Monday, January 28, 2013

Travel Blog: Travel Safety

Safety & Common Sense Travel Tips & Tricks

When traveling Internationally, safety requires a bit of extra caution.  Many of my tips can be adapted to domestic travel as well, but when traveling to countries, whether on a cruise ship or directly, you should always be aware of possible pitfalls. 

1.      Don’t allow strangers to take your camera to take pictures of you.  Remember that scene in National Lampoon’s European vacation where the tourist helpfully suggests Clark and his family remove their shoes and get into the fountain, and then promptly runs away with their camera?  Although farfetched, camera theft from the sweet suggestion of a local “let me take a picture of your whole family” can lead to theft.  In addition, it can also lead to being forced to pay a “tip” for the service before they’ll give your camera back.  Keep your camera on a strap across your body; in fact, any purses/packs should be strapped on your body at all time, and many travel stores sell cut-proof straps.

2.     Another camera tip:  in some countries, if you pose for a picture with a local, they will demand a tip afterwards.  Also, in some countries, some natives (especially Muslim women) are incredibly uncomfortable with being in  pictures, so always ask permission first!

3.     Use local currency, not American dollars.  Even if the country you are visiting accepts American Dollars, try to use local currency, because too much American money dilutes the local currency which is bad for their economy.  Locals tend to want American Dollars more, but you don’t want to flash a wad of American money.  Use local currency and you’ll get more respect, and perhaps better prices while bargaining!

4.     Don’t make eye contact with locals unless you are with a guide and they introduce you.  Eye contact in some countries is considered an invitation.  This is especially true for women; some men in foreign cultures consider that flirting.

5.     Be aware of dress code.  While some countries only have rules for dressing for churches and mosques, you will also want to make note of their cultural dress.  For example, if a local people dress with barely any skin showing, bare knees and shoulders will offend them, and they’ll also think of you as ignorant and stupid, therefore ripe for the picking (whether it is crime or just charging you more).  Being respectful goes a long way.  They don’t expect you to adhere to their rigid standards, but courtesy for their culture is expected.

6.     In local markets, airports, and just walking around, be very aware that pick pockets are alive and well in many cities and delight in dumb tourists.  Don’t keep your wallets in your pockets; rather, invest in an inexpensive waist wallet, or one that goes around your ankle.  Keep money in a couple of places on your body and always carry small bills wrapped around larger, so if you do have to take out the whole wad, anyone looking only sees the lower currency.

7.     Don’t expect locals to speak English unless that is their native language.  You are in their country, they are not in yours.  Don’t think “I’m going to a touristy place, surely they’ll speak English!”  I made that mistake in Corsica…and didn’t understand one word (my high school French just didn’t cut it).

8.     Be aware of tipping traditions in the country.  In some places, such as Australia, tipping is not the norm.  In others, like Egypt, tipping for everything from toilet paper in public restrooms to a peak at a semi restricted hieroglyph is compulsory and required.  If you are offended, they’ll just try to get more out of you.

9.     Don’t walk around with your nose in a map or guide book.  It is like waiving a red flag with a “dumb tourist” lettering on it.  Know where you are going, and if you are going to look in a guide book, sit down in a busy area and do it discreetly.

10.  Always be aware of the water situation.  In many countries, even if their water is safe, it isn’t safe for you because you won’t be used to the fluoride content.  Always also be sure when buying bottled water that the seal is unbroken.  Water can also be a factor when eating local foods, since it is prepared with that same water.

11.  If you are carrying your passport, always put it in something strapped to your body.  Keep a photo copy of your passport in a separate and accessible place.

12.  Learn to bargain.  Many countries have a culture that is immersed in bargaining…it is a requirement, or you will get ripped off.  Personally I don’t enjoy bargaining, but when in a country that marks up items over 200% to start with, I learned to do it, and you should too.

13.  Get a guide book or a good travel agent and know these things before you go.  Do not perpetuate the view of Americans that we are spoiled and unconcerned…give a country respect and they should give it back.  Take France, for example.  Most Americans believe French people dislike us.  However, I found that in the French Riviera (Nice, Monaco/Monte Carlo, Eze, Saint Paul, Cannes) when given proper awe and respect for their culture and history, the French can be amazingly polite!

14.  When in local market places, walking along touristy areas (such as Nassau, Bahamas, for example) you may be overwhelmed with locals trying to sell you things.  They try to sell products, hair braiding, horse and buggy rides, taxi rides, personal guides, and more.  If you are not interested, just be polite and say “no thank you.”  It is especially effective when said in local language…like “La Shakran” in Arabic speaking countries.  Many locals feed their families from tourist business, so be kind.  It may be annoying at times, but again, you are in their country.

15.  Just be polite in general.  I have seen so many situations where tourists are offended, mad, demanding or rude to locals, and it really disappoints me.  They should not be expected to act like us just because we deign to visit their country.   Sugar goes a lot farther than lemon!
My number one tip:  ALWAYS BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS!  While visiting exotic places and ports, you may just be lost in the moment and in awe of the place…or you may be partaking in local alcoholic beverages.  Whatever the reason for distraction, that is an open invitation for the unscrupulous, so please, just know where you are and be aware.