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There were more than 800 million international journeys made in 2006. But without proper preparation and knowledge where you are going, international travel, going into new, unfamiliar settings and environments can pose various risks to both health and safety. Though much depends upon the characteristics of both the traveller and the travel, people may encounter sudden and significant changes in altitude, humidity, microbes and temperature, which may result in various forms and intensities of illnesses. Also, some areas definitely present greater risks than others regarding personal safety, and well-being, including crime, adventure travel and getting around. People planning travel should try to be informed and plan ahead with appropriate preventive measures and careful precautions for the potential hazards of the regions they are travelling to minimizing any risk to their health and safety.
General safety and suggestions for travelling in the Third World
I have lived in Costa Rica and owned two hotels over the last twelve years, and have gained a lot of insight advising literally thousands of people planning to visit this area of the world. One thing that seems to be on the back of everyone's mind visiting for the first time, are safety concerns, and not getting ripped off. Most of these issues are addressed in the following article.Though Latin America is somewhat different from other areas of the world (if anything, it is more violent) but there are over-riding themes applicable to all Third World countries. I use 'he' in the case of scammers, criminals and thieves, as generally, you will have more problems with males than females wherever you are travelling. Scams are everywhere, however, the poorer Third World harbors more desperate criminals per square kilometer, and thus, if you can make it through the Third World unscathed, you should easily survive travelling in the affluent First World (but don't let your guard down).
Rule # 1
Above anyone else, often including the police, trust your hotel owner for advice. They have a vested interest in your well-being. On their advice, if you experience a good tour, or good car rental company, or if you just have a good time wherever you go, you may stay an extra night, or atleast return at another time. Also, word of mouth is so important in the hotel business, and the hotel management wants you to inadvertantly promote the hotel to other travellers. If the hotel can make the arrangements for you, all the better, because the service provider (a) is now known and (b) wants to impress you, so you tell the hotel, and he gets more business in the future. Having a recourse is good insurance for yourself.
Further incentive for a hotel to give you proper advice is if, in the event, you get hurt or robbed or jerked around, the hotel may not get paid. How is the hotel going to get paid if you had all your money and ID stolen? And even worse, unpleasant stays are always reported to fellow travellers, and written reviews on the internet on such portals as 'TripAdvisor' and 'HotelAdvisor' speak volumes. Some hotels have learned that they need to treat you like family!
Safety in the Third World
Poverty dominates much of the Third World, and leads directly or indirectly to crime. Where there are 'rich' tourists, there are always security issues. You may be appalled to see every city and suburban property heavily protected from intruders with high fences or cement walls, razor wire, or broken glass cemented on top and barking dogs inside. Neighborhood or private guards patrol the wealthier areas. I am afraid it may be a sign of things to come in the First World as the spread between the haves and the have-nots increases, and the poor get organized.
With weak social programs to head off criminals before they act, and the mixture of drugs and the poor, crowded conditions, these crimes were inevitable. People are learning to hunker down with their possessions.
Crime is increasing and tourists are frequent victims. In the bigger cities in particular, criminals usually operate in small groups. While most crimes are non-violent, criminals, including juveniles, have shown a greater tendency in recent years to use violence and to carry handguns or shoulder weapons. Areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs are particular crime areas, especially at night. Travellers should walk or exercise with a companion, and should bear in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are also common venues for criminal activities. Travelers should avoid responding in kind to verbal harassment. Most countries allow you to photocopy your passport and leave the original in your safety deposit box, but check with the country you plan to go to to verify this. Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to First World standards.
Every country has safer areas than others, but no public place is 100% safe. You can't let your guard down. Use common sense, keep your eyes about yourself, and try not to tempt anyone.
I owned a bed and breakfast in central San Jose, Costa Rica for nine years, and over time have realized the petty crime is on the increase in all cities around the world, especially at night. There are many obvious ways to reduce the risk and the hassle such as using taxis at night that your hotel calls for you then there is record of who the taxi driver is. If flagging one down on the road, remember the taxi number on the door or the licence plate number before climbing in, in case you do have problems. If you are leaving a friend, have him write the licence plate number, and make the taxi driver aware your friend has it. In the Third World, basically taxis are quite plentiful, reliable and cheap.
When travelling with all your luggage, you have the most to lose, and thieves know they have the most to gain. Stay particularly safe by going directly to your destination, and storing your things safely before exploring. Leave all your expensive jewelry, watches, rings, cell phone, etc. at home. You are 'impressive' enough just being a tourist.
You can rent cell phones generally for about $4 per day and a $1 per minute. Ask your hotel to arrange one and send you the phone number before you leave home, then you can give it to family, friends and business to stay in touch. Maybe they'll let you stay on vacation longer!
If you want to take some great photos for 'National Geographic', carry your camera equipment in a plastic supermarket bag, nobody wants your carrots and onions.
For safety inside national parks or at the beach, you may consider following these tips:
Read the safety rules posted inside the parks. To ensure a safe and pleasant visit, walk along the marked trails. It is best to explore the trails in groups of two or more. Don't touch the plants or attempt to pet the animals (duhhhh!). At the beach, before entering the water, find out which are the safest areas, and if there are any rip tides. When climbing a volcano it is wise and not too expensive to hire a guide or a reputable tour operator.
New scams appear every day. Stay safe, try not to leave yourself exposed, and again, trust your hotel owner, as he has a vested interest in your well-being, believe me!
Don't trust the governmentSome police are prejudice towards 'rich' travellers. Police should be a last and necessary resort, as they are on the take probably as much as anyone else. A friend of mine took a woman he met in a bar back to his apartment. For some unknown reason she became angry and started throwing things at him, even his little TV and an iron, and threatening his huge fish tank. She wouldn't calm down so to subdue her, he
Once in my hotel, a robber took $400 from the cash register when the receptionist was showing someone else a room. However, the robber couldn't get out of the building without pushing the front door release button hidden behind the reception desk. My receptionist and a guest grabbed the thief, and held him until the police arrived. The police found the $400 on him, exactly as my receptionist reported missing, but the police told us they needed to take the money as evidence. I went to the court house thirteen times to get my money back, even after the thief was convicted, and finally gave up. The courts had no intension of returning my money.
Many of transit police at the side of the highway are still more interested in bribes than traffic safety, especially when working alone, but it is certainly far easier to pay him off that ruin your vacation spending time in court.
Rule # 1 - Foreigners can't win, Rule # 2 - Don't trust the police, Rule # 3 - Only call the police if absolutely necessary, like a murder, Rule # 4 - If the police are wrong, see Rule # 1.
Safety in numbersDon't go alone after dark, or in deserted areas, empty silent streets, or in seedy areas, even during daylight. There is nothing to see of value anyway. In the Third World often at night, especially in the poorer neighborhoods, packs of teenage hooligans, high on drugs or alcohol, wander the streets or lurk in shadows to ambush anyone who may be vulnerable. Where security and police protection is lax, neighbourhood vigilante groups are forming. One crack addict, who was caught breaking into a property near my friend's house, was nearly beaten to death by a neighborhood vigilante mob, setting an example for others.
The whole family will enjoy experiencing the central markets in each city, and can be done so if you are prepared for the low lifes trying to rob you, and they are everywhere. Go only during the day, take only what you need leaving jewelry, etc. behind, don't flash your money, and stay together.
Only carry enough money for what you need, preferably in small bills. If you see something you want, and don't have the money, you can always go later on a direct mission.
You are on vacation and drinking may be part of your enjoyment. Alcohol is the root of many problems, so watch how much you drink and where you hang out. A drunk foreigner is asking for problems. Be sure to keep an eye on your drink at all times, as 'date rape' drugs and the like, are everywhere.
