The unfortunate reality is, over 1600 Australians die overseas every year. Illness, such as heart attacks, is the major reason, but motorbike accidents and murders also occur. Many more travellers of all ages end up in hospitals with serious injuries and illness, or require assistance from their travel insurer when items like passports and credit cards are lost and stolen.
We certainly aren’t in the business of scaring travellers off travelling, we're of the belief that a significant proportion of incidents are avoidable. This is why we have created these 29 tips to educate travellers about the possible travel risks and hopefully reduce the chances of the most common incidents happening to you.
Medical related incidents are the number one reason for calls to emergency assistance and claims.
1. Eat safe food, drink bottled water, avoid ice and brush your teeth with bottled water.
We’re used to drinking tap water, have ice in our drinks and eating food without thinking at home. Overseas, especially in less developed countries, it’s important to think about every meal and beverage you’re consuming. Eat at reputable restaurants, only drink bottled water, avoid foods washed in local water such as salads and eat fruits you can peel like bananas or oranges.
2. Take and wear appropriate footwear at all times such as sneakers, joggers and trainers, which are ideal because they have flat soles with good grip.
Thongs may be the chosen footwear of us Aussies on holidays but they can easily end up sending you slipping, tripping and going head over heels when you encounter:
- Uneven footpaths and roads
- Slippery surfaces like shiny hotel lobby floors, marble museum floors, cruise ship decks
- Ramps to board boats, buses, trains and trams
- Stairs, especially on cruise ships and at historical sites.
3. You’re not 18 anymore, act and do activities that match your physical age or ability.
Our minds tend to think we’re younger than our bodies or abilities are. On holidays we tend to relax, get a bit excited and reinvent our youth as opportunities present themselves.
Before committing to something, take a second to remember your actual age, physical ability and the last time you hiked 15 kms, rode a bicycle or horse, swung on a rope swing, bolted across a road, hurdled a fence or paddled out in 8-foot surf.
4. If you can’t, haven’t or wouldn’t do it in Australia, you probably should reconsider your choice of doing it in a foreign country.
Unfortunately, young people die or get seriously injured overseas on a regular basis, which is heart wrenching and devastating. If you aren’t allowed to, haven’t or won’t do an activity in Australia (hiring a moped, scuba diving, sky diving, bungee jumping etc), one of the safest, legislated countries in the world, why would you risk it in a country when there is a greater chance of something going wrong? Worst still, if you survive the catastrophe, you won’t have the medical, police or legal support you would have if it happened in Australia, which amplifies the problem two-fold. Not to mention you are thousands of km’s from home, your loved ones and your support network, which only makes the situation harder to deal with.
5. Monitor yours and your fellow traveller’s level of enthusiasm and take a minute to think about what you’re doing before you dive right in.
We get it, on holidays you relax a bit, opportunities present themselves and you think “Let’s give it a go”. Unfortunately, we see the side effects of that attitude. If you want to let loose and take a few risks – get a tattoo, scuba dive, bungee jump or party hard, that’s your choice. However, doing so in an overseas country that statistically has far less regulations, higher crime rates or higher STD rates isn’t the best place to go about it. It might be best to save it for when you get back on Australian shores where health and safety regulations are higher and emergency medical services are readily available if the unexpected happens.
6. Stay in control – whether you’re drinking alcohol or partying, make sure that you remain in a state where you can still make reasonable decisions that will keep you out of harm’s way.
Aussie travellers tend to drink excessive amounts of alcohol and party whilst they traverse the world.
If something unexpected does happen and your claim is related to the effects of alcohol or drugs, you will not be covered.
7. Visit your doctor 4-6 weeks prior to travel to get your travel vaccinations.
Get the expert’s advice for what vaccinations you need for the regions you’re travelling to. Go early to make sure you give yourself enough time for the vaccination to take effect prior to travel.
8. Riding a moped, scooter or motorbike in a foreign country (especially in South East Asia) is a risky activity. Trust us, we’ve seen the outcomes of the decisions to jump on a moped when inexperienced.
If you’ve never ridden or aren’t an experienced moped or motorbike rider, doing so for the first time on poor roads, with different road rules and where the road death toll is far greater than Australia is not the best statistical decision. If you absolutely have to take the risk to get on a moped or scooter, please first check that you have the correct licence for that country, you obey all local traffic laws and that your travel insurance provides cover for it. Read our travel insurance for motorcycle riding guide for further details.
