Global connectivity is on the rise. It’s only natural to want to explore the exciting and diverse corners of our world through traveling. We may be able to glimpse at foreign streets through videos and photos, but there’s nothing like breathing the air and hearing the sounds in person. The sooner you can get out into the world before “adulting” — landing that big fancy job, settling in with a significant other, and having kids or adopting fur babies — the better.
But simply booking an international adventure and expecting everything to unfold perfectly for you is foolhardy at best and dangerous at worst. It takes planning, research and more than a little caution to undergo such a journey. Knowing what natural disasters could occur — such as the devastating earthquakes that have rattled Italy over the past few months — or issues regarding politics or social justice that could pop up can help you be prepared for the worst and enjoy your journey.
Here are four things to be on guard for during your next trip and how to deal with them.
1. Getting Sick When Abroad Is the Worst
Certain foreign illnesses and diseases may be completely new to your body, and you it may be unable to handle infections the same way locals can. The worst part about feeling sick when you are traveling can really be homesickness — not being able to curl up in your own bed with your chicken noodle soup!
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When I got ill during my travels, I felt worse knowing all of my comfort foods weren’t an option for my sensitive stomach. All I could eat was white rice, and the smell of curry and spice that hung in the air made me feel even sicker. Luckily, I thought ahead and made sure to bring extra medicine. What could’ve sent me home a month early was cured within a few days.
Besides feeling like your vacation abroad is wasted sick in bed, the hassle of finding proper care without a plan already in place can make your trip feel like a disaster. So make sure to take these steps before you leave home:
- Schedule an appointment with your doctor to find out what immunizations you should take and what you should avoid, such as drinking water from the tap or touching animals.
- Ask your doctor for additional antibiotics — Z Packs are usually a good backup — and if there are any legal restrictions for your current medications. Make sure everything is kept in its original container and officially labeled.
- Find out which — if any — doctors or hospitals will be in your area and what protocols you should follow for any emergency visits you may have.
2. Natural Disasters May Surprise You
If you are from an area that has a low risk for natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanos or tsunamis, you may be in for a big surprise if visiting a country that experiences them regularly. Certain countries may not bat an eye when it comes to floods or sandstorms, but that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous.
Unfortunately, the worst devastation hits when it’s least expected. When Italy was hit by the 6.2 magnitude earthquake in August, it was something the country was barely prepared for and almost 300 people died. The country has experienced subsequent quakes since then, luckily with far fewer casualties. However, that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Take measures to ensure your safety should disaster suddenly strike, such as:
- Research the area’s natural disaster history and how residents have learned to deal with it when disaster strikes.
- Pack a small stash of emergency supplies, including batteries and a small first aid kit. You should have this on hand anyway, even for instances outside of natural disasters.
- Keep in contact with friends and family back home if a disaster does strike, even if it’s not in the same part of the country you’re in. When the earthquake in eastern India hit last year, our family panicked until we reassured them we were still in the western part of the country.
- Know your surroundings and always have an escape plan. This may seem paranoid, but you’re better safe than sorry.
3. Your ‘Affluence’ May Make You a Target
Pickpocketing is always a threat for any tourist, but there are other threats and scams for which you may be targeted even if you aren’t rich back home. The American dollar goes far in some countries, and tourists who don’t know any better may feel they’re still getting a deal for something when in reality they’re being ripped off.
Scammers know language barriers and unknown local customs can be used against naïve tourists. In a few short minutes, these sly scammers can steal your credit card information or convince you to purchase a cheap knock-off “designer” item. So what can you do to avoid this? Try these tips:
- Be skeptical. Always. This doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly, but being overly-friendly can dig you deeper into a hole if you get emotionally attached.
- Pick and choose your battles. If you got charged an “American tax” for your rickshaw ride that you know should only have cost 10 rupees but they’re charging 50, be firm and demand the correct rate. If they’re angry and you’re late for a meeting, realize you’re fighting over a few cents. Then find a different mode of transportation next time.
- Don’t let your heart control your wallet. It’s very sad, but some beggars are professional liars. Children get caught in the vicious cycle too, and you may want to try to help. However, oftentimes injuries are faked and children are slaves to sleazy leaders who profit from your good intentions.
4. Foreign Countries’ Social Codes May Not Align With Your Own
Things we may find to be basic human rights — equal treatment for all genders, races, religions, etc. — are not always held in the same belief by others. This can be very frustrating, especially if you’re a woman traveling in a male-dominated society.
Being a very forward and independent young white woman from Europe, I represented a novelty for some men during my travels. In some ways, it worked out. In others, I was the victim of both verbal and physical abuse. Other young women do know what it’s like to be groped and cat-called here in the States. But outside, there’s more of a danger of not being taken seriously when reporting such behavior.
To many, we embody promiscuity and decadence. It’s not right, but it just is that way. While you may want to change the minds of everyone around you to a more “modern approach,” you must realize the futility of that mission. Minds change over time, and one foreigner is unlikely to be able to do much for a whole country of people. In the meantime, consider these tips to ensure your safety and peace of mind during your travels:
- Dress as the locals dress. Your shorts and tank top may be totally appropriate back home but may be what the “ladies of the night” wear there. Besides, local apparel may be specially designed for their climate and could be more comfortable than you thought.
- Respect their religious customs. You don’t have to believe in their god or gods, but covering your head or removing your shoes in holy places is a sign of respect for the culture.
- Read up on local customs or befriend a local who can help you understand why things are the way they are. You may come to appreciate a different point of view you had previously thought was completely wrong simply because it was different to what you knew.
- Also ask the locals which places you should avoid, and which places are safe for you. If you feel unsafe, trust your intuition and get out.
Before You Go
Keep an eye out for other travelers. The world is a big, scary, wonderful, exciting and special place. There are so many great things to explore, but also so many things we don’t know about.
Before you decide to travel or if you know someone who is about to go out on their own, have a discussion about the precautions taken before the big trip. Open the discussion to those who didn’t even know they needed to talk about this. You can start by sharing these points with your friends on Facebook or Twitter or in a discussion with your friends and family, who will want to be on the same page as you before you go on your journey.
To many, taking that first big trip away from home is kind of like jumping from a plane. People do it all the time, and it’s terrifying. But it’s probably a good idea to make sure your parachute is strapped on before diving through the open door. Once you’re ready, though, you can take that giant leap, pull the cord, and enjoy the breathtaking view around you.