Just like with Bug Out Bags or Get Home Bags context matters when it comes to Travel Safety. The precautions you take must make sense for the journey you’re planning. If you are planning on a mountain expedition in an arctic region the measures taken will be very different from the measures you should take if you’re planning on going to large city for the holidays. Some of the factors that will affect what measures you should take:
• Are you going to an Urban or Wilderness Setting?
• What Kind of Activities Do You Plan To Engage In?
• How Long Are You Planning on Staying?
• Are You Travelling Alone or in a Group?
• Are you familiar with the Region your Traveling to?
• Can you Speak and Read The Local Language?
Making Your Research
In order to be able to take the right precautions it’s important that you know as much as possible about place you’re travelling to. I suggest that you start with researching the country’s political system and modern history
• What type of political system does country have? One good source for information is the site Freedom House that ranks countries depending on the Political Right and Civil Liberties. Also check the your State Departments Current Travel Warnings.
• Make a basic research on the History and Cultural of the country you’re travelling to. Are there any cultural taboos that you should be aware of?
• Are there specific hazards in the region like crime, armed conflict or natural disasters? Are there any specific regions or parts of cities that should be avoided?
• If you’re travelling to another country what has the relation between your country and this country been? Have there been any recent cases of internal conflict or terrorist attacks within the country or armed conflict with neighboring countries?
• Another good idea can be to check the current domestic development by reading news reports from the country and check the state department’s recommendations for travel to this country.
• Is the water generally safe to drink or should you be drinking bottled water?
• What type of climate and weather can you expect?
Many popular places for travel have political systems that are corrupt or they can be dictatorships. This is often not something that is noticed by tourists; but if you for some reason get involved in an accident or get charged with a crime this can become a very serious problem. There can also be political protests against regimes like during the Arabian Spring or in Thailand. Other countries may also be very hard against journalists other how try to report on the abuse from regimes. If you’re travelling to such a country make sure that you are aware about if there are any specific locations where the opposition normally meets or if they carry some type of clothing or other markers to show their support for the opposition. Knowing the geography of the place you’re going to can also be critical; what type of terrain can you expect; are there any specific landmarks etc. Today tools like Google Maps can provide a free service for making this type of research.
The Basic Precautions
Before we get into the Travel Safety Kit there are some basic safety measures that should always be taken. Do you
[ ] Have the proper insurance if you would get hurt during your trip?
[ ] Have some extra cash or money if you would get stuck in the country for an extended period of time, unexpected expenses would arise or if you would have to book a new ticket back home?
[ ] Have a good understanding of the country you’re going to and the risks you’re facing?
[ ] Have you made a general physical check-up lately to make sure that you are in good health?
[ ] Have you checked you dental health and taken care of any problems?
[ ] Checked if there is any specific diseases that may require immunizations in the region? For travel to some countries having the right immunizations and an immunization card to prove it is mandatory; make your research.
One of the most common problems for people is that a trip can turn out to be more expensive than anticipated or unexpected expenses may. Airplanes can get delayed or stopped because of severe weather or even natural disasters like volcanoes. Other more common problems can be that the airline misplaces your luggage or that it gets stolen forcing you to get new basic supplies like clothing.
The health aspect is also critical; do what you can in order to minimize the risk that you will get injured or Ill during your trip and check up on your general health and dental health before you go. If you would get hurt it’s also critical that you have the right type of insurance that will cover your expenses. If you have any specific medical conditions like asthma or diabetes make sure that you bring some extra medication with you and that you bring your prescriptions for these. If the country does not share the language of your own get prescriptions translated to this language if possible to minimize complication in the customs. Also learn the name of your medical condition and medication in this language so that you can communicate with medical personal if you have to.
The clothing you pick must be suitable for the climate and weather you will be experiencing; dressing to warm or cold can become a serious problem. Also try to wear clothing that blends in and does not attract too much attention. Avoid designer clothing and expensive brands, jewelry and expensive watches that may attract attention and make you a target. Just like when you’re going on a hike; break in your shoes before you leave. It may be tempting to get a new pair of footwear just before you go but it can mean that you will spend your trip with blisters and feet that constantly hurts.
When planning your travel it can be a good idea to leave the details of your plan with a friend or family member so that they know how you’re planning to travel, what routes, where you’re planning to stay, when you’re planning to go and return etc. Leaving a copy of your passport, airline tickets, insurance information etc can also be a good idea.