9. If you must ride or be a passenger on a moped, scooter or motorbike overseas, wear a helmet, closed in shoes and appropriate clothing.
Respect the decision you’ve made to get on a moped, scooter or motorbike and wear all precautionary safety gear, as it will certainly be a regrettable decision if you have an accident.
Make sure you also check and comply with the licensing requirements for your destination.
10. If you’re planning on hiring a car, make sure you have the correct licence for the country you’re driving in.
Apart from needing to have a valid Australian driver’s licence, research the licensing requirements for your destination, as an international driving permit may not be enough - you may need to have a local licence.
11. Read and follow health and safety signage.
Wherever you go, you’ll see health and safety signs in hotels, on public transport and at tourist hotspots like museums and monuments. These signs have been created for good reason and for your benefit, so it’s in your best interests to follow them.
12. Look to the left, look to the right, look to the left again, because cars come from different directions in most other countries.
There’s something that doesn’t sound quite right about that and that’s because cars in the majority of countries drive on the right-hand side of the road, or in the case of some SE Asian countries, on any side! We’ve all grown up looking left first, so look both ways multiple times before you even think about stepping off the curb.
13. Wear a seatbelt on all transport and if there isn’t one, find a seat with one or seek alternative transport.
Whenever we get in a car in Australia, we’re on autopilot and always put a seatbelt on. We all know the dangers of not wearing one, so why would you not wear one in a vehicle in a country with a higher road death toll, worse roads, relaxed or unenforced road rules and less safe cars (no airbags) than in Australia? If there’s a seatbelt available, even on a bus or plane, put it on. When you’re booking transport, ask if there are seatbelts. If you get in a taxi without them, get out and get a new taxi. If only some seats have them and another passenger doesn’t care or isn’t wearing their seatbelt, swap seats with them.
14. Avoid riskier activities and exposure to illness in the lead up to your holiday to avoid the disappointment of not being able to go.
There’s no need to wrap yourself in cotton wool before you go on holidays. However, avoiding adventurous activities (downhill mountain biking, contact sports etc) or sick people (hospitals, sick people in the workplace or lots of children) in the 4-6 weeks prior to travel might decrease your chances of having to cancel your long-awaited holiday due to unexpected illness or injury.
15. Keep everything you take in reach (arm’s length) and sight at all times.
Thieves can be very opportunistic especially in tourist spots or where you’re obviously not a local – on public transports, train and bus stations, hotel lobbies, museums, bars and restaurants. So keep your eyes on your belongings, even when you’re checking your map for directions. Don’t think you’re safe from thieves on a cruise ship, there’s a jail on them for a good reason.
Most people who have something stolen from them are surprised at how quick it happened, so be extra careful with your belongings at all times, regardless of where you are.
16. Check, double check and triple check you have everything before you leave anywhere!
Make sure you have all your belongings when you leave your:
- Hire car
- Airport lounge
- Hotel room
- Hotel lobby
- Anywhere you’ve sat down
Double and triple check you have:
- Your luggage
- Day bag
- Hand bag
- Mobile phone
- Go Pro
- Money belt
- Umbrella etc.
Over 4000 Australians lose or have their passports stolen every year while overseas. Getting a new one and replacing visas isn’t a simple and quick process in a foreign country and can result in you missing your return flight.
17. Leave your expensive stuff at home.
Thieves and pick pocketers are great at spotting expensive watches, sun glasses, clothing and electronic gadgets. You can’t lose it and it can’t be stolen from you on holidays if you leave it at home.
18. Only take what you need.
You know how you get home from holidays and there are clothes you haven’t worn and things you haven’t used? Cut down on the ‘stuff’ you take so there’s less to be lost or stolen. This will mean less bags that you need to take care of, which will reduce the chance of one being lost, stolen or damaged.
Aim for a total of two bags, one large bag and one carry on/day bag.
19. Minimise your gadgets.
Do you really need a mobile, tablet, laptop, camera, video camera and go pro on your holiday? They tend to get stolen and break, so only take the necessary gadgets and leave the rest at home.
20. Split your valuables (cash, passport, credit card, mobile, laptop, camera) across your luggage, on yourself and across all travellers.
On a holiday to a foreign country, access to cash, your passport and mobile is your life. Never put everything you need and all your valuables in one bag or place. Whether you’re targeted by an expert thief, an opportunistic taxi driver who drives off with your bag or you simply forgetting your bag in a restaurant, losing everything in one go can be both a nightmare and costly exercise.