Use your room safe or ask your hotel for a safe to store your big money, plane tickets, original passports, travelers cheque codes, jewelry, camera, cell phone, etc. You are asking for trouble tempting a chambermaid who is paid a dollar an hour with a house full of young ones to feed. Best to safely store your things, and leave a nice gratuity at the end of your stay for good service, then you are in control. If something is missing, other than in the hotel safe or your room safe, start by blaming yourself.Make a copy of your passport and carry the copy with you at all times leaving your original safely stored in your hotel (except when cashing traveler's checks, credit card advances or crossing borders). In most countries, I believe, you can present your passport copy as identification
Learn from my mistakes
A lone drunkard stumbling down a poorly-lit street is a prime target. If you're out partying in an unsavory or tourist-heavy area, stay in a group, even if you're traveling solo. If you must walk alone, try not to appear as drunk as you probably are. Avoid stumbling, slurring your words, or shouting at dogs. I have been mugged twice in Central America. Once in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, coming out of a bar by myself late at night slightly intoxicated (tell you anything?) I was put in a sleeper choke hold from behind, and less than ten seconds later I was unconscious, passed out on the sidewalk. I awoke some time later, fully refreshed - it was amazing, but without my wallet, passport, watch and shoes. A block away I found a lot of my identification in a gutter, and a beggar saying he knows who did it. He needed ten dollars to get my stuff back, so we walked back to my hotel, me in my socks, and with little to lose, I gave him the money. I never saw him again.
Another time I was in San Jose, Costa Rica and foolishly took a short cut to my bus through the seedy central market area just after dark. Again, I was choked from behind, and woke up fully refreshed (seems I get a great night's sleep each time) on the sidewalk without my backpack, wallet, and watch. I guess they didn't like my shoes, and only got a copy of my passport in my wallet, you see, I was learning!
Safety in generalIf you stay in hotels that do not have adequate security, you are asking for trouble. The hotel owner has probably been through it all, and would not make any special effort to remedy your specific problem should you have one. Travelling alone after dark anywhere in the Third World can be dangerous, on foot or by car. Stay in the main tourist destinations. Do not explore back roads or isolated paths near tourist sites except in the safety of your locked car, or in a group. Pay close attention to your surroundings, eyes in the back of your head are sometimes helpful.
If confronted by criminals, be aware that resistance may provoke a more violent response. Give them whatever they want. Remember violent crime is rare if you cooperate. They need money to feed their drug habit. Try not to make eye contact but if you can think about it, study faces, licence plate numbers, anything for later identification. However, making a police report in the Third World is generally a waste of time, there are too many individuals and groups of small-time criminals hiding in the dark cracks for the police to have a great handle on it (and the police are often corrupt themselves). You do need a police report however, to replace a passport, which is why you only carry a copy (now you are learning!) or if you want to claim your losses on your insurance policy. Even if you do find the person, your money is already spent, and the guy is a bum. Just chalk it up to experience, and relax in the knowledge that the person who ripped you off needs the money worse than you, to either feed his family or his drug habit.
Knowledge of your destination before you arrive will give you an idea where you want to stay, what things cost, inform you of the activities available that interest you the most, and alert you in advance to possible scams that can be avoided. Tourists are scam targets pretty much everywhere in the world, so before you go, check out Google and see what you find. For instance, searching for "India scams" brings up an entire forum dedicated to scams and annoyances in India. If you learn what's out there first, you'll quickly recognize the well-tested scam while on the road and avoid it without the trouble. You'd be surprised how many people leave for vacation without doing some research on this.
Don't trust street people
Don't believe anyone on the street that solicits you in any way, period! Whether it's selling Honduran-made 'Cuban cigars' in Latin America or fake rubies and saphires in Asia, or recommending tours, car rentals or accommodations, the street people know the location, all the angles and sell you inauthentic products and inferior services at inflated prices. Often they are only out for a commission from a hotel they made prior arrangements with. They couldn't care less about you receiving quality.
These scamers work by offering you help or advice that is actually deceptive, trusting that you will rely on his local knowledge and obligating you to pay for something you otherwise wouldn't if you knew the area better, or going somewhere you really don't want to go. Stick to your hotel, and your advanced research.
Often locals will simply try and force themselves on you in order to help you with a ticket machine, a subway map or directions. They might just be overly helpful but probably they are looking for, and demand, a small tip for their forced help. In general, be wary of anyone who forces their way into your personal space, and who starts doing things for you without asking you if you need them. Tell him to get lost. If you have received help and then some coinage is demanded, it's probably easier to pay it. However this kind of situation can also leave you vulnerable to substantial theft, be polite but firm, and then simply firm, by telling the person that you are fine now and that they should leave you alone.
Scammers know that most decent people desire to be polite to people who are polite and friendly to them. While you shouldn't become a hard-nosed nasty person, you should receive unsolicited offers of help with polite caution, and when you are reasonably certain that you're being scammed, there's no need to be polite in fending it off, feel free to walk away, or yell for help if necessary. And there are no deals too good to be true, especially on the street.You are not going to win with street people. If you fall for these people, you heard it from me right now, blame yourself, kick your own butt for not listening to this. And don't get angry, in some cases you were dealing with hardened criminals with nothing to lose.
Money changers on the street are renouned for passing off counterfeit U.S. dollars and local currency. Use banks wherever possible, for both security and the best rate. With clever hands, many can do a switcho-chango magic act with your money also. The exceptions are in countries where there are thriving black markets for foreign currency. Seek to use only those money changers with a good reputation according to other travellers.
Credit card fraud (either using stolen credit cards or the account number alone following copying of the number) is on the rise. Travellers should retain all their credit card receipts and check their accounts regularly to help prevent unauthorized use of their credit cards. Avoid using debit cards for point-of-sale purchases, as a skimmed number can be used to clean out an account.
Attraction closedYou may arrive at a major tourist destination only to find a very helpful local near the entrance explaining that there's a riot/holiday/official visit at the place you want to go and it is closed. Sometimes, taxi drivers are in cahoots with these helpful locals and will purposely drop you off to be received by them. The local will then offer to take you to a lesser known but infinitely more beautiful sight or to a nice shop. Generally your preferred destination is in fact open for business. Simply refuse the offer and go and have a look. Even on the rare occasions when they are telling the truth, they may not be as helpful as they seem, so it would be better to pursue your own backup plan. Just walk away from them and towards the main tourist entrance until they stop following you.
Just been robbed
This scam involves a person approaching you and asking you if you speak English, or know where the police station is. He will seem frightened and shaken and inform you that he has just been robbed of the money he needed to get back home which is very likely to be in a different city or even country. Again they will get emotional and say the police perhaps won't be of much assistance and they will turn to you for help. Although they only expect you to happily hand over a small amount, the more people they con the more money they make themselves. Ten years ago in San Jose, Costa Rica, I bought a poor fellow lunch who used this scam. He still works the San Jose streets.
These scams are based on your ignorance of the area, or the local currency and rely on getting you to pay well over the market rate for goods or services. Some will rely on a helpful local steering you to the goods, but others will simply involve quoting a high price to you. In some countries this is institutionalised, foreigners have to pay more for most negotiable things.
Getting a general sense of accommodation price ranges and the like is the best way to prevent being overcharged. In some places it's assumed that you'll bargain down overcharged prices, in others you will just have to walk away or pay up for goods and services already consumed, although you should still challenge the amount in the case of a service if it is clearly overpriced. You probably won't get anywhere though.
Scenic taxi ridesSince you don't know the area, taxi drivers can take advantage of you by taking a long route to your hotel and getting a large metered fare. The best prevention is knowledge: it's hard to learn a new city well enough to know a good route before you arrive for the first time. Always ask your hotel roughly what the taxi fare should be when you book your room, or arrange a pickup with the hotel if they offer the service. Often you can negotiate a fixed price with a taxi before you get. Many prefer not to use their meter and pocket the money directly. Good taxi drivers drive the route to your hotel every day and can give you a very accurate price before you or your luggage get into a cab. Watch your luggage as it gets loaded. Get into the cab after luggage is loaded and get out of the car before it is out of the trunk. If you are not carrying much, avoid using the trunk. Taxi drivers picking up fares at any international airport are always looking for a good fare, and many will take an opportunity to make it longer to justify their waiting time.
Gems and other resale scamsYou are taken to a jewelry shop and offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase gemstones or jewels at special discount prices. Another customer in the shop, well-dressed and perhaps from a First World country, tells how he made incredible profits last year by reselling the gems and is now back for
In the case of the back room jewelry shop, once you get back home and have your sale appraised, it turns out to be low grade and worth only a fraction of what you paid for it. This scam is particularly prevalent in Bangkok, but variations on the theme with other products that can supposedly be resold for vast profits are common elsewhere too. Know your product. Another variation involves you exporting the gems for a supposed 'commission' in exchange for the scammer (as security) taking a photocopy of your ID cards and/or credit cards. When you go to deliver the jewels, there is no one at that address, your stones are excellent quality glass, and of course, using your ID, your credit cards have been maxed out at a casino in Montecarlo.
