With apologies to all the Debbie’s out there, this is a Debbie Downer piece.
Indulge me in a quick rant before I begin…
If you are one of those precious travelers that are incapable of getting over the incomprehensible whims of baggage handlers, seemingly ridiculousness of various airport lines, less than honest taxi cab drivers and the vagaries of hotel guest policies…the unpredictability of weather, the humbling predictability of human herd behavior, opportunistic pickpockets and the inevitability of food borne illnesses. Or, if you are unlikely to be able to cope when your flight is willy-nilly diverted to Saskatchewan for safety, security or mechanical reasons…or when your precious mini-adventure is derailed by a union strike, or if you get impatiently nasty when your meal is delayed for whatever reason…you should probably just stay home! Because, as the bumper sticker says: Shit Happens. A lot of shit. The world is messy because we humans are essentially unpredictable creatures that is combined with the fact that the travel gods work in mysterious ways.
So assume the worst and the inevitability of it all: you might lose your passport; your plane will be late; they will lose your luggage; you will get lost; you will get ripped off by a taxi driver; there won’t be enough time between flights; your credit card/ATM will not work everywhere; you will get the runs; you will sit nearby a screaming baby with an ear infection on that oceanic flight; it will rain.
Now, if you are granted the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. If you accept that it is not personal—that it is never personal. You will be okay. But if you do take it personal, please—and know that I speak for everyone traveling around the world with you—we really hope you get over it, and yourself, quickly!
Phew…Thank you for listening.
I don’t want to alarm anybody with Bad Things Do Happen to Good People negativity by telling you that life is frail and precarious, and that the world is not a 100% safe secure and healthy place. There is poverty, sickness and disease; natural disasters strike with great consistency; one-off terrorist events and official and unofficial acts of violence occur; planes do occasionally go missing; random acts of violence and crimes of opportunity occur too, and terrible accidents sadly do happen with great regularity. Needless to say, but we have to, there is an Assumption of Risk in everything we do as human beings.
ISIS, Car Accidents and Mosquitoes, oh my…
But, most travelers are also a realist—not easily swayed by irrational conspiracies or the continuous barrage of unpleasantness spewing out of our 24-hour cable news outlets. We do recognize that unforeseen Black Swan-type events can and do occur (aka rare events with high impacts). But that those force majeure events are extremely rare and usually acts of gods or madmen. None of which keep me awake at night traveling because I know that statistically speaking, traveling is 40 times safer than staying at home!
Travelers should however have real concerns about their safety, security and health.
Safety First; we have all heard that mantra throughout our lives and it should remain your fundamental and conscious modus operandi. Never take your safety for granted. Always be prepared and don’t be an oblivious traveler—pay attention.
Travelers are not worried about flying commercial; fact is, flying has never-ever been safer. Three little words will help you understand air travel in the 21st century: “arrived without incident” and that occurs more than 103,000 times daily—with over nine million airline passengers—every day 365 days a year! Flying is in fact safer than walking. The 2015 airline accident rate was one incident per 3.1 million flights. To stay truly safe: keep your seat belt fastened while flying at all times.
But just as we do not worry about our flight safety, our travels on the ground consume us. This concern does keep me up at night. Be extra careful driving in cars, buses and trucks, and please stay off motorcycles; as the statistical probability of you being involved in a motor vehicle accident is extremely high and driving in foreign destinations remains the number one killer of all travelers.
How the 800 American Travelers Who Die Unnatural Deaths Annually Die:
#1 – car accidents (225 a year!)
#2 – homicides
#3 – suicides
#4 – drownings
#5 – motorcycle accidents
#6 – water craft accidents
#7 – drug-related accidents
#8 – train accidents
#9 – natural disasters
#10 – skiing accidents
Your travel safety has to depend on more than that glib rejoinder: Good brakes, good horn, good luck! Savvy travelers must be proactive in their transportation safety by: checking the tires and the general condition of your vehicle—before they get in; pick a driver that cares (not looking too tired, is maybe older (and wiser?), has kids and family to care for, and has not been drinking); and request that drivers slow down when you feel unsafe. And driving at night without headlights on to save gas is never acceptable!
Travel security matters too. But anyone one who knows positive great travelers, knows that they usually do not subscribe to the world is going to hell in a hand basket narrative espoused by cable news broadcasts nightly. The Mean World Syndrome is a myth. The fact is, the world is actually more peaceful, less violent and a safer place to travel in than ever before! We actually travel in a 96% conflict-free world; and can significantly increase their security odds even more by avoiding: Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Somalia, Yemen, Darfur/Sudan, Eastern Ukraine, the Occupied Territories and Syria. (Ironically, Chicago was the most dangerous destination on my 2015 itinerary!)
