Travelling OS? Safety first, people!
Airfare booked. Tick. Itinerary sorted. Tick. Global security issues noted. Ahhh … Regardless of whether you’ve prepared an Excel spreadsheet detailing your daily itinerary or plan on circumnavigating the world purely by the seat of your (quick-drying) pants, you should at least get a bit of a rundown on the countries you intend to visit before you leave. Stuff like local laws, security situations and possible health issues (at the very least) are probs worth checking.
Before You Go
Smartraveller is a handy little site full of great travel advice (subscribe for free email notifications and get regular updates on your destination of choice) and are worth following on Twitter and FB as well (and of course there’s a free app too). You can also register your trip details online so that DFAT is able to contact you or your family in the event of an emergency.
In terms of boring stuff like travel documents, you’ll obviously need to keep your passport in a safe place whilst gallivanting the globe, however what happens if there’s a worse case scenario and it’s stolen or ‘goes missing’? Carry an extra passport photo or two with you in case you need to fast-track a replacement and make sure you report its loss to your nearest Australian embassy, high commission or consulate (or on the Australian Passport Office website if it’s easier) as soon as you can.
Some countries have specific visa requirements that they’re pretty strict about and visa scams are also common, so again, check Smartraveller for advice. Take a couple of copies of all the important stuff – passport, travel insurance policy, visas, itinerary, tickets, driver’s license and credit cards. Carry one separate from the originals and leave one at home with a relative or friend.
In terms of health-type stuff, (again) Smartraveller-it for updates on any country-specific issues, including any vaccinations you’ll need, and do it at least six weeks before you go (as some jabs may take a while to kick in).
You’ll also need to bear in mind that in some countries food-borne, parasitic, water-borne and other infectious diseases (including TB, cholera, typhoid and rabies) are common, as are illnesses caused by poor food preparation and handling (hello, Bali Belly). Be aware also of the risk of HIV, hepatitis and other nasties, by avoiding piercings, cosmetic surgery, acupuncture, tattooing, drug use and unsafe ‘amourous’ practises.
And if you need to take any medication overseas, check that it’s legal, take enough for at least the planned length of your trip and leave it in its (clearly labelled) original packaging, otherwise you could be bailed up in Customs.
“Travel insurance? Nah” … is the catch-cry of many a young traveller, but the reality is, if you’re injured overseas, the Australian Government won’t pay for your medical and associated costs or medical evacuation back to Australia if need be. Nor will your private health insurer. But it’s worth it, if not purely for the fact that overseas medical care can be ridiculously expensive, so it’s definitely worth sussing out.
And lastly, make sure what you pack is AOK, secure it well (especially stuff like your passport and credit cards), don’t leave your luggage unattended and never, ever carry anything into or out of another country for somebody else.
While You’re Travelling
Basically, while you’re travelling, you just need to keep your smarts about you and whad’ya know, the Smartraveller website offers up-to-date details of country-specific risks that might affect your safety and security, including fairly critical, trip-destroying things like volcanic ash clouds and earthquakes.
Unfortunately, crime occurs in most countries and the majority is opportunistic stuff like pickpocketing and bag snatching (keep your cash close people), however some countries have higher crime rates that include stuff like muggings, kidnapping and sexual assault. But there’s no need to get all panicky about it, it’s just a matter of being mindful of your valuables and being aware of your surroundings.
Curb the bling factor, but don’t dress like a complete tourist either (loud shirts and that new flashy camera around your neck scream ‘rob me’), be a little discreet when reading maps (it’s a very uncool look anyway) and be aware of the people around you (particularly creepy, stalker types). Consider where you stash your cash (and remember, money belts are so 80’s), keep your currency and your card/s in separate spots in case you (gasp!) lose one and be careful when using ATM’s (hello, inter-continental skimming).
If you’re a lazy-arse and happy to splurge on some cab action, go for a trusted local mob, don’t share rides with dodgy strangers and watch the airport piranhas – they’re charmingly deceptive cash-bleeders. And if you’re brave enough to negotiate the local streets via car, you may need an International Driving Permit (as well a valid Aussie license) and should probably familiarise yourself with a few of the country’s road rules before you get behind the wheel. Alternatively, if you’re up for a spot of scootering (and let’s face it, it’s mega-fun with fewer road rules), do it safely and soberly.
And of course mega-serious issues like terrorism and civil unrest are also an unfortunate reality of these turbulent times, however you can decrease the risk factors. Avoid demonstrations (even the ‘peaceful’ ones), be wary of over-sharing your travel plans and avoid the skankier areas of town, especially at night.
Obey some rules
When it comes to the law, pleading ignorance just doesn’t cut it unfortunately. Local laws and penalties will apply to you (in some cases they’re way harsher than here in Australia) and if you’re arrested or thrown in the lock up, the Australian Government can’t get you out of trouble.
Make sure you’re mindful of local customs – be sensitive to the local dress standards, respectful when visiting local sites and ask permission before taking photos. And keep an eye out for scammers – not surprisingly, they’re universal and a few of the more well known ones include the Pickpocketing/Diversion Scammer, the Please Carry My Bag ‘Cause It’s Full of Drugs Scammer and the Enjoy an Authentic Massage/Tea Ceremony and I’ll Charge the Hell Out of You Scammer. All are to be avoided, naturally.
And of course it’s OK to party, but keep a check on it. Avoid drug taking, watch out for drink spiking and know your limits when it comes to alcohol. There’s nothing worse than attempting the walk of shame when you can’t walk. You should also be wary of unsafe venues, avoid carrying valuables and large amounts of cash when you’re out and most importantly, stick with your peeps.
If you need help
Depending on the nature of your emergency, your should contact local police, family, friends, your tour operator, airline, travel agent, bank, employer and/or your travel insurance provider first. Most travel insurance companies also have 24-hour call centres that you can contact from anywhere in the world.
If you’ve exhausted these options and are still facing serious difficulties, the Aussie Government might be able to help. DFAT’s Consular Emergency Centre provides 24-hour assistance to Australians in distress overseas and can be contacted on 1300 555 135 from within Australia or on +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas.
Keep safe adventuring nomads!
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