One excuse I’ve heard over the years for not traveling is “it isn’t safe to go to x, y or z”. I was reminded this weekend that staying at home isn’t safe either – bad things can happen anywhere. While sitting in one of four lanes of traffic waiting to turn onto the highway, I noticed something odd in the two lanes next to me. As cars were filling up the two lanes, another car decided to drive in between the two lanes (not enough room obviously) and side swiped at least five cars (if not more) before being wedged in traffic. I then saw the Highway Patrol car without lights or sirens come to a stop. Looking ahead at the wedged car, my first thought was “crap, I hope he doesn’t have a gun”, my second thought was “my car is stuck here so my only option is to lay flat”. This wasn’t quite on my travel safety list of items I consider when leaving the house for a trip.
In that split second, the suspect jumped out of the car looked at the officer and ran like the wind. I really never saw anyone run so fast before, it was if I was watching a movie, albeit one happening in the real life streets of Philadelphia in a good part of town (I will concede there are bad parts of town but I wasn’t near those areas). It was so very surreal. The officer attempted to chase the kid but gave up and back to his car to attend to the smashed cars. The light then turned green and my lanes starting moving forward to the expressway and I think most, like me were relieved that our cars or lives weren’t damaged. Now this played out in the city – not in another country that I traveled to, right here at home. Is the city safe? I’d say for the most part it is, that this was a fluke, one that I couldn’t foresee but one that I reacted to just like a car accident – stop, stare, drive by, hope everyone is ok and thankful it wasn’t me.
Traveling as a solo female for this many years, travel safety has always been a priority for me. Whether that means budgeting more for a trip to have a private car, a taxi, a centrally located hotel or other sense of security on the road. I’m not going to be the girl that takes chances if it feels wrong or saves me money. Even when I thought I was right, I’ve been wrong – lessons learned and plans adjusted in the future. Here are just a few areas and examples of travel safety that gave me pause.
Travel Safety Thoughts
Hotels & Lodging
There are so many hotels that it’s hard to decide what’s best for your travels. With the introduction of Airbnb in the market, it’s now even more complicated to know neighborhoods and safety issues. While larger hotels undergo safety checks and have safety measures in place (fire alarms, deadbolt locks, security cameras, security guards, etc.) there are often the little things that the internet photos can’t tell you.
- I’ve spent many a night stuck in a weird hotel with nowhere to go feeling safe and eating my emergency cookies and chocolate. I saved money to stay at x only to realize there’s nothing in walking distance and I need a cab everywhere – it would have cost more to be centrally located but in the end a better choice so you need to factor that in when choosing a hotel/AirBnb/etc.
- I’ve checked into a three star hotel – a hotel chain that I’d used before and felt was good and that my travel agent recommended. In this instance, location was key and despite seeming in a good part of town, nothing showed the impromptu bus station across the street. At night walking back to the hotel, I didn’t feel safe so I checked out the next morning and moved to another hotel. I was able to find a new hotel (treating myself to a five star hotel) that had security guards at the front doors (at the time, in this city, this was the norm at fancier hotels).
- At my Milan Airbnb, I realized that the third floor flat had no instructions on fire safety and building evacuation. I had used the internal stairs but were they the only ones in and out? I didn’t see fire lights in the stairwell. Hotels usually post the fire notice on the back of the door but Airbnb doesn’t.
- In Toronto, I’ve had three middle of the night fire alarms go off on three separate visits (not sure why they are prevalent in this town). One high rise hotel had an internal loud speaker system to tell you what to do. The other hotel staff walked the hallways to tell guests procedures. After the first alarm incident, I learned how to place my clothes out and keep everything important in one area in case I had to evacuate. The alarm went off, I quickly got dressed, scooped up my contacts/glasses and my handbag/passport. If absolutely needed, my luggage was at the go with just a zip. Thankfully, I’ve not had to evacuate a hotel yet. I have evacuated an office building walking down more than twenty flights and it’s no fun.
- And then there was the mosquito! I had left the window open in Venice and woke to hear a buzzing noise near my head. I hate mosquitos and slept with the sheet over my head until morning. In some parts of the world, mosquitos can be deadly with the many diseases they carry – in Africa, there is malaria (I’ve taken pills for malaria protection and welcomed the mosquito nets around my bed), and now in parts of South America there is the Zika disease.
Taxis are a mixed bag depending on what city you are in except the London Black Cab in my opinion (more on my love of the London Black Cab in an upcoming post). If you don’t speak the local language things can get tricky with pricing, directions, safety. But even when you do speak the language, the driver can still have issues with how to get you where you are going. Even Uber has had incidences of safety violations with its drivers.
I often have the hotel arrange a taxi and help me write down my directions in the local language. I use Google Maps and have a translation app, Trip Lingo at the ready as well.
- I will hail a taxi in many parts of the world without giving it a thought however in Lima, I was told that it wasn’t good for me to do this. After my Sky Kitchen experience, the owner walked me to the main road and stopped cab after cab before deciding it was ok for me to go with the driver. He had negotiated price, told the driver of my location and felt good to put me in the cab. It was the first city in my travels where I gave more thought to who was driving me (the city driving is like a real live version of Frogger).
- The airport transfer pre-arranged car is often much more money than the local cab or bus but when the concierge arranges it to bill to the hotel someone is expecting me and knows who I am with. When I arrived at the Westin Lima after midnight and approached the front desk, they had been notified by the driver that I was en-route and had everything ready for a quick check-in.
Train stations are easy targets for tourists and thieves. We are often distracted looking up at the board for our train and track. We may have bags (and bags) or just the massive kitchen sink bag that we can’t lift and need help with. We need to buy a ticket, wait in line or don’t speak the language. Prior to arrival at the train station, I write down my train number, train name and departure time so I’m not checking my phone or going through my bag for information.
- In Paris at Gard du Nord, I’m driven insane the moment the taxi stops as I’ve had beggars block my door exit asking for money. I’ve had more asks as I walk toward the station “Do you speak English?” and in my fractured French I reply “no”. Since the Eurostar leaves from here to London and other places, it is truly one place that annoys me as a traveler. I’m constantly on the look out and try to position myself next to a wall or other place that gives me a sightline all around me.
The world you experience is often so much better than the world the media portrays on television every night. If you budget for safety, take precautions to be alert as you travel and mitigate the risks, travel is pretty awesome. All of the issues above are just a fraction of what I’ve encountered on the road, none of which prevents me from boarding a plane, taking a road trip or walking out my front door. The incident this weekend was just a reminder that my everyday normal boring life can be unsafe here on the ground – what travel safety thoughts do you plan for, worry about or always apply on your trips?