You’ve been looking forward to your holiday for months. You’ve packed your bags, and you’re ready to enjoy some time unwinding at your chosen holiday location. Unfortunately, life may have other plans for you. It’s worth considering what can go wrong when you’re on holiday and how best to respond if it does.
Part of the thrill of travel is leaving your comfort zone. However, this comes with certain risks. In a different environment and because of the nature of travelling, you may be exposed to a range of health risks. Health issues may be caused by spoilt or contaminated food or water, a range of communicable diseases and, depending on your age and health status, flare-ups of existing conditions due to the various stresses that travel can put on your body. Illnesses may also occur when you’re far from suitable medical facilities.
As they say, prevention is better than cure. As a traveller, you can take several common-sense precautions to protect your health.
Buy travel insurance
Appropriate travel insurance will ensure that you’re covered for medical expenses and, if necessary, for the costs associated with medical repatriation. In addition, most travel insurers offer a 24-hour helpline. In an emergency, you can contact the helpline for medical advice and assistance in finding local healthcare providers. Ensure you read the fine print of your contract, however, so that you’re familiar with any preconditions and limitations.
Take appropriate medication with you
It’s important to travel with a medical kit that includes medicines you’re likely to need, as well as basic first-aid equipment. If you take any prescription medications, ensure that you pack enough to last for the duration of your trip. You may also choose to pack two lots of medication in separate bags, in case one of the bags is lost or stolen. Always keep a written list of the prescription medications you need so that you can purchase more if necessary.
Practice good food hygiene
Food and water-borne illnesses are one of the biggest threats to your health while you’re on vacation. When you’re travelling, you typically eat a lot more restaurant and pre-prepared food than you would at home. This increases the risk that you’ll be exposed to bacteria or other contaminants that could make you ill. In addition, you may travel in regions where contaminated food and water are known risks. To stay safe, it’s best to avoid exotic street foods, stick to eateries that are clearly popular and eat only food that you know has been freshly prepared. Also wash your hands more often. If water-borne pathogens are a risk, drink only bottled water and avoid eating uncooked vegetables and fruit, with the exception of thick-skinned fruits that can be peeled, like oranges and bananas.
Accidents happen. When you’re on holiday, you could be injured due to anything from a slip or tumble to an encounter with hazardous wildlife. Again taking some basic precautions can help you stay safe:
- in places where traffic is chaotic and unsafe or roads are poorly maintained, use accredited transport services
- avoid taking tours with unregistered tour guides; do some research on reputable tour vendors before you leave, particularly if you’re considering adventure sports like diving, hiking or sailing
- unless you’re in a petting zoo, avoid making physical contact with local wildlife
- when by the sea, obey local lifesaving rules and signposts, or stay out of the water if none are present
Travel insurance is your best backup in the event that you sustain an injury despite taking these precautions. It can help ensure that you get the best emergency care that’s available, as well as covering the costs of any ongoing treatment you require while you recuperate.
As a tourist, you may be at an increased risk of becoming a target for crime. Especially if you’re travelling to an area known for a high crime rate, it’s important to
- avoid travelling alone, particularly at night
- research your destination to determine which areas are and aren’t safe for you to visit
- dress modestly and don’t display or handle expensive electronic devices when in public
- keep your valuables, including your travel documents, in a safe at your hotel
- use an experienced, registered travel guide
In general, it’s best to avoid travelling to regions where there’s a serious risk of political unrest, piracy or armed conflict. If in doubt about the safety of your destination, check a government site for a relevant travel advisory.
Sometimes the biggest risk to an enjoyable holiday is a bad hotel where the service, food and accommodation all leave much to be desired. With most bookings payable in advance, this can sabotage your whole holiday.
The quickest and easiest way to avoid poor service is to use the Internet to do some research. Numerous accommodation rating sites provide detailed client feedback on hotels and other types of accommodation around the world.
If you forgot to do your research, or fell for a tempting discounted package and are unhappy with your hotel, you can take several steps:
- Don’t be afraid to complain. Make your grievances known, and if necessary, ask to speak to the hotel manager in person. In the best case scenario, you may be rewarded with a suite upgrade. If you don’t receive an appropriate response, escalate the matter to the company that operates your hotel where possible.
- If the hotel is part of a chain with more than one hotel in the area, find out if you can transfer to another hotel.
- Look for self-catering alternatives in the vicinity. While this may be an unwelcome extra expense, self-catering accommodation can be surprisingly pleasant and affordable. You’ll generally be charged a flat rate rather than a per-person rate.
- Lodge a complaint when you return home – make sure you post an accurate review of your experience on relevant web sites, and where possible, inform the hotel operators of your reviews. You may receive a refund or be awarded a complimentary stay in another hotel. At minimum, you may save others from a similar bad experience.
Returning from your holiday to find your home burgled, ankle deep in water or smelling of rotten food can be traumatic. A few simple steps can ensure that you don’t have any unwelcome surprises waiting for you when you get home:
- ensure your electricity bill is paid up so that power is available for any appliances you need to keep on while you are away
- turn off the hot water cylinder – unless it’s winter and there’s a risk of the cylinder freezing and bursting
- when possible, appoint a house sitter or ask a friend to check in on your home occasionally to pick up your mail and prevent the house from looking unoccupied
- be selective about where you leave the lights on, or use an inexpensive timer switch to turn lights on and off, creating the illusion that the house is occupied
- consider leaving a television or radio news channel on to create the impression that someone is home
Lost Travel Documents
Finally, travel documents can be lost or stolen. Plan for this by making certified copies of all your travel documents, including passports, ID, tickets and any bookings, and store these separately from the originals. Also record the address and contact details of your national embassy in the country you’ll be visiting in case you require assistance with legal matters or documentation.