First the proverbial elephant in the room: We are not usually worried about terrorism. Again, the facts speak for themselves and they are that it is a negligible to low threat for any of us traveling on a random schedule in random places around the world. The chance of being involved in a terrorist incident is about one in 5 million. And just because you are impacted by a terrorist incident does not mean you will be a victim of one—add another one out of 20 million to those odds. Now, if you think of yourself as that special or feel really so (un)lucky—please let us know, as we’ll let you buy us a few lottery tickets along the way! But seriously, needless to say, bad things can and do happen—and will happen while we travel. And everyone should know, that no matter how much security surrounds us, that there is no real way to stop anyone who has a death wish from killing themselves and taking out as many innocents as possible. (See the article I wrote about visiting Paris after the 2015 attack on Huffington Post.)
I am reminded here what an infamous old gambler once told me when he was teaching me everything I needed to know about gambling and odds: “Bill, if the odds on whatever it might be are 10 to one, you’ll see it this week. If it’s 100 to one, you won’t see it this week, but you will see it this year. If it’s 1,000 to one, you won’t see it this year, but you will probably see it, once! Anything more than that—10,000 to one, 100,000 to one—you’re never going to see. It may happen, but you most likely will never see it happen.” Sage advice; yet the only reason we see these 100,000-to-one events is because the media shows it to us—over and over again.
Nonetheless, know that savvy single travelers, we usually have several things working in our favor that help keep us out of harm’s way: 1) we are not going to visit any of the hot and dangerous zones of the world; 2) we have no known predictable travel route, internationally or locally, for anyone to plot or plan against; 3) we don’t travel with any visible Western corporate logos and signs; 4) we don’t even really travel as a group and for the most part travel only in one’s and two’s; 5) we are all seasoned travelers with well-honed situational awareness and evolved sets of safety radar; and finally, 6) we all know how to blend in (leave your expensive jewelry, sports jerseys, gold chains, and loud provocative or camouflage military garb at home) locally and to trust our keen bullshit detectors (aka gut instincts) and those little hairs on the back of our necks.
The prospects of opportunistic crime occurring is far greater than any threat of terrorism. Hang on to your daypacks and cameras—keep them zipped up too. Loop your daypacks around a chair leg when you are sitting (ladies have known this for years). Watch out for ID theft when going online on public Wi-Fi connections. Watch out for credit card scams when someone takes your card and copies it. Be vigilant of over-the-shoulder ATM lurkers trying to steal your PIN. Keep your money in several secure places. Always look alive, in charge and not confused—be a lion not a lamb. And avoid PDA’s—public displays of affluence.
There are too numerous to mention here on-the-road scams conducted by con-artists and economic opportunists alike trying to extract stuff from you a rich western tourist: tea ceremonies, gold ring scams, fake cabbie charges, camera hostage takers, double bump extractions, disruption thefts, friendly assaults by: touts, cabbies and hawkers, the slow count, copying credit cards, over the shoulder ATM bandits, pretend policeman, ketchup or pigeon poop scams, old money or counterfeiter money passes, and precious gem sellers.
(Just a quick point of personal privilege: look for the better angels in people—trust people, give them the benefit of the doubt—because people are essentially good everywhere. We want you to think about this: since we started our annual around the world world travel adventure event, we have circled the globe 12 times with hundreds of travelers visiting over 65 unique countries that required of them to have dozens of one-on-one encounters (trusting strangers in strange lands) a day with complete strangers. To date, knock on wood, not one bad encounter yet! Please take this to heart.)
Now we have covered security and safety matters, what about keeping travelers healthy while we travel the globe.
We are always concerned about your well-being and we could encounter three different classifications of potential health concerns: merely annoying ones (jetlag, traveler’s diarrhea and mosquitos), actually painful ones (sunburn and food poisoning), and finally medically serious concerns (accidents and violence).
As we have covered the latter, let’s deal with the former two.
Jetlag can be easily dealt with by staying away from alcohol and caffeine, eating right and trying to quickly adapt to your new time zones. It usually takes one day to remedy one hour of jetlag. Know that we do our best to ameliorate jetlag when planning our around the world adventure. Needless to say you should always try to eat right and drink plenty of fluids throughout the event—it does help. As does having a well-placed sugary snack hidden in your daypack that can quickly help reduce those low blood sugar blues and screaming meanies.
