I haven’t felt this way since my parents tried to convince me not to go backpacking around Europe in 2001.
I was due to fly out 10 days after September 11th…and they were worried. Everyone was worried – except for my friend and I. We had been planning this trip forever and we were going! My dad even tried to physically drag me from the airport!
Looking back on the trip, it was the safest time to travel. Everyone was on high alert, and the security precautions were stringent – everywhere, right down to everyone having their bags checked thoroughly at train stations. That was the worst of it – oh, and having to drag my dirty underwear out of my backpack to show the big, hulky, uniformed Italian soldiers holding machine guns…
But I digress…
You can’t help but be worried at the moment. One look at the news, one scroll through the Twitter feed, one peak at Facebook, keeping an eye on the government travel warnings – it’s everywhere.
Terrorism, kidnappings, racism, epidemics, plane crashes and more bad, bad news.
It’s impossible to avoid unless you live in a cave, and you would be stupid to ignore it. It’s almost enough to make even the seasoned traveler think twice before hopping on a plane to somewhere…
But living doesn’t stop.
And as someone who has battled the travel bug since first stepping foot outside of Australia, neither does the yearning for adventure, new cultures, meeting new people, and exploring new sites. No, I will always travel. It’s just, in my older age, I’m a lot more sensible. There’s no more hitchhiking, drunken ramblings through deserted streets alone, or believing that everyone just wants to be ‘friends’. No, my naivety was successfully quashed after a very scary experience in China, which could have been a scene from the start of the Hostel movie…(could have been…my imagination ran wild at the time…), amongst others.
Whether we like it or not, it’s time to travel smarter, which will set us up well to have an awesome trip where we still feel free as a bird.
So, how do we travel smarter?
I’ve ALWAYS travelled insured. I don’t leave the country without it. I also read all of the fine print to ensure that, if it comes to it, my body will be flown home if something unforeseen occurs, amongst other things.
In saying that, I do buy budget travel insurance – I haven’t paid over $80 AUD for travel insurance, and, for the last few trips, have had ‘free’ travel insurance due to bonuses from my credit card (okay…I’ve probably already paid for the insurance 10 times over through bank fees).
Most insurance companies don’t cover things like disruption due to acts of terror or war. This is something we recently encountered on venturing to Thailand after the coup broke out in 2014. We still went after careful and continual assessment of the situation.
Get your injections
I’ve always traveled with my injections up to date, and with all other additional recommended injections for the country I was traveling to.
Prior to traveling to China in 2012, I had the flu shot, tetanus booster, and Hepatitis A, the later of which I’m now covered for life. I ain’t taking no precautions, and you just never know. You really don’t know what is in your food, your water, on your vegetables…and you can’t possibly avoid every mosquito. I know I have tasty blood. I’m also a redhead. We get eaten alive, even when soaked in insect repellant.
If you have a medical condition, travel prepared
As well as having travel insurance (and you would have needed to have declared any pre-existing medical condition), travel prepared – stock up on medication if you need to.
In regards to myself, well, I have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome – an incredibly sexy condition!), so I travel with all kinds of stuff for my stomach in case of an emergency. Of course, it didn’t prevent me from getting Giardia in Shanghai…that was just bad luck and the wrong menu choice.
With every website, social media platform, and media outlet professing to report the ‘facts’, it can be hard to wade through the noise and work out what is really happening around the world. So dig around, and dig deep.
Before flying to Thailand we were in contact with people in Bangkok who were reporting a totally different view of Thailand from the mass media in Australia…even other countries were reporting it differently. ‘The media’ has a habit of grabbing ‘newsworthy’ items, totally blowing them out of proportion, or proceeding to spread mass hysteria. It’s what is going on at the moment. Yes, there’s a lot of serious shit happening, but it’s like ‘the media’ is pouring a load of gasoline onto an already roaring fire.
So after careful consideration, we decided to go to Thailand, and we had a fantastic – and safe – time.
Have a plan and a backup plan
Okay, it’s a great feeling to throw caution to the wind and just go wherever the hell you want whenever you want…but its also good to have some kind of plan, even if it helps to allay the fears your family may have…
Let people close to you know where you are going and when. Give them copies of your itinerary, and let them know of any changes to the plan. Let them know where you are staying even.
I always flick my Mum a copy of my itinerary, hotel booking confirmation, flight booking details, and so on. She’s never needed them, but you never know. I also send her a text message on landing and before coming home. Fine, I don’t have to, but it’s a load off her mind, and I don’t want her stressing whilst I’m away.
Register with government agencies
If you are heading to somewhere where there could be trouble – like when we were heading to Thailand – register with the relevant government agency, travel advisory service, or check in with the Embassy when you arrive.
In Australia, we have smarttraveller http://www.smartraveller.gov.au. I sign up whenever I travel – it’s as easy as filling in a short electronic form. I notify them where I am going and when, so that they know where we are just in case. And that way I also receive emails and messages to my phone if there are any issues in the area we are travelling too.
Use your brain AND common sense
DON’T joke about bombs in an airport or on a plane. Don’t let someone else pack – or fiddle – with your bags. Don’t carry, or even do drugs overseas (especially in Asia. Shappelle Corby anyone?). Don’t follow someone somewhere because they seem ‘nice’…I could go on and on, but it can all be summed up as USE YOUR COMMON SENSE.
Just stay safe. Keep your wits about you, go with your gut, watch your belongings (especially in places like Pickpocket Pisa), and if you’re a girl – well, take it from me – avoid booze. I only drink alcohol overseas these days when I’m with people I know I can trust. And even that can’t guarantee you safety, as an old Sicilian man can always follow you into the toilet at a restaurant where you are eating dinner with friends to watch you pee through the hole in the door…there was a lucky escape.
In the end, it’s your decision (unless certain governments start blocking their citizens to travel to certain places). All I ask is that you give it some good thought, and consider the following questions:
Will the experience outweigh the risk?
And if you were to look back at yourself 40 years from now, what would you tell yourself to do? Would you regret not going?
And then, take it from there.
Want more travel tips?
Check out our 6 tips to help you prepare for travelling to Beijing.
Originally published here.