bearings.
While it's great to wander aimlessly on the streets of a new city, be aware of your surroundings, and figure out which route will take you back to your hotel.

• Keep a business card from the hotel with you.
It's awful when you can't quite find your way back and can't remember the exact name or correct pronunciation of your place of lodging. If you need to ask for directions or tell your taxi driver where to go, all you have to do is show the business card.

• Have a working phone.
In this new age of travel, nothing beats having a smartphone. Make sure you can have international roaming. It's also a good idea to buy a local SIM card if you plan to make a lot of calls. Having a smartphone is probably the most efficient way to stay in touch while on the go.

• Travel light.
It allows you to move more freely, especially when you're trying to maneuver your way through crowded places. It also makes you less of a target for muggers and pickpockets. Make sure the kind of bag you carry presents more of a challenge to thieves. I cringe at the sight of travelers who casually sling a backpack over the shoulders, inviting prying hands. That's how a friend lost her wallet and passport in Vietnam. I have my trusty cross-body bag in which I secret my passport, cash and credit cards in different pockets.

Make friends with a London bobby or two.
• Familiarize yourself with the look of local police.
It makes it much easier to get help quickly if you need it.

• Make friends with the locals and learn a few phrases in the local language.
Locals know the lay of the land, and at the sign of any trouble can lead you to safety. You want to be able to communicate the basics in case anything goes wrong.

Be extra careful in crowded areas!
• Be extra vigilant and alert.
It's easy to be engrossed with the sights, but it certainly helps to pay attention to the environment you're in and the people around you. Look out for things that could be a red flag for danger, like unattended packages and weird behavior. I once climbed up the stairs of a London tube station, to be surrounded immediately by what I thought was a riot. I quickly darted into a cafe and watched the crowded swirling around outside, throwing beer bottles and upturning trash cans. The "riot" turned out to be football hooligans on a rampage!

Natural disasters and acts of terror shouldn't deter us from traveling, when there's a whole world out there waiting to be discovered and experienced. By planning carefully and staying street smart, there's no reason why travel can't be safe, educational and above all, fun!

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