Travelling can be one of the most eye-opening, and enjoyable experiences of a lifetime. This enjoyment should not however, be at the detriment of our safety, and it is important to travel wisely. Challenging situations occur much more whilst travelling, and this is entirely natural. Often, whilst on the road, the unknown can become the norm.
What is critical to the safety of a traveller, is to be able to embrace the unknown, whilst accepting when a challenging situation, has become an unsafe one.
Talking to a variety of people, whether locals or other travellers, is part of the experience, and can help you to learn a lot about the world. Most of the time, people are happy to help, and friendly to talk with. Every now and again someone might seem a little in-balanced, or unusual in their behaviour.
No matter how polite you want to be, if you get a bad feeling about someone, don’t be afraid to walk away, especially if you are not in a public space, in view of other people. Be wary of anyone who seems to want to lure you anywhere, perhaps offering you a deal that is too good to be true. Be polite and walk away briskly to a safer area.
Often when a bad encounter happens, it is due to one motive; money. This is especially true in areas that may be more economically deprived, who might view you as a westerner who can afford to be ripped off. Scams are not uncommon in some countries, but are not so much a danger to yourself, as your wallet. Pickpockets are common in some large cities, so keeping belongings close is important.
Sometimes mugging can occur, and in these instances it is crucial to judge the situation appropriately. No one wants to give their wallet over to a stranger, but it is rarely a good idea to try and get physical and defend your possessions. Let it go; your wallet is worth less than your life.
In countries, or areas within countries which have a particularly ugly reputation, it is advisable to know where to avoid, especially at night. You might be able to handle the mean streets of your own country, but the streetwise tricks you always relied on might be inadequate with a language and culture barrier! Never get bravado in another country; you never know who the locals might know, and before you know it a small bar-fight could escalate.
Fear of people should never put a traveller off interaction. Common sense should be used, and if the air feels tense, or an instinct tells you to leave; it is best to act on it.
Some places are more prone to trouble than others. It is highly doubtful that you will get into trouble in a small rural village in the north of France, just perhaps some bewildered looks from locals who have never seen a foreigner before. In general, the outskirts of cities and towns have a rougher feel, and should be treated with more care. Getting advice off other travellers, or listening to that old man who walks past and says “you don’t want to be here after dark, there are gangs.”, are a good start.
The political situation should be a consideration when going to more dangerous countries, such as some countries in the Middle East. If there is war in the country, then obviously war zones should be avoided, and so should areas with a high amount of internal tension. A bit of research is required when the aim is to explore such countries, and advice can be sought from your government on which countries are currently dangerous to travel in, and which areas within those countries need to be avoided at all costs. It is your responsibility to research well before setting off.
Driving and Crossing the Road
It’s going to seem obvious but you have to adhere to the road etiquettes of a country. It can be difficult at first to switch between left and right sides of the road, both for drivers, and for on foot travellers. A friend of mine very nearly drove down the wrong side of a road at a junction in Europe, and driving round a roundabout the wrong way is also not unheard of!
Take your time, and be conscious about it. You are effectively reprogramming your brain when something is so immediately and strikingly different. It is the same with culture, but driving effects our safety. So be aware of it.
As for driving in India; well, good luck!
If the water is unsafe to drink, don’t drink it! Your immune system might not be able to handle the bacteria. Buy bottled water in areas where it might be needed. Food needs to be handled in the same manner. Standards for food hygiene might not be what you expect in some countries, so give it a sniff, and check it is piping!
Check with your doctor what jabs you might need, particularly when flying to a tropical country with diseases such as malaria, and Hep B. Don’t forget to take any usual medication whilst on the road, and take the usual sexual precautions as you would do at home; wear protection!
Into the Wild
When preparing for a big expedition into the wilderness of the rainforest, or the depths of the mountains, always make sure you have all of the appropriate gear. It isn’t big or clever to go into a rough, uninhabitable environment without making all of the necessary preparations; you are not Bear Grylls, and even he would not be so stupid!
Whether on a week long trip, or a month sledding by husky to the North Pole, you will need to do your research, get the right gear, and prepare properly.
Should safety come first? Well yes, but perceived danger can be very different to real danger, and what’s worse is that the boundary between the two can become blurred. For an enjoyable time travelling, and for maximum freedom, travellers cannot live in constant fear. Rather a mind-state should be cultivated which allows the situation to be analysed both rationally, and instinctually.
Safety, and what level of precaution you should take, is really a matter of where you are going, and what you are doing. If in doubt then tell someone where you are going, and when you will be back; even is it is just the hostel receptionist. If in major doubt, whether about a person, a place, or a trip, then trust your instinct and stay safe!