You also need to accept the fact that at some point somewhere, mostly through no fault of your own, that up 40-50% of us will succumb to some form of traveler’s diarrhea (aka Delhi Belly, Pharaoh’s Revenge, Montezuma’s Revenge, Rangoon Ruins, etcetera). It is a combination of: water, diet, spicy foods, being discombobulated, and not washing our hands perfectly. So, always bring items that will ease your way through these times. But you should also know the difference between amoebic dysentery and bacillary dysentery; the latter is transmitted through parasite-contaminated food or water and is the more severe of the two. Whereas bacillary dysentery, results from running into a bacteria and usually runs its course naturally in a few days or with the help of regime of Cipro-like antibiotics. My family has taken a drug vaccine called Dukoral for about a decade and no one has gotten ill. (Results may vary.)
Mosquitos really piss me off. Those little buggers, I hate them. The females of the 3,500 species kill as many as three million people a year due to: malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis, yellow fever, West Nile virus, chikungunya and now Zika. They suck! But here’s how to cope: be aware of peak dawn and dusk times; wear 25%+ DEET bug spray and reapply it often; mosquitos like dark clothes—wear light-colors, long-sleeved tucked-in shirts, long pants tucked into socks with shoes and hats; and if you feel odd a couple weeks after returning from a trip, seek out a doctor and explain where you have been. (BTW: malarial prophylaxis will protect you from malaria, but not all the other mosquito-borne diseases—always use DEET.)
Sun overexposure is easy to remedy, both sunburn and heat stroke: always wear UV protection clothes with long sleeves and pants, always use sunblock SPF30+, wear a hat and sunglasses, seek out the shade as often as possible and stay hydrated with plenty of electrolytes.
Avoiding food poisoning is a bit trickier (like winning an unwanted lottery jackpot) but something we all have gotten good at gaming over the years: wash your hands often, especially before your eat; eat only hot foods; keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods; avoid buffet lines; eat probiotic dietary supplements; make sure bottle seals aren’t broken on water you buy (I just drink a lot of beer!); eat at busy street food stalls; avoid ice cream; choose your fish and shellfish choices carefully; eat small portions when in doubt; and of course: either boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it!
Here are a few other cautionary woes to be aware of:
clear air turbulence;
vicious rip tide currents:
nasty jellyfish attacks:
patriotic barroom fights:
…and smashing your head into something hard trying to find the bathroom of your strange hotel room (ditto toes)!
Bear in mind the so-called Golden Hour (you have one hour to save yourself and get help in the event of an accident); STOP—Stop, Think, Observe + Plan; don’t wait for help to arrive or count on anyone to help you; don’t be in denial but be proactive because your emergency probably can’t wait and you need to help yourself within that Golden Hour to preserve your own life. Maintain a positive can-do attitude. Remember the truism: Good things take time; bad things happen quickly.
FYI: Psychologists reveal that in a time of crisis three types of personalities reveal themselves: 75% of those in a crisis will be reflexively overwhelmed by events, stunned and paralyzed with fear (they will not react); another 10-15% will immediately exhibit inappropriate and outright unhelpful behavior (crying, screaming and manic confusion); and finally, maybe just 10-20% of people in a crisis will actually be calm and thoughtful and be able to think clearly. Act quickly and effectively and keep your buddy and yourself alive. Good luck!
Finally, let’s listen to the smart words of wisdom of your mom and net this all out: drink plenty of fluids, sleep well, eat right, always wear a condom, wear sunscreen, wear DEET bug spray, wear your seat belt, wash your hands often, don’t get drunk, don’t wear expensive jewelry, use the safe, look both ways before you cross the street and don’t piss anyone off. Ask any actuary and tell my mom she’s wrong?
Key Travel Safety Tips:
Use the Buddy System and look out for each other. Have a memorable pre-arranged password that indicates ALERT to each other!
Blend in with your clothes and attitudes—don’t be a stereotype.
Carry a clean color copy of your passport or have it scanned on your phone or camera.
Have a mutually agreed upon meeting place if you get separated.
Inform someone where you are going, what your itinerary is and the time you expect to return.
Always have a business card or matchbook from your hotel in your pocket.
Don’t carry too much stuff with you that you can’t manage to have free hands.
When lost, read maps off the street sitting in a park or in shop or café.
Crime usually depends on opportunity—don’t give them an opportunity.
Would-be thieves want money and stuff, they don’t usually want to harm you—let them have it.
Keep your safety radar, bullshit detector and situational awareness indicators on 24/7.
It is usually smarter to have a taxi called for you than waving one down on the street.
Never, ever, drink too much in public places.
Wash your hands often.
Always have water with you.
Be smart and have fun wherever you travel too!
By William D. Chalmers – Copyright 2000-2016, GEA, Inc. All Rights Reserved.