As it’s International Parents’ Day on the 1st June, we thought we should spare a thought for the people we leave behind when we disappear off on our travels – our family. And their specialist subject – travel safety!
So, we caught up with our very own Alexx Hayward for her top safety tips. About to leave STA Travel HQ (sob) for a solo project called Destination: Everywhere (in which she plans to travel solo for a whole year based off the cheapest flight that’s available each Tuesday), she’s no stranger to worrisome family members. Most notably, her nan back in New Zealand.
1. Don’t assume it’s a girl thing
Female solo travel is definitely a hot topic at the moment. And women certainly do have to be cautious when travelling. But everyone should take precautions when going away. Men, couples and groups of people can be just at risk, so while you should never let caution rule or ruin your trip, don’t think that these rules and safety measures don’t apply to you.
2. Do read government advice
Most governments have comprehensive country advice online, and you should always look up the advice for every country you are travelling to. As well as visa, health and terror advice, you’ll also find information on local laws and culture, which will include rules and tolerance on topics such as gender, drinking, dress, religion and LGBTQ+.
Do your research. Things that we take for granted as acceptable in our home countries, may be seen very differently abroad, especially in some Islamic and Buddhist countries. For example, covering up your shoulders, showing the bottom of your feet, showing certain tattoos, carrying certain prescription drugs, public displays of affection, and drinking in public.
For the UK: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
For Australia: www.smartraveller.gov.au
For the USA: www.travel.state.gov
3. Useful apps and accounts
Make sure that someone at home has your flight, tour and hotel details, and that you are checking in and posting regularly on Facebook or Instagram so that friends and family know where you are and what your plans are. There are apps available for an extra layer of security, like Life360’s GPS tracking system that shows your current location, and STA Travel customers can share their full itinerary with friends and family through the STA Travel Account. Also, prepare for what you might need if you are offline. For example, the maps on Maps.Me works even when you don’t have any internet.
4. Book the basics
I’m something of a lone-ranger when it comes to travelling, but I always plan and book the basics of my trip in advance, even if it’s just the first few nights of accommodation and my first bus or train journey. Not only will it save you money and ensure you’re not wandering around alone somewhere new knocking on hostel doors, only to find that there’s no room at the inn, but you’ll also probably need the name of where you’re staying to fill our visa applications and arrival landing cards anyway.
5. Pack the basics
By this I mean have quick access to those things that you might need on the road. Top things for me would be the name of the place you’re staying in the local language to give to a taxi driver, some small local currency for when you land and need to pay for a bus or taxi, spare passport photos for any visas that you may need at border crossings, emergency dollars in new notes to be able to pay for those visas, a padlock for your hostel locker or for your bag if you’re going on an overnight bus, and a spare power pack in case you find yourself without electricity for the night.
6. Trust your instincts and if you need to, spend your money!
I get it, we’re travellers, and travellers have budgets. However, trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy on the road, there’s probably a reason why. For example, if you’re thinking you should get a taxi home because it might not be safe, then don’t ignore that feeling to save a few bucks – get that taxi. Also, don’t let your ego get in the way of your safety. You may want to do things your own way, but group travel will always be an option on any part of your trip. You’ll have peace of mind, safety in numbers, and probably a better time (instant friends, drinking buddies, people to shoot your next Instagram story etc…).
And for walks, hikes and treks – however small – research them thoroughly. How long will it take? What is the weather going to be like? And what time will it get dark? I would advise always trekking with a guide for safety and security.
7. Baby, I got your number!
911, 111, 000, 999, 118 118… I was six months into living in London when I found out that the emergency services number was 999, not 111 like back home in New Zealand (which was actually the non-emergency medical line!). Make sure you know the local emergency number and keep an emergency contact and the mobile numbers of your nearest and dearest saved in your phone and your wallet in case anything happens.
8. Staying in touch
I always travel with a SIM card that lets me use data internationally, so I’m contactable in an emergency without relying on Wi-Fi. If you prefer to be off grid, great, but at least let your family and friends know a rough itinerary and a date when you’ll next be in touch.
9. Fake it ’til you make it
Try your hardest to avoid looking like a tourist. Sometimes you can’t help sticking out like a sore thumb, but don’t be a sore thumb with a bulky camera, a map and a very confused face. Look confident, keep your valuables hidden and stick to roads that are well lit.
It sounds obvious, but never walk around with your phone or wallet in your back pocket. And spend some time looking for the perfect day bag that works for what you’ll need to carry, without it looking like you’ve overthought it. Whether that’s a backpack with inside pockets, or a passport-sized cross body bag which can comfortably fit your phone, passport, money and be hidden underneath a jacket if you ever feel uncomfortable. And always keep it in sight and attached to you, especially when on journeys or sat in public. For example, if you’re sat at a table having a drink and it’s on the floor, loop it around your ankle.
10. Insurance, vaccinations and visas
The least sexy parts of travelling, but the most essential. You should never travel without insurance. It will cover you for lost luggage, travel delays and medical issues, and some policies even cover a companion flying over to join you if you’re injured abroad. Same with vaccinations. Yes, the initial outlay of jabs and antimalarials can be expensive, but some countries won’t even let you in without certain vaccinations such as Yellow Fever, and insurance companies may not pay out if you fall ill abroad for something that could be avoided. With visas, check what you need, and then check again. Don’t assume that you can get visas at border crossings or at airports. If you’re travelling across a border and you don’t have the correct visa, fees or photos, then trust me, you do not want to be left behind in a border town to try and figure it out.