Playing It Safe

Travelling, for most people, is one of great pleasures of life. Well, at least it can be if all goes smoothly. However, travelling throws up myriad opportunities for things not to go smoothly, particularly for those who don’t do enough homework on the destinations they’re heading for, nor keep their eyes, ears and minds sufficiently open once they’ve set off.
Areas where travellers can, and unfortunately do come unstuck, include getting sick or injured through not being sensible about the lower hygienic and safety conditions that exist in some other parts of the world; getting ripped off or becoming the victims of crime; causing offence and getting into trouble through unawareness of local customs and mores; or even getting swept up in local political or military disputes.
Fortunately though, through proper preparation, and travelling smartly, lots of the hazards that the ill prepared and unwary fall into can be easily sidestepped.
A vital resource for travellers, especially for those heading of to more obscure destinations, is the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) – Check this before you depart. Here, you’ll find DFAT’s travel advisories and the latest information on any local conditions that may affect your travels in the countries you’re heading to. On this site you can also register your details and travel plans with DFAT so they will know how to track you down in the event of an emergency. If you’re not on the Net, DFAT has offices in each state that can help you over the phone.
Another handy source providing stacks of data on every country is the World Factbook compiled by the CIA (seriously!). You don’t need to be a spy to access it, available free online at
Here are some pointers that should help you travel well:
Take responsibility for your health and fitness
  • If you take regular medication, ensure that you pack enough, as it may not be available at your destination. For prescription drugs, ask your doctor to prepare a letter outlining the purpose of each medication. This will be invaluable should you be questioned about them by Customs officials, or need medical treatment.
  • Pack a small first aid kit containing band-aids, antiseptic cream, headache pills, insect repellent, sunscreen and latex gloves.
  • Personal hygiene articles, including nappies and condoms, may not be available at your destination so make sure you pack what you need.
  • Be realistic about your level of fitness. If your trip includes lots of walking, build up your fitness before you leave.
  • Avoid improperly handled food, and depending on the destination and/or type of eatery, be careful about, or avoid altogether, uncooked food – including salads.
  • If possible, drink bottled water only, and be careful about ice in cool drinks.
  • To help avoid deep vein thrombosis (DVT) drink ample water throughout your flights, stretch your feet and lower legs when seated for long periods and walk around the aircraft cabin at regular intervals.
Be aware of local customs and codes of conduct
  • Standards of dress vary from country to country and in more traditional nations and regions it is best to dress and behave conservatively. Getting around in beach gear, or swimming topless, can cause upset in many places. Mosques and temples especially, have very strict dress codes, so do your research to ensure you cause no offence to your hosts.
  • Obnoxious, drunken behaviour, bad manners, and assumptions of superiority are universally disliked, and likely to lead to trouble.
  • Learning and using even just a few words of the local language can often open doors.
  • Understand, and adhere to, the laws and customs of your destination.
Manage your finances
  • Find out what banking facilities (including ATMs) are available at your destination, and what currencies are acceptable or preferred.
  • If tipping is expected, understand what levels are usual.
  • Budget for service and government taxes, which can add more than 20% to your hotel bills.
  • Before you leave home, take two photocopies of your credit cards, travel and insurance documents. Pack one copy, and leave the other with a family member at home.
  • Pickpockets are very skilled, and tourists are their main targets, especially in busy streets and markets. Keep most of your money in a money belt or hidden pouch under your clothes, or put it in the hotel or room safe. Leave valuable jewellery, including expensive watches, at home.
Travel insurance
Travel insurance should be obtained when you book your ticket. The cost of medical attention, evacuation or repatriation from some countries is astronomical, and ‘saving’ money by not having travel insurance is false economy. DFAT reports that some Australian families have had to take out second mortgages to cover the cost of bringing home sick or injured loved ones.

There’s no doubt that investing a bit of extra time to learn more about your destination, its people and customs will increase your confidence and safety, and help make your trip that much more enjoyable.