CoercionThese scams rely on trapping you in a bad situation, like planting drugs or other contraban on you, or setting you up with an underage prostitute, then forcing you to pay money to get out of it. They're best prevented by avoiding the situation; once you're in it, you may well have no option but to pay whatever it takes to get out of it safely. Your life isn't worth risking for money. When vulnerable, guard your luggage like your life.
You are offered a "free tour" of a shop or factory some distance away. After you are there, your driver may then say you'll need to buy something if you want a ride back. Don't accept any kind of lift or offer of a tour without having a basic idea of where you're going and how you will be able to get back if your driver deserts you. Obviously he isn't doing it for his health, and expects some reasonable imbursement, but this should be discussed beforehand, so you both know where the other is coming from.
You are approached in the street by people who say they are art students. They speak English well and invite you to visit their school. Then they will try to get you to buy one of their works for an excessive price. This scam is practiced in China, particularly in Beijing and Xian. The 'students' are often attractive young women.
A few bars in China, especially Shanghai, will give you a menu with reasonable prices to order drinks. Later they present a bill with much higher prices. If you argue, they produce a menu with those higher prices on it. You could try hanging on to your menu or better, pay each time your drinks are delivered.
A variant of this is practiced in Bangkok, where pimps with laminated menus offer sex shows and cheap beer. The beer may indeed be cheap, but they'll add a stiff surcharge for the show. Ask if there is a cover charge, and once again, pay for your drinks each time they are delivered. A good rule of thumb, travelling or not, is don't run tabs.
Passport as security for debt or rental
You rent a room or equipment like a car, motorbike or even jet ski. You are asked to give your passport as a security guarantee. Under no circumstances should you give your passport as a security guarantee. They can take a copy of your passport, but your signed open credit card voucher should be good enough. If not, forget it. Otherwise after checking out of the room, or returning the rented goods, the owner could claim you damaged the room or vehicle and will ask for exaggerated prices to fix it. If you do not agree, they could threaten to keep your passport. These idiots also 'lose' passports when holding them as security guarantee for payment of a debt. This scam is used in almost all Thai tourist resorts, and is very effective. Before you drive any vehicle, be sure to check thoroughly for any previous scratches or damages, and if so, indicate the damages on a paper, and get the rental company representative to sign that the damages exist.
The following scams are outright theft. They involve putting you in a position where someone takes your valuables unbenounced or by force.
Pickpockets are thieves who steal items, often wallets or passports, sometimes other valuables, from people's clothing and bags as they walk in a public place. Pickpockets are a hazard in nearly any tourist destination. After all, tourists, by definition, have disposable income, and are likely to be carrying some money and/or valuables.
There may be pickpockets anywhere, but some things are signs of higher risk:
- if you see other people who prey on tourists, beggars, self-proclaimed tour guides, or prostitutes, assume there are all thieves, chances are excellent.
- crowded areas, especially places like bus and train stations. There are lots of potential victims, noise and jostling provide cover, and the thief can disappear into the crowd easily.
- areas where you are obvious, perhaps because you look very different than locals or dress and behave quite differently
- areas where the local income is low. In some countries a traveller's pocket money may be more than local monthly income.
Pickpockets like easy targets
A skilled pickpocket can hit almost any pocket, but all pickpockets prefer easy targets.
- ridiculously easy targets are away from the body where the victim will not feel a thief's touch
- open bags, especially shopping bags with an interesting store label
outside pockets of a backpack or shoulder bag — do not put cell phones or cameras there
- other easy targets are pockets that are easy to get at and out of the victim's field of vision
- rear or thigh pocket of trousers — put your wallet in your front pocket.
- outside pockets on a man's jacket or other loose-fitting outer garment
- anything hanging on your belt, such as a cell phone or fanny pack
Tools for pickpockets
Pickpockets everywhere routinely carry razors for slitting pockets. These may also be used to quickly cut the strap on a purse, shoulder bag, or camera. In some places they may even be for armed robbery. Thieves also commonly carry fairly long tongs for reaching into purses or pockets. These are not as large and noticable as a hand reaching for the goods. Check the country listings for your destinations.
Pickpockets often work in teams. For example, getting on a crowded bus, one ahead of you may create a delay so the one behind can get your wallet. One may distract the victim's attention while the other reaches into a pocket on the other side. The loot may be immediately handed off to a third player, so even if you grab the actual thief, you have no evidence and your item and the thief who has it are gone like a fart in a windstorm.
Distraction thefts take a variety of forms. Generally the thieves work in groups: one will distract you and the other will rob you while you're distracted. Sometimes a single thief will rely on a ready-made distracton like sports on a television or a departure board. Sometimes the distraction can be pleasant, such as having an attractive accomplice talk to you, but sometimes it's very nasty, such as throwing rotten eggs or faeces over you and robbing you while you panic or clean yourself up. Be aware of an old trick of 'accidentally' pouring catsup or mustard onto your clothes. As they apologize and try to clean you, they will clean you of your belongings also. On some Asian beaches, fake drownings are used. You plunge in to help and your belongings are rifled.
It's best to be aware of what's going on around you in any public place and to be a little suspicious of strangers who appear to be trying to single you out. If you are with someone else, watch each other's back. If you are the victim of a minor assault, suspect that it's the prelude to a robbery attempt. Try and get in a position where you can look after your belongings. Unfortunately you may need to refuse the help of a concerned onlooker as he may be an accomplice.
The basics of protecting yourself are common sense:
- Leave the valuables and money you don't need at your hotel room, preferably in a safe.
- Know and avoid the most dangerous areas
- Be alert, especially in crowded spaces or when people invade your personal space.
- Stash valuables in hard-to-reach places
- Do not carry more cash than you are likely to need
- Carry money and passport in separate places, so that losing one doesn't mean losing the other as well
- Wear packs in front of you and under your clothes, not at the rear or side.
- Deep front trouser pockets offer more protection than back pockets, but be aware that experienced pickpockets can even get into zippered front pockets.
- Make sure that you have a thick rubber band around your wallet. This will ensure that you will feel if someone is picking your pocket with the friction of the rubber band against the material of your slacks, as they try to relieve you of the wallet!
- Turn your wallet ninety (90) degrees so the wallet goes across your pocket rather than up/down.
- Frustrate a pickpocket by putting a comb in the fold of your wallet. With the wallet opening to the top of your pocket and the teeth of the comb facing up, the comb will catch and make it difficult to remove the wallet.
- Inside jacket pockets offer even better protection, especially if they are zippered.
- Dress inconspicuously so as not draw attention to yourself as a "rich foreigner"
- Keep personal gadgets hidden. Why advertise to everyone what an expensive camera or mp3 player you have? If you're traveling with a laptop, avoid using it in crowded coffee shops or bustling Internet cafes. Have an iPod? Buy different headphones. Those iconic white strands coming down from your ears shout, "I have an expensive mp3 player in my pocket!" so pony up for a pair of black headphones. Who wants an old Walkman anyway, right? Enjoy your travel gadgets, but don't flaunt them.
- Attach your wallet to a chain
- In particularly vulnerable locations, all family members should carry a cell phone. Ensure that emergency numbers are programmed into your phone and that you have a list of important phone numbers kept in a safe place.
- When eating out, don't hang your purse over the back of a chair or set it down by the table, strap it over your leg and keep it on your lap. Even in some of the finest restaurants and hotels, purses have been known to disappear in the midst of a meal.
- When shopping, don't leave your purse in the supermarket trolley but keep it on your person. In shops and department stores, keep your purse close to you and don't set down your shopping bags and turn away to look at other items. In a flash, someone could easily pick up your bags and walk away with them.
- When going to risky areas, keep a wad of papers wrapped in a $10 bill. If confronted by a person seeking to rob you, pull it out slowly and quickly throw it far away from you. Run in the opposite direction that you throw the money. Hopefully, if the robber sees that $10, he'll think it's a lot more money than it is and he will go after it. You can run to safety, and you won't be out a huge amount of money.
- Get a money belt and wear it underneath your clothes. Keep your passport and extra money in there. Even if someone knows you are wearing it, they will be hard-pressed to get at it without you noticing.
