I have been traveling the world for over 30 years and had many interesting experiences with no major problems. I’ve visited most parts of the world both on business and pleasure. I was traveling in Europe, Asia and South America long before we had all of the neat tools available today. I’ve met many interesting people and made many good friends.
I have had some harrowing experiences. In Mexico, after the devaluation of the Peso in 1994, banks responded to a rash of robberies by arming young men with AK47’s with no training. Of course this resulted in some accidental shootings of civilians. This was before the introduction of ATMs. So can you imagine how much fun we had going to the banks to exchange our Dollars into Pesos?
I also travelled into Guatemala just after the end of the civil war in 1997. The tour operator said it was safe so I took a tour from the coast to Tikal. I should have known better when I realized that the airport, roads and facilities were guarded by young soldiers with M16’s. I heard later that a bus was robbed on the same road we traveled.
During my travels I developed some habits that I continue today, even if I am on an escorted tour.
On an escorted tour you ask? Yes, tour operators are people too with family and friends. They will do their best to assist you in an emergency, but if things get real bad, you may be left on you own. Also, the emergency may occur when you are alone. I was in Egypt before the revolution and heard later from friends there how many people were stranded.
The following is focused on US travelers. You can apply to this to your country if you are not from the US.
Before You Go
I have an unlocked Smart Phone. It is legal to have an unlocked phone. US vendors are supposed to supply unlocked phones. If your vendor does not provide an unlocked phone, there are reputable web sites that will help unlock most phones for a fee.
I also have a SIM card from an International vendor. This gives me an International Phone number with Voicemail that works all over the world. This is mainly for the family and friends at home. They always want to know how to contact me so I give them the phone number. It also greatly reduces my phone expense. If you get the SIM card ahead of time, test the SIM card in your phone before you go. You can get SIM cards in shops in most airports around the world if you don’t want to acquire one ahead of your trip.
Don’t forget the charger for your phone. Your phone is not going to help you in an emergency if it is not fully charged. Be sure that charger can handle 110 and 220 voltage. Also take wall plugs if you are staying in hostels, home or apartments. They may not have standard US or European wall sockets. Be sure to always carry the charger and plugs on you.
I visit the Washington DC Embassy website for each country I plan to visit. I read the information on tourism. I record each website address as well as create a Bookmark/Favorite, etc. in the phone.
Next I check the US State Department website and the UK Home Office website to see the official travel positions and any warnings. I also create Bookmark/Favorite these sites.
In the US State Department section for each country I plan to visit, I record the Embassy Hours of Operation, Embassy Phone Number, Embassy After hours Phone Number, Embassy Emergency 24 hour number, and Embassy and Consulate Addresses. I also get the address in local spelling. Most local addresses are not in English.
I call each Embassy just before departure and talk to an officer to see what is happening and get any advice they have. Beware that they aren’t always on top of everything.
I prepare an emergency plan for each location in my mind. This can range from getting to a safe place or hotel to getting to the Embassy or Consulate or airport. I also think about how much this will cost in local currency which I usually acquire from an ATM when I arrive in country.
I prepare an itinerary that I print out as well as carry on the phone. It has all of the information I’ve collected along with details on flights, hotels, and local addresses and phone numbers. I print this out and place it in an outside pocket of each piece of luggage. I also carry a copy on me as does my wife. This is just in case the phone fails. The itinerary includes our names and the International Phone number. There is no information on our home address.
We also carry copies of our Passports and Visas in addition to the Itinerary. I do not leave copies of the Passports and Visa in any luggage. I also load an encrypted electronic copy of our Passports, Visa and Itineraries in a secure place on the web. This can be a Folder in your online email. Be sure it does not automatically download to your phone or tablet and DO NOT post on anything with Social Media access. This allows us to print the information off if we lose the phones and paper copies.
Once You Arrive
Orient yourself with up to date maps. It is good to know where you are at, besides it is fun. This is easy with today’s Smart Phones. Today’s maps are great as they display points of interest and other valuable tidbits of information. I also pick up a tourist map when I arrive, just in case the phone fails. You can usually find these in airports or hotel lobbies at no cost.
I am a heads-up traveler. I am always looking around. I take in the sites and the people. People who want to talk and are friendly are not a concern. People who avoid you and appear nervous are a concern and warrant careful observation. I’ll relocate myself when I come upon individuals like this. I also avoid demonstrations and large, unruly groups of people. I travel with one or more people. Groups discourage others most times.
Unfortunately, you see guns in many places where you travel today. It usually is not a problem, but I do have some practical guidelines.
Observe the people with the weapons. Are they nervous? Are they holding the hand grip tightly? Are they scanning everyone closely? If so, I usually go somewhere else.
I also look for plain clothes security. They are usually easy to spot as they will be the people in suits when everyone else isn’t. I look for their weapons. Handguns appear as flat spots around the belt or chest areas. Automatic weapons are usually strapped somewhere across the back or under the arm. Again, if they look nervous, I relocate.
I monitor media in the evenings. I read the BBC and Al Jareeza websites. They usually have excellent information on local happenings around the world. They also have good local weather forecasts.
If an emergency occurs, you may need to use your phone where there are no power outlets. If this occurs, be sure to turn off the phone when not in use. This helps extend the battery life.
Now I have fun as I travel the world.