We've all seen unfortunate holiday-gone-wrong stories about someone who went on holiday and had something bad happen to them, from getting stuck in the wilderness alone to being taken in by a scam. For instance, there's the recent one about Iceland residents getting fed up with tourists who come unprepared for the nation's rugged terrain, putting themselves and risk and creating serious hassles for the locals. Some of these incidents are plain bad luck, but often, they could have been easily avoidable with a little advanced planning.
Image from danramarch.
If you're travelling alone, you should be especially diligent in looking into what you have planned to make sure you don't end up having to have a rescue team come in, or getting taken advantage of in a place where you have no one to help you. But whether you're travelling solo or going with a partner or group, there are two main areas you should research before you set off:
Prepare for the Local Environment & Activities
Unless you'll be exclusively spending time on the beach sipping cocktails, you're going to plan activities for your trip, and depending on what you have in mind, this may involve some safety research. A few common activities that should be looked into ahead of time:
- Hiking: If you're planning to head into nature, be prepared for the conditions you'll encounter. Wear appropriate shoes and other clothing, bring water, and know how to get back to civilisation.
- Backpacking and camping: Don't go backpacking or camping for the first time in another country. You should have enough experience that you know what supplies to bring, how to properly store your food and other scented items (which may attract wildlife), and what to do in a medical emergency. You may also need make reservations or apply for permits well ahead of time.
- Guided tours: Read reviews on independent sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor to make sure your tour company is legit and won't overcharge you or waste your time. If you're working with an individual, ask them for references, or get recommendations from friends.
You should also be honest with yourself about whether you, or other members of your group, are physically up to the hike, walk, or other outdoor activity you have planned. Reviews, guidebook descriptions of activities or places, and local bloggers can all be good sources to find out these details.
Background on the Place(s) You're Visiting
You should also know a couple of things about the place, or places, on your itinerary.
- Are there any neighbourhoods you should avoid? When deciding where to stay, you'll want to research your accommodations, yes, but also the neighbourhood you'll be staying in, as well as any you're planning to visit. Forums such as TripAdvisor, Reddit (look for the subreddit of the city you're visiting) and Yelp can all give you insight into what it will be like to stay in that area, and Instagram can help you figure out where socio-political events may be taking place. If available, you can look at crime maps for the city to see what areas may be most dangerous. You should also follow this safety checklist once you arrive at your hotel or other accommodations. If you need to, mark down spots to avoid on a city map (or better yet, create a custom Google map for your entire trip) so you can still be spontaneous without wandering into a not so great area.
- What scams are common? No one likes getting scammed, so know what to look for and avoid, even if it's simply a high rate of pickpocketing. Some places have regional scams that you might not have heard of before. For example, someone offering to take your photo, then either asking for money for their services or stealing your phone/camera.
- How should you get around? If you plan to take public transportation, familiarise yourself with how it works so you can be confident when using it (and be less of a target).
- What resources do you have available if something goes wrong? Knowing where you can turn if something happens can save your trip from being ruined. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Smarttraveller app and website are helpful for warnings and alerts. Figuring out where your nearest embassy is key for an emergency as they can provide assistance with everything from finding medical care to replacing a stolen passport.
Safety isn't the most fun part of your trip to think about, but by doing some research ahead of your departure, things will go more smoothly and you'll have peace of mind during your travels — while avoiding becoming an imposition on the locals.