- Above all, do not flash your valuables around unnecesarily. An expensive watch on your wrist or fancy camera around your neck is quite a target to someone whose annual income may be less than its price.
Learn "Thief!" in the language of your destination and be prepared to yell it if you notice a pickpocket at work. When confronted, most pickpockets attempt to make their escape, sometimes throwing their booty on the ground, but often retaining it and running through a predetermined course in order to lose you. It's probably best to let them go, as they may be armed and you don't want to get charged with assault yourself.
Some people around may try to co-operate with you to at least attempt to catch the thief and report the loss to police and act as a witness, but it is a risk if the thief has a knife or gun. In some places, without police support, vigilante crowds may take justice into their own hands, often with brutal results.
In countries with notoriously corrupt police, avoiding confrontation with a thief is strongly advised. He knows the language, the system, and probably the cops, much better than you do. He may be part of a gang with connections you cannot fight. Just let it go.
Money belts and pouches
There are many ways to stash your money and passport where it will be quite a bit more difficult to grab it.
Separate your money. Carry a small-change purse, or keep a small amount of money in a pants pocket, for small transactions like buying a bus-ticket or an ice cream. Put larger bills elsewhere.
Many urban outfitter or mountaneering type shops sell a money belt that you wear under your pants. These are typically nylon and have many pockets, so you can have cash, travellers cheques and passport separated. This is probably your most secure option since it is hard for a thief see it, to reach it and it is in a sensitive area of the body so you are quite likely to notice someone touching you there. The only disadvantage is that some people find them inconvenient to access. The luxury versions of money belts have straps with sewed in wires and all connections are made of steel. So it's not possible to cut these straps or snatch away the belt.
Another type of money belt is just a zipper sewn onto the inside surface of an ordinary belt. These are OK for money, but not passports. They can be bought in some travel-oriented shops, or are easily made.
Many travellers use a passport pouch, like a necklass, which hangs under their shirt. Again, this is a sensitive area of the body; you will likely notice activity there. Make sure it has a secure strap and be careful not to wear it on the outside of your clothing, where it would be an easy snatch-and-run target. Some pouches have a second strap that goes around your chest; with these it's not possible for the thief to snatch-and-run.
Others use a leg pouch, worn under the pants or sometimes on the upper arm under a shirt.
If you sew, or can afford to hire a tailor (can you afford not to?), there are many ways to make clothing somewhat pickpocket-resistant.
Hong Kong tailors routinely put an extra pocket in a pair of pants, built into the waistband.
Simply adding fasteners - velcro, buttons or zippers - makes picking the pocket harder.
You can have additional pockets sewn into garments in odd places. Some possibilities are
- sewing a zipper on the inside of a belt to make a money belt
- sewing a long narrow pocket on the inside of a jacket, from high up near the lapel down diagonally to near the hip. Drop your wallet or passport in there and you have to reach in elbow-deep to get it
- sewing a pocket on the surface of a backpack that goes nearest your body; nothing lumpy can be carried there, but money or a passport are OK
- Some travellers have one garment they use for travelling; a jacket for a businessman or a denim vest for a budget traveller; which has extra pockets built in specifically designed for the trip.
- a cleverly hidden pocket sewn into a wrap-skirt will serve well for ladies. It is fairly easy to add a secure pocket to a pair of boxer-type briefs.
It is best to leave a small reserve (for example, a $100 note) in the unlikeliest of places, in case the worst happens. This money could then be used to cover a hotel room, or transport, or phone calls to your embassy. Suggestions include inside your sock or your shoe, or somewhere equally obscure.
Credit card skimmingIn this scam, you use your card to pay in a bar or restaurant. However, while your card is out of your sight, it is swiped not only in the machine that sends the information to your bank for approval, but in a second machine which copies the card's identifying information from the magnetic strip. The copy of the card, or the number, are then used by the third party to buy goods. Often this is an "inside" job: employees of the outlet are either using the information themselves or being paid to acquire it.
The best way to prevent this scam is to keep your card in your sight at all times. Unfortunately the typical restaurant custom is to let the restaurant staff take your card away and bring you back a receipt to sign: insisting on observing them while they handle your card may make you unpopular.
Otherwise, you can limit the damage done by credit card skimming by keeping receipts when you use your card and checking them against your credit card statement. Make sure the amounts match up and make sure there are no additional purchases you didn't make. Report any discrepancies to your credit card company. The liability rests with them, not with you, as long as you report fraudulent transactions as soon as possible.
Credit-card skimming has sometimes gone a little bit more high-tech than this. Criminals have fitted several Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) in at least Dubai and Australia with card-readers so that card numbers were recorded when the card owner made a legitimate transaction with a bank-owned ATM. In this case, your best chance is likely to be simply checking your statement and reporting and disputing fraudulent transactions.
The Maradona is a scam that is very common in Romania, especially in the capital Bucharest. Someone will approach you and attempt to engage you in a conversation (in English), typically - although not always - about something vaguely illicit. Seconds later, two men will appear in plain clothes but flashing legitimate-looking police badges. They will accuse you and your "new acquaintance" of some illegal activity (usually 'currency swapping', a totally ridiculous charge in a country where legitimate currency exchanges are more common than streetlights), and demand to see your wallet and/or passport.
Do not hand them these things! Keep your documents and belongings in your pocket and out of sight....
Walk away, or yell, or tell them outright that you do not believe that they are the police, or suggest that you all walk to the lobby of a nearby hotel (or police station) because you are not comfortable taking out your wallet or papers in the street, or whatever. These con men thrive because the police fail to enforce laws against non-violent crime and because some foreigners are easily gulled. They will not physically attack you. The treatment of violent offenders is severe , these men are professionals, and they would never be foolish enough to chance a physical attack. While 'professional', the con men are usually armed and can be very dangerous if threatened or cornered.
Out of Gas
A person (perhaps an attractive person of the opposite sex) will approach you on the street, telling you that her car just ran out of gas and is only few blocks away. They'll usually first ask for money for gas. If you don't believe her, or try to walk away, she may beg you to come with her to the car to see that she is telling the truth. Of course, she'll explain that she really need the money because grandma is sick, or they have a big presentation at school/work, etc. Often, the person is well dressed and looks like they really could be a student or professional in distress, and you'll be tempted to believe the story and/or follow them to help out.Do not do this! Your best way out is to use the standard line that you don't have any money and you've got an important meeting/lunch/appointment/etc. that you have to get to. Do not follow the person to her car, as it usually happens to be on a deserted street or dark alley, where others are waiting to rob you.
Although unusual, there have been an increasing number of kidnappings reported over the past several years, and in particular, the kidnappings of Americans and other foreigners. Some of these cases have been so-called 'express kidnappings', in which victims are held for several hours as the kidnappers transport them to various automated bank teller machines in an effort to take as much money as possible from the victims' bank accounts.
Criminal PenaltiesPenalties for breaking the law can be more severe in the Third World than in your home country for similar offenses, and prisons are nowhere near as elegant. Persons violating laws in a foreign land, including not knowing, could be arrested, imprisoned,
Soliciting the services of children for sexual purposes is increasingly illegal in nearly all countries, and is punishable by long-term imprisonment. The age of consent varies greatly by country. Most governments have now established aggressive programs to discourage sexual tourism and to punish severely those who engage in sexual activity with minors. Several foreigners are serving long sentences in Third World country prisons all over the world following conviction of crimes related to sexual activity with minors. The USA also has a new program of prosecuting child sex offenders after offences are committed in other lands.
There are strict penalties in many countries for illegal drug use, possession, and trafficing including very long jail sentences for offenders who are convicted. In some countries like Malaysia and Singapore, prosecutors seek the death penalty for trafficers. Bribing officials in some cases will get you out of a lot of hot water, but this option isn't always available. In addition to the criminal penalties they may face, tourists who use illegal drugs or use the services of prostitutes greatly increase their risk of personal harm. Several foreigners have died in recent years in incidents related to drug use and patronage of prostitutes. It is best to avoid even possessing illegal drugs, and enjoy your vacation with a clear head.
General adventure travel tips (modified from TripAdvisor)
(1) Plan in advance. Booking earlier helps ensure there is still space on the trip, ship, and lodging that best fit your needs. We’ve been known to work magic, but travelers can avoid unnecessary headache by planning in advance.