For example, if you’re going out for a day of sightseeing, consider:
- Locking passports in the hotel safe
- One credit card in your money belt
- Second credit card in your day bag
- Emergency cash stash in your shoes, your main bag or toiletries bag
- Second emergency cash stash in your travel companion’s or children’s bags
- Mobile in your front pocket when you’re out sightseeing
- Leave the tablet locked in the hotel safe
21. When catching a plane, keep whatever valuables you can in a money belt, in your pockets or your carry-on.
Loss of jewellery, cash and computer equipment in checked-in luggage may be covered by the airline, however it may not be by travel insurance. If it’s lost or stolen, immediately report it to the airline or at the latest, within 24 hours to ensure you meet their notification period.
Also, anything that is lost or stolen from overhead storage probably may not be covered so once again it’s best to keep your valuables on you. Make sure that you also lock your carry-on luggage – this will allow you to relax and enjoy the onboard entertainment without having to worry. Keep the keys on you though – you may need to unlock the bag when you go through airport security or transit.
22. Don’t leave anything in a vehicle overnight and also during the day if possible.
If you leave anything in a car overnight, even if it is out of sight and locked in the boot and in a locked garage, travel insurance will not able to cover it. If you must leave something in the car during the day, it must be out of sight and in a locked and concealed department (boot, glove box or centre console).
23. Be extra careful with your older model iPhone or Samsung. We’re unsure whether it’s the moon, Steve Jobs’s ghost or just pure coincidence, but lost and stolen phones spike every time a new phone is released.
We all know how annoying it is to lose or have your phone stolen, which can only be amplified whilst you’re travelling. Make sure you keep your phone close to you, retain all proof of loss and report any theft to the police timely within 24 hours..
Claiming for things that didn’t happen, inflating the value or inventing items that were lost or stolen can result in you experiencing some serious side effects from insurance fraud.
24. Protect yourself from pick pocketers and bag snatchers.
Good ideas include money belts, putting your mobile and wallet in your front pocket, having a satchel bag you can wear across your body instead of over your shoulder, carry your day bag and hand bag on your front and on the shoulder furthest from the road, having a fake wallet in your back pocket, pay extra attention in crowded places, on public transport and in tourist hotspots.
25. When using free public wi-fi, avoid logging into your bank account or entering passwords – it’s not safe.
Free public wi-fi may be convenient and save you money, but make sure you don’t access your bank account or enter passwords when you use them. You never know who may be hanging around, just waiting to steal your details and savings.
26. Hire a rental car which has an out of sight storage compartment.
Make sure that your rental car has either a lockable boot where you can store your luggage out of sight of would-be thieves during the day. If you are in the USA and hiring an SUV, check that it has a parcel shelf which will allow you to store your luggage and where they will be totally obscured from view.
If you don’t lock and store your luggage and belongings out of sight, they won’t be covered by travel insurance.
27. Give yourself more than enough time to catch connecting flights and connecting modes of transport.
Airports, train stations, bus stations and traffic can put you in a situation outside of your control where time isn’t on your side. Flights are regularly delayed, airports can be massive like Heathrow, you may have to get a train between terminals like in Beijing, immigration can be slow such as in Los Angeles Airport (LAX), the language barrier may mean things will take longer to complete than normal, security checks can cause significant delays and traffic can be a nightmare on an any given day in any global city.
28. Minimise the number of flights, modes of transport, connections and different accommodations on your holiday to reduce the chance of something going wrong.
The more forms of transport you catch (flights, trains, ferries or buses) and the more places you stay, all leads to a greater chance of something going wrong. It increases the chance of a delayed flight, you missing a connection due to traffic or natural disaster or your belongings like passport, luggage or tablet being lost, damaged or stolen.
29. If you have to catch a plane, train, bus, boat or camel, set two alarms, get a travel companion to set an alarm, request a wake-up call at reception and give yourself plenty of time to make it.
Missing a mode of transport can be a costly and painful experience as you have to find a new flight or bus or ferry and even new accommodation. It can also have a knock-on effect as you may then miss your next mode of transport or the start of a tour and lose money on unused accommodation.
Holidays are synonymous with travelling and travelling means a whole lot of excitement, energy and fun. But despite our best efforts, travel plans can go haywire. Sometimes the simplest of setbacks can have a disastrous effect on your overall holiday, turning what was supposed to be a relaxing and well-earned break into a stressful situation.
Planning and taking the necessary precautions for a holiday may seem like a tedious task, but it can help to ensure that the relaxing or exciting holiday that you planned, actually is!