5 Tips for Safe International Travel (and the Horror Stories to Convince You)

5 Tips for Safe International Travel (and the Horror Stories to Convince You)

Returning home with all my limbs intact is pretty high on my to-do list. I'd imagine it's probably pretty high on yours, too.

That being said, traveling can be complicated and full of minute details. Sometimes, when we’re busy sorting out the big stuff, like how many islands we can visit in two weeks, we tend to miss the little things.

You do know what they say about the little things, right? That actually, they’re really pretty big things. Well, here are five travel horror stories, and the lessons learned, to convince you.

Research Your Health Risks

The story: Traveling in Indonesia, I spent one night being eaten alive by mosquitoes. One sucker feasting on my blood buffet happened to be a dengue fever carrier. Three days later despite running a sky-high fever, and feeling like I’d head butted a train, I had no idea what was happening to me. So while horizontally hoping for a quick death, I was also trying to get our home-stay wifi to work so I could figure out what dengue fever was and how to treat it.

The lesson: Being sick overseas is scary. Being sick with an unknown illness is even worse. So please, do yourself a favor and know the risks in the areas you’re traveling to. You don’t have to be expecting to contract something, but, you should aim for preparedness with that wide array of arm-numbing vaccinations, and some research on common and communicable diseases. I’d also suggest carrying whatever over-the-counter medication you can for local annoyances. (Note: in the tropics that annoyance is always worms)

Obviously, I survived, and two weeks later I was shakily back on my feet and out in the world again. I’m pretty sure it couldn’t have been worse, but I could have improved my situation just by knowing what I was in for.

Piglet Gets Vaccinated

Even Piglet is a smart little traveler! | Photo credit: Flickr

Copy Your Important Documents

The story: Three days from finishing a group student exchange in Indonesia, one of the students in my group dropped his clothes off at a laundry. Long story short, his passport was in his pocket, and when it got back from being primped, pressed, and apparently pulverized, it was more surrealist art than an internationally recognized document. The real problems arose when it was revealed he had neither photocopy nor photograph of his passport nor any kind of backup ID.

You know all those people who say that it’s not that important to make copies of your travel documents? I’m going to go out on a limb and bet they’ve never been an undocumented nobody in a foreign country.

The lesson: Make copies of your travel documents. Photocopies are great, but a photo on your phone is fine too. Snap a picture of your ID, cards and anything else important (including your visa after you arrive) and keep it somewhere secure.

And Mr. Nobody? By no small amount of bribery, corruption, and embassy magic, he got his new passport on the way to the airport three days later. Too close for me, that’s for sure.

Washed Passport

Screwed. | Photo credit: Flickr

Understand the Local Scams

The story: Wandering along a road in a cute Cambodian town one evening with my beau, a passing motorcycle interrupted our serenity. Speeding past us, his passenger grabbed my arm and tried to make a quick getaway with my wallet. For some reason this activated my Wonder Woman vice grip, and I escaped with both wallet and life, although not with arms of the same length.

The lesson: We live in an information age, and the internet is such a wealth of travelers sharing that information that you’d have to be crazy (or be me) not to at least glance over it when you’re researching. Obviously, not everything that happened to other people will happen to you, but it really can help to have a drop on people trying to con and cheat you.

Of course, as soon as we got home from our close call with the theft-mobile we looked on a local forum and found way too many people warning visitors to the area to look out for this type of theft. We certainly learned our lesson, but I could have been spared some trauma, physical and emotional if we’d read up beforehand.

Warning Sign in Cambodia

Warning Sign in Thailand | Photo credit: Flickr

Be Smart About Your Surroundings

The story: Everyone learns as they travel, and despite many beliefs to the contrary, I’d venture that nobody is born an expert vagabond. I’m a great example. I’ve spent years traveling, but on my first international trip, I went straight from the moneychanger to a bar.

Not smart, considering I had AUD$500 in my wallet, and all my cards, and of course my wallet was in my back pocket, inviting light fingered friends.

The lesson: Before we find out what happened, let’s look at the lesson, which here is two-fold. Obviously flashing around your wealth is a pretty good way to get your stuff stolen. But I think, more than that, not being aware of your surroundings is an easy way to fall victim to people that are. I’ve seen too many travelers walk around in a bubble, observing the world and forgetting that they’re in it too.

Of course, I never came home with my wallet, and I couldn’t even call it bad luck. The truth is, I was inviting it by not being smart about my situation, and about my surroundings.

Hostel No-No

A big hostel no-no.

Buy Travel Insurance

The story: A few years back a friend of mine was enjoying a Thai island when suspicious drugs somehow found their way into her drink. She didn’t react well, and it was two speed boats, a plane ride and about AUD$30,000 before she made it home safe.

The lesson: I have to be honest, I really don’t think travel health insurance is an optional cost when you’re traveling. I think it’s a must. Now there are so many companies and policies that even the most budget ones will still cover you for the most important medical expenses. Remember, the cost of medical care overseas isn’t just extravagant, it’s absolutely unbelievable. It is also a little hard to argue over a bill when you’re full of stitches that average out to about $100 bucks a pop.

And my friend? Well her story is actually one of the good ones. She didn’t have to cover her medical costs because she was insured and they paid for everything. Lucky her, but unfortunately just as many people are still paying off medical debts caused by a misjudged motorcycle trip, who are now wishing they had shelled out for insurance.

If you're looking for travel insurance for your trip, I always recommend World Nomads for full coverage.

What do you think? Do you have any tips for traveling safe internationally or the horror story to convince us? Tell us in the comments below!


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Oceana Setaysha

Oceana Setaysha

Head Gypsy at Barefoot Beach Blonde
Oceana is a barefoot budget traveller on an adventure out in the big wide world. Often seen with her charming English boyfriend, they spend their days running for planes, lying on beaches and exploring those hidden places on the global back roads.
Oceana Setaysha

2 Responses to 5 Tips for Safe International Travel (and the Horror Stories to Convince You)

  1. Katie Featherstone September 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Yup, good lessons learnt there! It’s always when you start to get complacent that everything goes to shit!

  2. Shivya Nath April 6, 2017 at 6:24 am #

    Thanks for these handy tips. Really helpful!

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