(2) Plan far in advance for holiday travel. This is particularly important when arranging your international flights. Air travel expenses begin to skyrocket for the holidayseasons. The earlier you can book your travel plans, the more likely you’ll be able to find reasonable flights.
(3) Check your passport expiration date. Make sure passports are current. Think of what a nightmare it would be to show up at the airport only to find they have expired. Passports should be valid for at least 6 months after your departure date. But we recommend that you check with the nearest consulate or embassy for the most up-to-date visa and passport information.
(4) Make photocopies of important documents. Passport, visas, tickets, credit cards, drug prescriptions, and other critical documents should be photocopied, and the copies carried separately.
(5) Know the number of your credit card company. If your credit card is lost or stolen, you should contact your credit card company immediately. Have their telephone number readily available. And make sure you get an alternative to a 1-800 number, as these numbers do not always work outside of the US.
(6) Break in your shoes. New shoes, especially new hiking boots, can be trouble and can result in a lot of blisters and tears. If you buy new shoes for your trip, be sure to give them a good breaking in.
(7) Prepare for altitude sickness. If you are going to venture above 8,000 feet, be sure to prepare to feel the effects of the altitude. Almost anyone venturing above 14,000 feet will feel some degree of altitude sickness. Symptoms include headache, nausea and a general feeling of malaise. Diamox is a popular medicine for altitude sickness.
(8) Travel Insurance, a good idea. Travel insurance can safeguard you from delayed or cancelled flights, weather disruptions, lost luggage, medical emergencies, last minute cancellations and more. Keep all your receipts. It will make submitting a claim so much easier.
(9) Pack light. Less is better. You’ll want life to be as effortless as possible during your vacation, and packing light is any easy way to simplify things. Packing lists are a helpful guide and will usually include (or exclude) items that never crossed your mind. But if you think that you can probably live without it, leave it at home.
(10) Keeping a diary will not only be a precious keepsake of the destination and details of your travels, but it will also be a reminder of the way your trip made you feel. Your travel diary is a personal story of a time in your life when you were able to venture out of the "everyday." If you don’t keep a journal, not matter how limited, rambling or full of spelling mistakes, you’ll regret it.
(11) Vaccinations. Know the vaccinations both required and recommended. Some countries may require re-entry vaccinations. Consult your physician for the most current health precautions for the area you’ll be visiting. The U.S. Center for Disease Control is also an excellent source for detailed information on travel-related illnesses. Visit CDC or in the US, call the National Immunization Hotline at 1-800-232-2522.
(12) Sunscreen. An essential to any packing list. A nasty sunburn is nothing to take lightly and can be extremely painful, and one strong prolonged dose, dermatologists say, can cause skin cancer. Sunscreen can be very expensive to purchase locally as it is primarily a tourist product and not commonly used by the local citizens.
(13) Money. Taking money out of local ATM machines is the cheapest way to convert to the local currency (even with an ATM service charge). Travelers’ checks are not as readily accepted everywhere as American Express always indicates. American Express has a bad reputation for ripping off merchants, claiming signatures are not exactly the same, and sticking the merchant with the loss, while American express gets paid twice. It is better to find an alternative travellers'check. And carry small bills. Because of counterfeit problems, US$100s are particularly a bad idea, and are flat out unaccepted in many locations. A good mixture of cash (both US and local), credit cards, and travellers checks reduces payment problems.
(14) Medications. Make sure to pack an ample supply of all your prescription medications. You won’t want the worry of running out. It is also a good idea to bring your back-up pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses.
(15) Travelling with children, helpful hints. Many governments enforce specific rules at entry/exit points that often require notarized documentary evidence of relationship and permission for a child's travel from the parents or guardian not present. So come prepared. When it comes to mealtime, encourage your children to explore something new on the menu. While the majority of our family-friendly trips can be very accommodating, even to the most sensitive pallet, if you have a picky eater, packing a few bags of trail-mix, or a small jar of peanut butter is a good idea.
(16) Camera. Always bring twice as much film or memory cards as you think you will need. There are endless opportunities for incredible pictures. Purchasing film locally can be quite costly. When your memory card is full, or roll of film complete, take it out of your camera and put it in a safe place. If your camera is lost, your precious photos will still make it home.
(17) Use your room safe. Souvenirs are a part of any travel, but no one wants to haul around and chance losing or damaging gifts for people at home. Plan your shopping for the end of your trip. Utilize the general storage facilities at your hotel if you are going away overnight, but do not leave any valuables. Hotels like when you store you luggage with them, because it means you will be returning.
(18) Be flexible and expect the unexpected. Some of the best stories come from the unexpected, so be open to the adventure of travel. Flexible travelers are the happiest travelers; they realize that unpredictable experiences are what make adventure travel so unique and so rewarding. If you want all the comforts of home, why travel?
(19) Be wary of online 'experts'. In the world of the web, everyone’s a critic and everyone’s an expert. Online forums can be very useful, but take their comments – both the positive and negative – with a grain of salt. If you have uncertainties, rather then relying on the opinion of an online stranger, surf the net and do the research yourself.
Single women travellersMore women are now choosing to travel solo than ever before. It's a great way to see the world, without having to compromise with someone all the time. It puts you in a position of control, meeting new friends, perhaps someone special, it gives you confidence and a worldliness about you, and mostly, it helps you discover yourself.
Of all the many well-known quotations about travel, there are dozens to do with the process of journeying solo. "He travels fastest who travels alone," wrote Rudyard Kipling while Freya Stark famously noted, "To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world."
Single ladies can enjoy their bathroom, gaily bedecking it in under garments without a thought of others navigating through them. The hot water will not run out, unless you spend all day lolling in the bath. But, if you do, there's no need for explanation, except perhaps a small white lie to the housekeeping department.
If touring alone, there's no pressure to do the opera or the central market (particularly if you're the sort of traveller who feels no guilt about time spent in your cozy hotel room with a slice of pizza and Hemingway). No one to lie to about tummy troubles or tension headaches at the very mention of a disco. No need to feel like a cretin if you front up at New Year's Metropolitan Museum of Art and only go to its gift shop (great greeting cards, stationery, posters and reproduction jewellery).
It's possible to have no pressing agenda, to start the day without a clue as to where to go or what to do. Set your own pace, be it fast or slow. ou can't window shopping or smell the roses when trying to keep up with a distant bobbing head.
When alone, you don't have to explain your mild obsessions, like collecting swizzle sticks or hunting down a special local herb to surprise your uncle, the weekend chef.
Get used to the word 'unaccompanied'. Sounding like lost baggage, similarities begin to hit home. It's possible to have no pressing agenda, to start the day without a clue as to where to go or what to do. You can do that with a partner but as most of us know, often from ruined vacations, it's not easy to stand someone who's so totally mindless that they'll merrily follow the path you set.
'An unaccompanied bag' is not such a bad aim for those growing older and becoming more daring and eccentric. Why worry about age and labels, you'll probably never see anyone on your trip again, and if you do, aren't you happy you were yourself.
To be a single lady travelling alone isn't so easy. A pretty American girl, maybe in her early twenties, with a small napsac came up to me on the street in Managua, Nicaragua and asked if I knew of any hotels. I suggested the little pension hotel I was staying in. I don't know what happened to her up until then, but I began to realize she seemed pretty freaked out, and nervous, and was instantly prepared to put all her eggs in my basket.We walked back to my $20 per room per night hotel, but it was full. So I offered her half of my double bed, which she quickly and gratefully accepted. Being a normal man, I instantly thought the Mayan gods had smiled on me. But to not blow a good thing (right away) I allowed her to make the first move.
Well, the move never came but that didn't bother me, I was fine, and we remained inseparable friends for about a week swimming, eating and partying along several beaches on Nicaragua's Pacific coast. Eventually she got a plane ticket back home to Duluth, Minesota, and I never heard from her again.
In this whirlwind of emotions, and decisions, here are a few more safety precautions to consider as you plan your dream vacation travelling alone, particularly in the Third World.
- Stay in well-populated, and well-lit areas. Don't take shortcuts down alleys, and don't walk alone at night.
- Talk to the locals about safety. Ask them which areas they avoid and which areas become dangerous after dark.