The Travel Safety Kit
Fire Alarm / Burglar Alarm
Fire Safety is just as important when travelling abroad as in your home. There are a number of companies that makes portable Fire Alarms that you can take with you on your travels. There is also Fire Alarm that doubles as burglar alarms that can be attached to doors warning you if someone tries to enter your room, one model is made by the company Deltronic Security. A door stopper can be a good complement to a burglar alarm since it makes it harder to enter a room and gives you more time to respond to situation if someone tries to enter your room. When entering new accommodations check out what alternative routes you can use during an evacuation.
First Aid Kit and Medicines
A small medical kit that includes some plasters and disinfection wet wipes should be a part of any travel safety kit. How comprehensive your kit depends on what type of location you will be traveling to and how available medical assistance will be. A few pain killers and anti-diarrheal tablets is another good complement.
In regions where medical facilities may lack sterile equipment it can be a good idea to bring a basic sterile kit so that medical personal can use sterile equipment. This can be very important in order to prevent that you get diseases like AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis.
Prescription Tablets and Medication
If you need some type of prescription medication remember to include your prescriptions and if possible make sure to get the prescription in the same language that is used in country your travelling to in order to minimize problems in customs. Always bring a supply for at least a few more days than you planning to stay. This is the basics that I would recommend everyone to bring with them; but if you are going on a longer trip or engage in high risk activities like extreme sports your medical kit should be adjusted accordingly.
Protection from the Sun
If the climate is warm and sunny don’t forget to bring Sun Screen along with you. This can also be a serious problem in the arctic where the white snow reflects the rays of the sun during the spring. Remember to apply the Sun Screen before you go outside; when you start feeling pain from you burns it’s generally too late. Go for a Sun Screen that’s has the Highest Protection you can find. Protecting your eyes is also critical; especially in arctic conditions when you can get “snow blindness” if you don’t protect your eyes.
A compact flashlight or headlamp is a natural part of Travel Safety Kit (TSK) and especially useful in regions where black outs is a common problem. I suggest that you get compact model that use either one AA or AAA battery since this types of batteries generally are widely available. Examples of models can be the Fenix LD-10, Sunwayman M10A, 4Sevens Quark AA Tactical or ZebraLight H51. The Petzl E+Lite and Petzl Tikka XP2 are two compact headlights that can provide both white and red light.
A knife can be a tool for many uses; from everything to open a wine bottle, a can of food, to cut your nails or more serious work like cutting a seatbelt after a car crash. Before you decide on what type of knife you should bring with you on your travel make your research; what types of knives are legal to carry and where are they legal to carry in the area you’re traveling to. Remember not to carry your knife on your person or hand luggage if travelling by plane; this normally means that you will lose the knife and you may also get in legal trouble.
A pocket knife can be a valuable tool for all types of situations. In general I recommend either a Swiss Army Knife because of the versatility they provide or a Folding Knife. A Swiss Army Knife can provide with all types of tool like a bottle opener, can opener, scissor, wine opener and blade just to name a few of the features that is often included. Swiss Army Knives are also known by most people and does not attract much attention. As a general rule I do not recommend tactical knives, double edged knives, knives with a one hand opening or assisted opening no matter of the laws in the areas your visiting simply because this type of knives easily can scare others and attract unwanted attention. If you want to bring a knife of this type I suggest that you bring another knife with a more peaceful look that you can use if you ever have to use your knife in public.
No matter what type of knife you decide to get make sure that you get a high quality model; a cheap copy can fail when you need it the most. It’s important that you can rely on your blade if you would ever need it.
There are more models of knives on the market than I can name here. As I stated before in general I would recommend a Swiss Army Knife; Victorinox and Wenger both make high quality models. Find a model that has the tools that you personally need. For folding knives I would recommend that you start with looking if there are any famous models from the country or region you’re travelling to; if there is choosing such a model can help you blend in among the public. The folding Knives from Opinel are relatively cheap, comes with wooden handles and a blade look that both that can secure the blade both when it’s out and folded back into the handle. These knives are not ideal for bush craft but works well for everything from cutting bread, food and other light work during travel. If you want a more reliable folding knife with a higher quality steel Folding Knives like the Fällkniven U2, U4 or TK3 can be interesting alternatives.
I also suggest that you include some type of items that you can help you start a fire like a simple BIC lighter or a small Fire Steel. For BOB or GHB I would suggest that you normally double up so that you have at least two methods for starting a fire; but if you’re going to a Urban area one items is often more than enough and will most likely just be used to light someone’s cigarette or a candle.
If you don’t know the language normally spoken in the area you’re travelling to writing down some common phrases and words in a notebook in combination with a pocket dictionary can be helpful. A Kwikpoint Translator can be very valuable tool to bring with you since it can allow you to communicate without words.
