"We travel not to escape our life, but to stop life from escaping us"
Traveling Is amazing, but we have all heard horror stories either on the news, through the 'grapevine' or first hand accounts of when travel goes wrong. I'm not one to buy into some of the sensationalist news we are shown for the most part. However I do use some very easy techniques when I travel alone or with my family to help keep us safe and I thought I would share them. So here are my top ten tips for safe travel.
1. Research Your Destination
This is one of the quickest and easiest way to stay safe while traveling. Nothing beats a bit of prior research on the country or countries your are planning to visit. I regularly use both the Canadian and British government travel advisory websites for threat level updates on countries I am visiting. Also a quick search of travel forums/ message board can be invaluable for the latest news on your travel destination.
2. Leave Your Itinerary With Someone
Once you have planned out when and where you are going take a few minute to type up or jot down your travel plans and give it to someone your trust. Let them know that about your travels and when you should be back. If they something goes wrong or if they don't hear form you by a certain time give them a number to call (embassy, police, family member). It maybe you only life line in a situation gone wrong.
3. Copy All Your Documents
Visa's, passports, letters of permission, flight tickets, reservations anything that you think is important and would make life really hard of you lost make a copy and have it somewhere available. By available I mean in your email, cloud or Dropbox. If you lose anything or have the unfortunate luck of being robbed at least you have everything you need to make it home. Just remember to delete your online file copies once you get home as part of good online security.
4. Carry An Embassy Card
If you are on holiday/traveling a great asset in your time of real need is your countries embassy. However this is no good if you don't know where it is. When travelling I will look up the nearest embassy to where we will be and put the address on a business card that I keep with me. Sometime I will even make a simple map from my hotel to the embassy on the back of the business card. It may sound like a strange thing to do but you'll be glad you have it if you ever really need it.
5. Know When To Speak The Language (and when not to)
Traveling is a great opportunity for expanding you linguistic talents. I love being immersed in a culture and language and find its the best way to practice a learn. However its also good to realize that not ever situation is a time to practice your skills. For instance, if you travel in Russia and are asked something by the security forces if you answer in Russian they will then exclusively talk to you in Russia and no other language. Your can see the problem here if you aren't completely fluent. In most situation find local people will enjoy you trying to communicate in their national tongue but definitely be mindful of who and why your are communicating to and you can avoid any communiation breakdowns.
6. Practice Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is probably the tip that will keep you most safe during your travels. Being able to pick out key indicators, analyze them and use the information can make all the difference at home and away. Taking note of people, places and things will allow you to make better decision faster and hopefully with a more successful outcome. when it come to people be aware of body language, vocal volume, emotion, and grouping. All of these thing can give you a heads up on the development of a problem and allow you to exit before it becomes unsafe. Thinking about places simply means looking around and asking yourself questions. Are there any exits and where are they? if I have to leave where will I go? where is my nearest form of transportation? what around me could help or impede me from making an exit? Asking these question regularly will not only keep you safer but give you more confidence to act if something does go wrong. Now Things, this can be a tricky one and can range from animals to vehicle to landmines (in the extreme). Be aware of things that can place you in immediate danger, it may sound stupid but if you are on safari maybe don't take that night stroll alone in the dark. Paying attention to your common sense and reading warning sign is a great way of avoiding a needlessly risky situation.
7. Know When To Bug Out And How To Communicate It
The problem with uncomfortable situations while traveling (or anywhere) is that no one person is going to have the same comfort level. What I might be complete fine about my wife could be completely stressed over and vise versa. Having a word or phrase that indicate to your travel companions that you think its time to go and listening and acting when you hear that word or phrase is a great tool. They may have noticed something you haven't and by being able to call you attention with alerting anyone else you can stay safe and keep your travels rolling with minimum bumps. When it comes to choosing a what to use a word or phrase we tend to mix it up. Something that rolls off the tongue naturally in person, email or on the phone but would be unlikely to be used in everyday communications. Example of phrases could be: asking where something is (is the passport in the blue folder?), expressing interest in something (do you fancy ... for dinner tonight). Alternatively it can just be a word used in a sentence whatever it is agree on it before and don't misuse it.
8. Separate valuables
If you a out and about try to split up your valuable (money, passports etc) buy keeping them separate if you do come up to the unfortunate situation of being robbed you may get away with minimal loses and hold ups in your travel. A good example of this is a friend of mine who, when sleeping in vehicle during is travel puts his passport in his underwear. This may sound crazy but the one time his bus was stopped in Thailand and robbed he only lost the small amount of money he was carrying in his pocket., not so crazy now.
9. Stay Healthy
Part of staying safe while traveling is staying healthy or in other words avoiding illness. Researching and getting vaccinations, using water filtering aids and carrying a first aid kit stocked with basic first aid supplies and medicine and all help you from falling ill or help you recover if you do. Think about specialty item as well that you may wan to bring. Are you in a remote area hiking with no access to medical facilities? maybe think about a surgical staple gun (its a lot easier to pull a trigger than sew yourself together). Are you somewhere very hot? stock up on hydration salts. In a place that has unclean water? Using a water bottle that filters out the bad stuff may be a good purchase.
10. Above All Trust Your Gut
This is the most under rated from of safety precaution. If you have a bad feeling about something, if something just isn't right then don't do it and express you concern to the people your are traveling with. It may be nothing but why take the risk. If you are getting a gut feeling about something it going to make you more stressed and uneasy which in turn and cause situations to turn bad in itself. If you realize later your gut feeling was just that extra dumpling you had at breakfast you can always try again and you will probably enjoy it more without the overhanging black clouds.
If you are expecting a hotel resort with all the modern comforts and I want to say upfront Seljavallalaug is probably not for you. However if you are up for an adventure and feel like getting an authentic old style Icelandic experience thermal pool then this is definitely somewhere you should carve out time to visit.
Take this road all the way to the end, park and then look into the distance and your will see a 'V' where the valley is. Walk towards that 'V' for about 20-25 minutes and you will find it. These were the direction given to us and we were also told ' don't turn back before 2 minutes, you might think you are lost but keep going'. So this is what we did, driving up a bumpy road to the end we parked our car and got out to look around. As described we could see the 'V' in the valley out in the distance so packed our bag and set out on our hike into nowhere.
Surrounded by amazing views, a river meandering along beside us the hike alone is worth the trip. We walk easily and Lucy takes a shoulder ride we check our watch to see how long we have been hiking for every so often. Just when we are starting to think we had taken a wrong turn or had driven up the wrong road, around a small corner to the left sat a pool. At the far end a white building with a landmark sign written in Icelandic and various pipes protruding from the rock cliff the pool is built against feeding warm water in.
The 'changing room' is a little like a stable and the water is completely unfiltered or treat which does mean it has a greeny tinge, but for us this only added to it. We dive into the changing rooms and put on our swim gear then into the hot pool for some swimming, playing and relaxing. A few more people arrive to swim but other than that we have the entire hot spring to ourselves. We spend the next few hours enjoying the pool and the amazing scenery until we are forced to hike back due to the fading light.
Now, I could tell you how to get to Seljavallaug. Drop a pin in a map or give a step by step guide but where would the fun in that be. You have the name and a rough idea. Half the fun of going somewhere like this is finding your own way. If you do then you can expect to enjoy your own little slice of an authentic Icelandic experience and man does it make for a good travel tale.