- Leave your purse in your hotel room and travel light. But if you need to bring it, wear it across your body and away from the curb to hamper drive-by purse snatchers, rather than just dangling it from your shoulder. Or better yet, leave the purse at home and find another way to carry the things you absolutely need.
- Foreign ladies have been victims of sexual assaults, or even murdered in urban, rural and resort locations. In some of these cases, the victim has known the assailant.
- Beware of sexual assaults by taxi drivers. Females should be careful to use licensed taxis, and try to have your hotel call a taxi for you, so there is record of who picked you up. All taxis should have working door handles, locks, meters and seatbelts. In most countries, passengers are required by law to wear seat belts and females should certainly not ride in the front seat with the driver. Request the driver not to pick up other passengers, it could be a set up. If the taxi meter is not working, a price should be agreed upon before the trip begins. If you are desperate and need to flag down a taxi on the street, copy down the licence plate number, or taxi operators licence number. If you are leaving someone, have this person write the licence number down, and make the taxi driver aware the other person has it.
- Be extra careful at night. Try not to go out without a group of people, and make sure you have a plan to get home safely if you will be returning late. Also, avoid wearing extremely revealing clothes, or bring a sweater or coat to cover you up on your way back to your hotel from a club or restaurant. The more vulnerable you look, the more vulnerable you are.
- Bring a lightweight scarf with you. It's a great, inconspicuous way to keep your stuff close to you. Just tie it around your purse strap, and then loop it through your belt or beltloop on your clothing. In places like Guatemala where you just don't know what to expect, carry your bag on the side away from the curb to foil drive-by purse snatchers.
- Avoid discussing your travel plans in detail with people you meet along the way.
- You may want to call home at predetermined intervals so that relatives and friends can be sure you are OK and can call the necessary authorities if you don't call on the appointed day.
Tips & Warnings
- Bring a couple of extra passport photos with you; this makes it easier to replace important documents if they do get lost or stolen.
- Bring a package of safety or diaper pins with you, and then pin the pockets of your garments closed, with your valuables inside. Just make sure you can access what you need without having to undress completely.
- Even people who seem non-threatening can be thieves or scam artists.
- Don't trust the fellow who comes up to you and asks in perfect English, "Do you speak English?" He'll give you a story about how he had everything stolen and needs a meal or a few bucks to call home, or some money to survive temporarily. They are usually professionals playing on your sympathies, and have been scamming people for years. I was sucked in ten years ago, and the guy is still around!
How to discourage a man from bothering you
In most countries, but especially in Latin America, you will at sometime be bothered by some fellow who thinks he is God's answer to women and whose persistent attention is unwelcome. The following steps should help you get away from him and his incessant come-ons.
- STEP 1: Ignore him. He's looking for attention, so if you don't pay him any, he may get bored and look elsewhere.
- STEP 2: If that doesn't work, try giving him a look that means, "Don't even think about messing with me." It's important to appear confident even if that's not the way you're feeling.
- STEP 3: Walk away. If someone sits down next to you, get up and leave without comment. If someone walks alongside you uninvited, turn around and walk in the other direction.
- STEP 4: If the previous steps haven't worked, tell him, "Déjame en paz," which means, "Leave me alone."
- STEP 5: He's still there? Invent a husband or boyfriend. Try, "Estoy aquí con mi novio," meaning, "I'm here with my boyfriend," then walk away again.
- STEP 6: If all else fails, raise a ruckus and embarrass him into leaving you alone. Shout "Socorro!" (Help!) or call for "la policía."
The more confident and assertive you appear, the less likely you are to be bothered by men. They often enjoy preying on women whom they think will be shocked or flustered by their advances. Don't expect men to leave you alone just because you tell them you're an American and you don't speak Spanish. They'll enjoy the opportunity to practice their pick-up lines in English. Most men who pester you will be harmless, but always be aware of your safety. If you feel at all threatened, immediately look for a well-lit, densely populated place for safety.
Overall things you should consider bringing:
- Language Phrase Book
- English/Language Translation Dictionary
- Fake Wedding Ring
- Whistles and/or pepper spray
- Telephone Calling Cards
- Money Belts
- Silk Scarf
Single men travellers
Sometimes I think God had some master plan for me after forcing me to have a vasectomy (my ex-wife was going off the pill), sending me to Central America to market ecotourism, and then giving us sildenafil for ED! Quite the opposite advice for women is usually requested by single men visiting the Third World, as they are often on a comletely different mission. Most of the basic safety tips for women (above) also apply to men. Most importantly, if it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.
Men will find the Third World mentality quite different from the typical ladies they know at home. They are far from the feminist, liberated, career-oriented western women. Third World ladies come from a much simpler, uneducated, usually poorer background.
The embarrassment of many governments, sex tourism is rapidly growing, and as long as people are prepared to pay for sex and others offer it, the industry won't go away. Given this fact of life, it is too dangerous to not be regulated, so that innocent young people struggling to survive are not harmed or abused in any way.
If looking for free companionship, you can get in with a circle of friends of friends, you will easily be able to meet someone you will be attracted to. Third World people have a genuine curiousity about foreigners, and are more than willing to make them feel at home, regardless of the language barrier. If you don't live in the Third World, the first and most accessable ladies you will probably meet will be in a bar or a nightclub. The vast majority of bars in the Third World do not center their activities around hooking. For starters, it is illegal in most countries, though authorities generally turn a blind eye to it.
Tourists looking for paid sex have many global 'hot spots' to choose from. Though there are extreme exceptions, by and large, if you visit these same locations and are not in the market for payable sex, you probably won't see it, and won't be molested. You could have a regular family vacation.
To some degree, prostitution is a fact of life in all of the Third World regardless of the specific laws of the country. The majority of people, and especially the wealthy, look down on the sex industry professionals involved, no matter what sex he or she is. Where prostitution is illegal, there is obviously then, no minimum age, and therefore there are hookers younger than the usual age of majority that make themselves more openly available.
A normal man cannot help but be attracted to these beauties, with their velvety tanned skin, beautiful big brown eyes, diving board eyelashes, full lips, feminine rythmic movements and if she is working, undivided attention directed at him. In some extreme bars, like the most famous in all Central America, the Blue Marlin Bar in the Hotel del Rey in San Jose and its sister bar, Key Largo, the battle is trying not to make eye contact. The girls have all the moves, and they move about the room maximizing their exposure, lightly tugging on your shirt from behind or asking, 'Where you from' and 'What you name', I use 'Joe' and 'New York'. If you give in for a minute, you will need to spend an hour trying to politely get rid of her, but after a couple of beers, she moves from an 8.2 to a 9.4, so where are you now?If you're approached by a well-dressed local gentleman or attractive woman, who suggests going for a drink in his/her favorite nightspot, think twice about it. Don't go with anyone you don't know or feel confident about. When you arrive, the joint is close to deserted, but as soon as you sit down, some scantily clad girls plop down next to you, look wantingly into your eyes, and ask you to buy them a glass of champagne. Boom, five minutes and it's done, and she asks for another, she's so good looking you have no choice, you are poured stiff drinks, your friend disappears, and before you know it, the bill is several hundred dollars. Heavies block the door and flex their muscles until you pay up. You are in a clip joint, and you just got clipped!
This is particularly common in Europe's larger cities, including London, Istanbul and Budapest. The best defense is not to end up in this situation. Pick the bar yourself, or at least back out immediately. If you do end up in this situation, and it happens to the best of us (once), pay by credit card to get out, then dispute the bill immediately. The police will be of no assistance, but filing a report may make it easier to get the charges reversed.
Reports are increasing that unsuspecting patrons of bars and nightclubs have been drugged and later assaulted or robbed. Foreigners should always be aware of their surroundings, and should not consume food or drinks they have left unattended. Foreigners may find it safer to seek entertainment in groups to help avoid being targeted, especially in urban areas.
Sex tourism generates a lot of income, directly and indirectly, though most Third World governments always try to downplay it, and maintain a wholesome image. The local population generally looks down on prostitutes, whereas male tourists, away from home and family, don't care. Most women can get factory work of some sort, and earn maybe $10 per day, but not enough to raise a growing family.
With a lack of genuine opportunities to make enough money to support their families, many young ladies enter the profession. The lion's share of prostitution is centered in the major cities, though it has also spread wherever tourists, sailors, and fishermen gather. The money can be instantly gratifying, but irregular, and the lifestyle quickly takes its toll on the prostitute's most saleable asset, her youth. The need for money to make ends meet is at times so powerful that some husbands knowingly allow their wives or girlfriends to perform such services, while he minds the children at home. It's a living with a meat market mentality.