Pen and Notebook
A compact notebook and a pen should also be a part of any travel security kit. Before you leave I suggest that you write down information like where you can find the nearest embassy, the address and phone number to important locations like the place where you will be staying, people you know in the region etc. The Notebook can also be used to write down phrases and other information. The Fisher Space Pen Bullet and Fisher Space Pen Trekker is two relatively compact high quality pens that can be worth considering for TSK.
Sewing Kit and Repair
A small sewing kit is something that can be very useful to repair clothing. A few needles, safety pins and some strong thread is normally everything you need. There are several very compact credit card sized kits on the market if you want to be a preassembled sewing kit. If you are going on a longer expedition and may have to repair packs, boots or tents made from heavy duty materials a Speedy Stitcher can be an excellent addition. Some paracord, duct tape and super flue can also be good for travel when you won’t be able to replace broken equipment.
Having a map of the area your travelling to can be a very valuable tool, when you don’t use the map try not to show its since it’s a quite strong indicator that you can find your way. A compact compass like the Suunto M-9 or Cammenga Wrist Watch can be good for keeping your direction.
A Travel Radio can be a good tool for keeping up to date; make your research in order to know if there are any local stations broadcasting news in your language.
Cell Phones work very well in most regions; there are however places where the cell phone net does not operate. There are also countries that can have different cell phone standard than you have in your own country; this can mean that your normal cell phone won’t work. The most common problem is that it can be very expensive calling using your own number, check with your operator for the prices before you go; if the prices are high and staying for a long period of time it can be better to buy a prepaid SIM-card. The prices for sending text messages are often relatively low. Note: The prices for using data traffic from Smartphone can sometimes be enormously high; there are cases when people have gotten bills for thousands of dollars: if you have a smart phone check the prices with you operator before leaving.
If you are travelling to remote areas where Cell Phones don’t work a SPOT can be a good tool in order to signal other if you require assistance. The new generation of SPOT:s can also send messages with your progress so that your friends and relatives can see how your travel or adventures progress. Satellite phones are relatively expensive but if you have the money they can be an invaluable tool in remote areas.
Money Belts and Hidden Pockets
One of the biggest risks you’re facing is losing your equipment either from simply forgetting your pack somewhere, getting pick pocketed or mugged. This happens to many people all over the world no matter what location there travelling to. I have personally traveled with people how have lost their bag containing everything from their passport; their wallet, id, driver license, credit cards, all their cash, cell phone, the keys to their home and the keys to their accommodation. This can happen to anyone.
Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. Separate your gear so that you have some spare cash, ID and a credit card in a separate location like an ankle pouch or money belt. If you’re travelling through an area where robbery is common it can be good idea to carry an extra wallet containing an old ID card and a little cash can be a good idea.
No matter how careful you are its very hard to protect yourself from pick pockets. Tourist are especially vulnerable since they often don’t know the terrain, where the risks are greatest and they often stand out from general crowd and may be distracted trying to find their way to other locations.
Pick Pockets are often very skilled at what they do and they can often deploy techniques like camouflage and distractions; working either alone or in teams. In short; no matter how careful you are, you always have the disadvantage. The only thing you can do is to reduce the chance you will become a target.
• Keep your wallets and other possessions in safest location you can; the back pockets on your pants is one of worst places you can carry your wallet.
• Avoid handbags where the content can be easily accessed from the top. Backpacks can also be vulnerable since people can access them from a position where you can’t see them. Safety Pins can be used to secure zippers and make it harder to open zippers in bags and clothing.
• Be especially aware when you’re travelling with public transport like buses, subways, trains, elevators and escalators since these environments often are packed with people making it hard to notice everyone around you.
• Avoid displaying expensive jewelry, watches, hand bags and expensive clothing since this signals that you might have expensive possessions worth stealing.
• Avoid travelling alone, especially during the night or in unsafe areas.
• Keep attention. Don’t walk around with headphones so that you can’t hear what’s going on around you. In some culture physical contact is much more common when talking to others; this can be used to mask the attempt of picking your pocket and stealing your equipment.
• Avoid drinking too much alcohol or use other drugs; this makes you an especially easy victim.
Travelling is an activity that can be related to risk. Leaving your normal setting may mean that you will have to adapt a different culture, climate, terrain and situation that you are normally use to. Even if this article has focused largely on potential threats when travelling I still would like to emphasize that all activities life is related to risk. For many people travelling can be some of the best experience they will have their life meeting new people and making friends for life. But travel can also become a very unpleasant experience if you’re not careful. Learn to plan and do what you can to manage the risk you take