Travelling opens a window to the world. Travelling to a new destination – whether it’s within your own country, continent or on the other side of the world – has the potential to have a dramatic impact on your overall understanding and appreciation of the world around you. Travelling allows people to experience other cultures, see other lands and make memories that will stay with you forever. For us scuba divers, travelling and diving somewhere new is doubly exciting and makes for even more fantastic memories.
Whilst most of these memories are likely to be of positive and enriching experiences, for some unfortunate souls there are also negative memories associated with travelling due to a few unfortunate, and probably avoidable, events. With the hopes of preventing such events from happening to you on your next trip, here’s a list of top tips to keep you safe whilst travelling.
The Obvious Stuff – Cash and Passports
The first of the most obvious tips involves a bit of forward thinking and planning – how to handle cash and important documents whilst on the move. Regardless of where you’re travelling, carrying all your cash with you at all times is an unnecessary risk. Most of your funds should be protected behind pre-loaded travel credit cards, traveller’s cheques or even your own internationally-accepted bank card. It’s not always convenient or possible to pay via card in some places however, so carrying a bit of local currency in small denominations is a good call. Important documents such as passports, visas and other important paperwork should always be duplicated and kept elsewhere – in a hotel safe or in your bag which is secured by an effective bag lock. It’s also a good idea to have the copies of these documents saved on a computer, USB disk or online storage facility so that if you should happen to somehow lose all your possessions there are still copies of these important documents saved on file.
Get the Local Look
In short, if you look like a tourist, you’ll be treated like a tourist. And as we all know, tourists are targets for muggers, con-artists and thieves because they tend to carry high value items on their person as they travel from place to place. Especially if you live in a first-world, developed country and are visiting a poorer area, it’s important to tone down your look to avoid unnecessary attention from locals who might not be as wealthy as you are.
Of course it’s not always possible to look exactly like a local, but spending a bit of time researching what kinds of expatriates might be living in the country you’re visiting is always worth a go. Expats such as travel guides, language teachers or aid workers are less likely to be victims of crime as they are already settled into the country, don’t tend to carry all their worldly possessions with them and might be a bit more street-savvy than the average tourist that’s just arrived at the airport. Expats will probably look less like a regular tourist by wearing a mix of local and foreign clothing styles, making them a less obvious and less attractive target to thieves or muggers. Especially if you’re travelling to a country where security is a well-known concern, adopting as much of the local style as you can will go a long way to preventing unwanted attention. As scuba divers, a good idea would be to buy some clothes from the local dive centre you’re diving with.
Send the Right Signals
As with the above tips on how to look as similar to a local as you can manage, remember that there’s more to be aware of than just trying to avoid looking like a rich tourist. For many male divers, a short shaved buzz cut is the easiest haircut when travelling and diving abroad. Although it is convenient, a buzz cut can be misinterpreted as a military look, which could bring you unwelcomed attention on your travels. If the country you are travelling to is already on high alert in terms of security, or if they are well-known for having difficult authorities, appearing as if you are a member of the armed forces is unlikely to work in your favour and is probably going to cause more suspicion than necessary.
As scuba diving enthusiasts, we often carry a great deal of expensive camera equipment that makes us ideal targets for thieves and pick-pockets. To make your gear less obvious, don’t carry it in a branded travel bag. The words Canon and Nikon are basically giant red arrows pointing right at you, making you an all-too-obvious target. Carrying your camera in a non-branded, subtle bag that could be mistaken for just a regular backpack or handbag is a safer bet. Replacing the branded strap on your camera is also a worthwhile idea as this can draw attention to the fact that it is an expensive camera that a quick-fingered thief could get a fair amount of money for if they manage to snatch it from you and resell it.
Another sneaky tactic is to make your camera seem less appealing when you do use it in public. Masking tape is a handy tool that can make your camera look like it’s falling apart, making it less of a target than if it looked brand new. A few well-placed strips of masking tape in areas that won’t interfere with the functioning of the camera is an ideal way to detract thieves – re-selling a used camera that clearly appears to be broken is much more of a challenge for the thief and they might not be up for the effort, leaving your perfectly good camera in your hands where it belongs. Just so you know, the masking tape will come off easily when you get home and will not leave any marks on your camera.
When it comes to dive gear, it’s best to stick with the same fancy camera-concealing idea as above. If you have a fancy trolley bag for your dive gear complete with large and colourful diving logos, chances are that anyone walking past you will be able to figure out that you’re carrying some expensive gear. Having a plain bag without any logos, and preferably one that looks like it’s been around for a while, is likely to attract less attention. Fourth Element sell a simple black travel duffel that is lightweight, discreet, and easy to carry as a backpack.
Check the Risk Before You Go
Many countries are quite good about displaying relevant and up-to-date travel information, especially when it comes to travel threats and risks. It’s a good idea to check these websites and security bulletins before you travel. The website of the British Foreign Offices has a very comprehensive list of countries and relevant risk information for each one, so taking their words of caution on board is highly recommended. The more aware you are of the potential risks, the safer you’ll be.
Keep It Clean
Although it might be an obvious one, keeping things clean – your hands specifically – can go a long way to preventing illness and disease whilst travelling. Gastrointestinal illnesses are one of the worst to catch while you’re on-the-go, and many of these illnesses can be linked back to simple hand hygiene, which is often not the best when travelling in poorer areas. Another thing to consider is the fact that your body will be constantly bombarded by all sorts of new viruses and bacteria when you’re in a new country. Keeping your hands clean is the first and most important way to defend yourself against disease, so much so that the CDC has dedicated a whole web page to instructing people on exactly how to their hands correctly. It is worthwhile taking a look – you never know, it could save you your diving holiday!