Most prostitutes are actually looking for a relationship, someone to rescue them and support them, so they don't have to continue this lifestyle. Few enjoy the work. Some of the more business savy, attractive prostitutes actually build a 'harem' of men who each send her money on a regular basis from their home country, none knowing about the others, and all insisting she stops working. The joke is on them.
Many prostitutes travel long distances to other more lucrative prostitution cities such as Bangkok, Rio and Panama City and to escape the grip of extreme poverty at home, leaving children with family, in hopes of returning one day with enough money to start a new life. Very few ever reach their dream. Many are deported by immigration authorities, destitute and penniless, physically and mentally abused, often addicted to various regional drugs.
In some countries, prostitutes are required or encouraged to be blood tested and carry up to date health cards, an equal number escape testing, possibly for fear of discovering the truth and ending their career. Besides, testing is inconclusive. The transmission of AIDS has quietly reached epidemic proportions. In the case for Central America, according to the WHO document titled HIV/AIDS in Central America: An Overview of the Epidemic and Priorities for Prevention, HIV adult prevalence seems to be highest in Belize (2 percent), followed by Honduras (1.6 percent), Panama (1.5 percent), Guatemala (1 percent), El Salvador (0.6 percent), Costa Rica (0.6 percent), and Nicaragua (0.2 percent), based on UNAIDS estimates. The epidemic is generally concentrated in high-risk populations such as men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, prisoners, and street children.
Some hotels shun guests returning with prostitutes. Others, charge $10 to $30 to the guest, take a copy of the prostitute's identification (for the guest's protection), ask that they be discrete, and the guest must take full responsibility for his visitor. It is not my wish to morally condemn the world's oldest profession, but since it does exist and isn't going away, and is increasing as more people become economically desperate, I feel prostitution should be legalized in order to control it in licensed establishments with heavy security surveillance and frequent H.I.V. testing of the prostitutes and perhaps even of their clients. Sex workers need to carry valid up to date health cards, and be made aware of the risks they are taking, and in particular the need to practice safe sex. The Catholic Church, the world over, is against sex education in schools and has been chastised for impeding progress in this regard.
StreetwalkersSexually attractive people are a fine distraction, and conspicuously available ones even more so. However, sampling the local streetwalkers puts you at risk of crime. Prostitutes can be used as bait for a variety of scams:
- leading you into an armed robbery
- having an accomplice go through your clothes while you are out of them
- a bogus 'outraged family member' (or cop) appearing and needing to be bought off
- hidden cameras and eventual blackmail
Even if you do not allow them to lead you anywhere, streetwalkers can be dangerous. A person who brings one to his hotel is taking a chance on missing his watch or wallet in the morning.
If you are willing to take the health and legal risks of hiring a prostitute, go to a "massage shop", "sauna" or whatever the local euphemism is. Because you may have some money or valuables, these establishments are significantly safer than trusting a person you meet on the street.
Travel health tips
People made more than 800 million international journeys in 2006. International travel can pose various risks to health, depending on the characteristics of both the traveller and the travel. Travellers may encounter sudden and significant changes in altitude, humidity, microbes and temperature, which can result in ill-health. In addition, serious health risks may arise in areas where accommodation is of poor quality, hygiene and sanitation are inadequate, medical services are not well developed and clean water is unavailable.
Many health risks can be minimized by precautions taken before, during and after travel. All people planning travel should become informed and plan ahead with appropriate preventive measures and careful precautions for the potential hazards of the countries they are travelling to minimizing any risk to their health. This information is a summary of the World Health Organization's advice for travellers and briefly explains how travellers can stay healthy, including guidance on vaccinations, malaria chemoprophylaxis and treatment, protection against insects and other disease vectors, and safety in different environmental settings.
Check-list of items in your first aid kit[[Image:
- adhesive tape
- antiseptic wound cleanser
- emollient eye drops
- insect repellent
- insect bite treatment
- nasal decongestant
- oral rehydration salts
- scissors and safety pins
- simple analgesic (e.g. paracetamol)
- sterile dressing
- clinical thermometer.
Additional items according to destination and individual needs:
- antidiarrhoeal medication
- antifungal powder
- antimalarial medication
- medication for any pre-existing medical condition
- sterile syringes and needles
- water disinfectant
The relevant infectious diseases are described, including their causative agents, modes of transmission, clinical features, geographical distribution, risks for travellers, and prophylactic and preventive measures.
- if you are prescribed malarial medication, take it as prescribed-prior to leaving, while in risk areas and when you return
- purchase and take with you enough medication to cover the length of the trip-it may not be available overseas
- if your trip will involve increased physical activity such as walking and you are not exercising regularly, gradually build up your fitness (after receiving clearance from your doctor) weeks, or preferably months before you depart
- organise a variety of financial options for while you are away, including credit cards, travellers' cheques and cash
- find out whether essentials are readily available in your chosen destination. In some countries supplies of feminine hygiene products, nappies and contraceptives including condoms can be unreliable, so it may be best to stock up before you leave.
- keep important medication with you in case your luggage goes missing continue taking your prescribed medication
- travellers should be discouraged from taking medication onto flights unless it is for the immediate journey and an allowance of time at the other end to pick up your baggage (allow at least 4 hours).
- all extra supplies of medication for your arrival should be placed in your stored luggage.
- any powder/inhalers or tablets can be carried in the hand luggage - up to 50 grams
- any liquids, creams or gel medications which are essential for the flight may also be carried in the hand luggage as long as they are smaller than 50ml
- if the amount is larger than 50mls you must make sure it can be tested before getting on the flight – in order to test the medication you may be asked to taste it.
- if an adult is travelling with a young child and wants to carry non-prescription medication onto the flight they may need to taste the child’s medication
- factor the effects of jet lag into your itinerary
- if you're scuba-diving, don't travel in an aircraft for at least 24 hours after your final dive to help avoid deep vein thrombosis (DVT):
- drink plenty of fluids (but avoid alcohol and caffeine)
- while seated stretch your feet and lower legs
- walk around the cabin at regular intervals.
- do not over exercise, especially in a hot climate
- if local tap water is not safe, drink plenty of bottled water (also use this to brush your teeth) and always check the seal on the bottle
- avoid ice in cool drinks, as freezing preserves germs, it does not kill them
- avoid uncooked food such as salads and fruit that have been pre-peeled
- include 'rest time' in your travel itinerary
- wear comfortable shoes, a hat and sunscreen for sightseeing
- dress and behave conservatively, in accordance with local customs and sensitivities
- wear a pair of thongs when showering, or shoes in public places
- practise safe sex. HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted disease are widespread in many countries.
Below is a series of brief descriptions of some of the more serious diseases that international travellers may encounter. Most of these diseases are rare and the vast majority of travellers will never come across them. There are vaccines available for immunisation against most of them.
The following descriptions of traveler's related diseases comes with permission from an excellent website in the UK, www.traveldoctor.co.uk. I could study and post my own descriptions of diseases, but doubt if I could add much to what this excellent site already has.
Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease which is widespread in many tropical and subtropical countries. It is caused by being stung by an infected mosquito that is carrying the malaria parasites in its saliva then migrate to the liver where they multiply before returning back into the bloodstream to invade the red blood cells. The parasites continue to multiply inside the red cells until they burst releasing large numbers of free parasites into the blood plasma causing the characteristic fever associated with the disease. This phase of the disease occurs in cycles of approximately 48 hours.
The free parasites are then able to infect any mosquito that feeds on the host's blood during this phase. The cycle then continues as the parasites multiply inside the mosquito. Malaria occurs in over 100 countries and more than 40% of the people in the world are at risk. Large areas of Central and South America, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Oceania are considered malaria-risk areas.Symptoms of malaria include fever and flu-like illness, including shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea may also occur. Malaria may cause anaemia and jaundice (yellow colouring of the skin and eyes) because of the loss of red blood cells. Infection with one type of malaria, P. falciparum, if not promptly treated, may cause kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and death.
