A few years back I attended the awesome Royal Geographical Society of London’s expedition planning workshop, Explore. One highly entertaining lecture was given by a professor from the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health at the University of Oxford. He began by showing lots of fascinating gruesome and gory photographs of various different infections, infestations, and afflictions.
He finished up this part of his talk by saying, ‘ok now that I have satisfied your appetite and gotten your attention I will tell you what you are most likely to die from whilst you are abroad’. His next slide showed that foreign visitors are mainly likely to die from or be seriously affected by road traffic accidents, drowning and sexually transmitted diseases. Nothing very horrifying or strange.
I wanted to share this invaluable advice with you and my own personal tips regarding these three big dangers. I am also going to throw in some recommendations on mosquitoes, as they are the second biggest killers worldwide and a couple of other gems of knowledge.
He finished up this part of his talk by saying, ‘ok now that I have satisfied your appetite and gotten your attention I will tell you what you are most likely to die from whilst you are abroad’. His next slide showed that foreign visitors are mainly likely to die from or be seriously affected by road traffic accidents, drowning and sexually transmitted diseases. Nothing very horrifying or strange. I wanted to share this invaluable advice with you and my own personal tips regarding these three big dangers. I am also going to throw in some recommendations on mosquitoes, as they are the second biggest killers worldwide and a couple of other gems of knowledge.
In my 17 plus years of travelling I have taken many bus/taxi/car/tuk-tuk journeys, most of which have been fine but occasionally some were definitely dangerous. If it was one of those hairy scary situations I have coped by putting my earplugs in, closing my eyes and trying to zone out until I reached my destination. There are some simple tips to follow to reduce my exposure to these risks, for example, always wearing a helmet on motorcycles, only using recommended taxi drivers and bus companies and taking journeys during the day rather than at night. However, although these tips can help you choose safer transport options you cannot reduce your risk to zero, so you need to have good travel insurance.
I am not the expert on travel insurance, but luckily I consult people who are. I trust the opinion of The Money Saving Expert and there is plenty of advice and guidance on his website for travel companies. Read the small print, make sure you are covered for all circumstances and take copies of the details with you when you travel!
So it goes without saying that you should also protect yourself from contracting sexually transmitted diseases. It’s really not that difficult, always carry a condom with you and use it! They are useful even if you are on other forms of contraception, as ill health can sometimes reduce the effectiveness of your preferred method but most of all they prevent diseases. In intimate areas. You would be better off not having an issue down there than showing everything to a stranger, right?
If you need any more convincing here’s a story. I remember just before Christmas 2006 I was staying in a hostel in Australia. The girl who was staying in the dorm bunk bed above me was on the phone to the airline explaining that she needed to change her return flight home to Manchester as soon as possible, with a layover in Bangkok. Yep, in the busiest travel period of the year. See, she was only about six weeks into her gap year but had managed to become pregnant by the dive officer from a resort in Thailand. I hope everything worked out for the best but I was glad it wasn’t me explaining that one to the father and my parents….
I almost drowned on my gap year, swimming in a double waterfall whirlpool in Fiji. Ironically, I had recently taken lessons to learn how to swim properly, and then subsequently scuba dive and surf. The undertow was really strong and I was easily pulled down by the forces. Luckily I was with a local guide, who knew about the dangers, but it was a pretty interesting experience and not one that I want to repeat. If you do swim somewhere be careful of undertows, don’t swim whilst intoxicated and ask local residents about currents and rips before entering the water. It is also useful to observe any warning flags or signs and stick to places where there are lifeguards. Keep an eye on your friends too, as people who are drowning don’t make any noise. Be aware of this.
I spent some time on a research camp which was situated on a sand spit, on a tropical island, off the coast of Tanzania. Except, when it got dark, the camp no longer was in paradise, it became hell. All because of sand flies. Yes, I tell you, these are literally the worst biting insects ever. More irritating and persistent than tsetse flies, mosquitoes, fleas and even siafu (army ants). You want to cover every single millimetre of exposed skin, no matter how hot and humid it is. This is when I discovered my best defense against these dreadful creatures and also changed my insect repellent of choice for life.
Yes, after seeing that synthetic sprays eats plastic and destroys clothes I didn’t fancy covering myself in something so toxic. After hearing how the French Foreign Legion used oil based sprays on their jungle training camps I switched to using baby oil. Not only is it cheap, available everywhere and very effective, it also makes my skin look great. Hurrah for baby oil.
It’s interesting to note that a large number of deaths of tourists is attributed to suicide. Mental health is always something to be conscious of when travelling. If you do need someone to speak to there are many services you can turn to either in the country you are visiting or online. Communicating with friends and family using Skype and online chat platforms are also very useful to lift spirits when you are away for a long period of time.
You may want to consider that your mental health may be tested during your trip and plan accordingly; when you are travelling you may be the victim of a crime, an accident, a breakup or something else that may be more difficult to deal with when you are in unfamiliar surroundings. There is one request I have, no matter what, do reach out, there are people who care!
So, lovely readers and soulful travellers, please buy medical and travel insurance, be careful when choosing your method of transport, use condoms, use insect repellent, drink responsibly and seek help for any mental health issues. Check the latest travel advice for the country you are visiting and be vigilant. Remember, safety never takes a holiday!
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