Safe Travels, My Friend | From man-made problems to natural disasters, travellers aren’t immune to headline-grabbing trouble. However, there are a couple of things you can do beforehand to help ensure all your travels are safe travels.
By Simon Vaughan
Fiji is a tropical country of more than 300 often sun-soaked, always palm-shaded islands in the South Pacific. Its shores are lapped by some of the clearest, bluest, most inviting waters in the world, and it offers some of the most deliriously tantalizing beaches anywhere.
There’s a laid-back vibe on even the main island of Viti Levu and it’s not hard to get into the swing of things, usually the swing of a hammock strung beneath two palm trees and swaying gently in the warm breeze.
Fiji is the personification of relaxation, unless you happen to be there during a coup as I almost was some years ago.
No sooner had I settled into my hotel room and was flinging my luggage into the closet ready for a quick change and a bolt to the beach, than the local news came on reporting heightening tensions between the military and the government.
I was there for a tourism convention which I knew the president was scheduled to attend the following day, although with the sabre-rattling on the news, I not only had my doubts that the president would arrive but I wondered if the conference would even go ahead.
Coups are fairly rare and even more scarce in most places frequented by masses of tourists, although they do happen from time to time and such perennially popular tourist destinations as Thailand and Egypt (as things stand now, the latter formerly popular!) have experienced them in recent years.
Political upheaval, on the other hand, is far more common and not just in countries that your mother wouldn’t want you to visit.
From violent street protests and country-wide general strikes to—in extreme situations—even the imposition of martial law, barely a week goes by without the news showing footage of tear-gas canisters arcing through the air somewhere.
When combined with natural disasters like hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis, the world can become a tricky place for many travellers to navigate.
So what can you do beforehand to ensure safe travels?
You could easily be lying on your sun-bed listening to your music, an umbrella-topped blue drink in one hand and your fingers lazily drawing circles in the white sand below, when a ripe coconut plummets from the palm tree that’s providing you with shade, splits your head open and knocks you unconscious. As the local ambulance attendants are carrying you away, one of them slips, you tumble from the stretcher and break your leg.
At the hospital you develop an infection and by the time you’re fit to leave you’ve got a $50,000 hospital bill. It sounds over the top, but I actually know people who have had similar experiences and they don’t laugh about them!
In all my travels, I have only made one insurance claim but had I not had insurance, the cost of that particular bill would have well exceeded all of the policies I have purchased over the years. Hopefully – like me – you’ll never have to make a claim, but it’s good to know that you can if you need to. And as expensive as medical bills are, the expenses incurred during a disaster can be just as daunting when you’ve lost your luggage and all your possessions, had to find new accommodation and missed your scheduled flight home.
Notify the Government
I know, I know: Big Brother already knows too much about you and your every day actions, but this one is a good idea that only takes a couple of minutes.
The Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada website has an online registration that couldn’t be easier. You simply fill in where and when you are going, and that’s it. Just like insurance, 99.9% of the time it will have been unnecessary, but it’s that 0.01% that will get you every time.
Just think how important it could be if you found yourself in the aftermath of a massive catastrophe.
Imagine being trapped without any documents or money, little infrastructure, no food or clean water and no telephone lines or internet connection to let anyone know where you are, and suddenly someone with a clipboard and a jaunty Maple Leaf t-shirt appears out of the devastation and assists you with the necessities of life and helps you begin your journey home.
You will likely never have been happier to see anyone in your life. And if you don’t know where you’re going or your travel plans change mid-travel, you can always access your account and change the details while travelling. Neither precaution can prevent you being caught in a disaster, but both can make your life significantly easier if ever you are.