For most people, symptoms begin 10 days to 4 weeks after infection, although a person may feel ill as early as 8 days or up to 1 year later. Any traveller who becomes ill with a fever or flu-like illness while travelling and up to one year after returning home should immediately seek professional medical care and mention you have been travelling in a malaria-risk area.
Malaria can be cured with prescription drugs. The type of drugs and length of treatment depend on which kind of malaria is diagnosed, where the patient was infected, the age of the patient, and how severely ill the patient was at start of treatment.
Anybody travelling to an area where malaria is endemic is at risk of catching the disease. Be aware of the fact that adventure travellers are usually more exposed to malaria than ordinary travellers due to the nature of their activities and the fact that they travel to the more remote locations.
Taking Anti-Malaria Tablets - It should be noted that no prophylactic regimen is 100% effective and advice on malaria changes frequently. The tablets you require depend on the country to which you are travelling. Start taking the tablets before travel take them absolutely regularly during your stay, preferably with or after a meal and continue to take them after you have returned. This is extremely important to cover the incubation period of the disease. Many cause side effects like nausea, mouth ulsers, blurred visoion, rashes and poor resistance to sun exposure. Malarone is a relatively new treatment and is virtually free of side effects. It is licensed for use in stays of up to 28 days but there is now experience of it being taken safely for up to three months.
Yellow fever is a viral illness which is spread by the bite of a mosquito.
Essentially yellow fever is a disease of monkeys living in tropical rain forests. Humans are infected by being bitten by rain forest mosquitos carrying the yellow fever virus. The mosquito in particular is well suited to the transport and spread of the infection due to its wide distribution throughout the tropics.
Arbovirus illnesses usually have two characteristic phases, the first when the virus is invading the host cells, and the second a few days later when the body's immune system is fighting the infection. The antibodies produced during the second phase of illness can cause damage to the blood vessels which explains why arboviruses often cause bleeding.
Many yellow fever infections are mild and go unrecognised but severe and life threatening illness is not uncommon. After an incubation period of about three to six days fever, headache, abdominal pain and vomiting develop. After a brief recovery period, shock, bleeding and signs of liver and kidney failure develop. Liver failure is associated with jaundice hence the name "yellow fever".
There is no drug available to cure yellow fever hence treatment is aimed at symptomatic relief. Overall about 5% of patients die. Those who recover do so completely and are immune thereafter. Fortunately yellow fever is one of the few arboviruses for which a vaccination is available. A single injection of a live, weakened (and harmless) virus stimulates the body's immune defences and confers effective immunity for ten years.
In general, all travellers going to an endemic area require a yellow fever vaccination certificate and travellers going to some parts of Asia from an endemic region will also require a certificate.
Dengue FeverThis is an unusual arbovirus infection since no other animals except humans and mosquitoes play a significant part in perpetuating the infection. It is present in Africa, South East Asia, the Pacific area and Central and northern South America.
The disease is spread from person to person by the bite of a mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and after about five days incubation period there is a sudden onset of fever, headache and severe joint and muscle pains. The initial fever resolves after about three to five days only to recur with the appearance of a rash consisting of small white spots which starts on the trunk and spreads to the limbs and face. Within a few days the fever subsides and recovery follows.
Although dengue is a very unpleasant illness, complications are uncommon and recovery is usually complete. But there is also a more severe and life threatening haemorrhagic form of the disease which has appeared with dramatic outbreaks. Fortunately this form occurs only rarely.
This is thought to be the result of a second infection where there is some remaining immunity from a first attack causing a vigorous immunological response in which severe blood vessel damage occurs.
Unfortunately, immunity to infection does not last long and subsequent attacks are possible. There is no vaccine available. Prevention is by avoiding mosquito bites.
Japanese B Encephalitis
This is a rare but serious arboviral infection with a 20% fatality rate. It occurs in most of the Far East and South East Asia. The endemic zone extends from India and Nepal across the whole of South East Asia to Japan and Korea in the Far East.
The risk of infection is greatest in long term visitors to rural areas, and the risk to short term visitors and visitors to major cities is small. Precautions against mosquito bites are essential.
Japanese B Encephalitis is transmitted by rice field breeding mosquitoes (of the Culex group) that become infected with Japanese encephalitis virus.Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on domestic pigs and wild birds infected with the Japanese encephalitis virus. Infected mosquitos then transmit the Japanese encephalitis virus to humans and animals during the feeding process.
The incubation period is normally between 5 and 15 days. The illness cannot be passed on from person to person. There is no specific treatment. Intensive supportive therapy is indicated.
Mild infections can sometimes occur without apparent symptoms other than mild fever with headache. More severe infection is marked by quick onset, headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions (especially in infants) and spastic paralysis.
There is an effective vaccine available. It should be considered by anyone travelling to Asia for more than a month or visiting rural areas.
Tick Borne Encephalitis
Ticks are blood feeding external parasites of mammals, birds, and reptiles throughout the world. Ticks are not insects like fleas, but arachnids like mites, spiders and scorpions.
Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system. TBE is endemic in many European countries, the former Soviet Union, and Asia. It is found mainly in temperate regions. The natural hosts of the virus are small rodents and deer, with humans being accidental hosts. After attaching itself to the host, an infected tick transfers the virus to the host during feeding.In disease endemic areas, people with recreational or occupational exposure to rural or outdoor settings such as; hunters, hikers, campers, forest workers, farmers, etc. are potentially at risk of infection by contact with the infected ticks.
The incubation period of TBE is usually between 7 and 14 days.
A characteristic biphasic febrile illness follows, with an initial phase that lasts two to four days. It is non-specific with symptoms that may include fever, malaise, anorexia, muscle aches, headache, nausea, and/or vomiting.
After about eight days of remission, the second phase of the disease occurs in twenty to thirty percent of patients and involves the central nervous system with symptoms of meningitis (fever, headache, and a stiff neck) or encephalitis (drowsiness, confusion, sensory disturbances, and/or motor abnormalities such as paralysis) or meningoencephalitis. TBE is more severe in adults than in children.
Mortality is about two percent with deaths occurring five to seven days after the onset of neurological signs.
There is no specific treatment for TBE. Meningitis, encephalitis, or meningoencephalitis require hospitalisation and supportive care. Like other tick-borne infectious diseases, TBEV infection can be prevented by using insect repellents and protective clothing to prevent tick bites. A vaccine is available in some disease endemic areas but adverse vaccine reactions in children limit the use of the vaccine. The vaccine involves two doses one month apart. If required, a booster is given after a year.
West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus is a flavivirus commonly found in Africa, West Asia, the Middle East and the United States. The virus can infect humans, birds, mosquitoes, horses and some other mammals.
The principal route of human infection with West Nile virus is through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitos become infected when they feed on infected birds, which circulate the virus in their blood for a few days. The virus replicates in the mosquito and spreads to the mosquito's salivary glands. During subsequent blood meals, the virus may be injected into humans and animals, where it can multiply and possibly cause illness.
West Nile fever is usually a case of mild disease characterized by flu-like symptoms. It typically lasts only a few days and does not appear to cause any long-term health effects.
More severe disease due to a person being infected with this virus can be West Nile encephalitis, West Nile meningitis or West Nile meningoencephalitis. Encephalitis refers to an inflammation of the brain, meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane around the brain and the spinal cord, and meningoencephalitis refers to inflammation of the brain and the membrane surrounding it.The incubation period is usually 3 to 14 days. Symptoms of mild disease will generally last a few days. Symptoms of severe disease may last several weeks, although neurological effects may be permanent.
Many people who are infected with the West Nile virus will not have any type of illness. It is estimated that 20% of the people who become infected will develop West Nile fever: mild symptoms, including fever, headache, and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands.
The symptoms of severe infection (West Nile encephalitis or meningitis) include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. It is estimated that 1 in 150 persons infected with the West Nile virus will develop a more severe form of disease.
There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus infection. In more severe cases, intensive supportive therapy is indicated, often involving hospitalization, intravenous fluids, airway management, respiratory support (ventilator), prevention of secondary infections (pneumonia, urinary tract, etc.), and good nursing care.
When travelling to areas where the disease is endemic you can reduce the risk of becoming infected with the virus by employing preventive measures such as protecting yourself from mosquito bites.
Apply insect rellent to your skin and clothes when going outside. When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever you are outdoors. Place mosquito netting over infant carriers when you are outdoors with infants. Consider staying indoors at dawn, dusk, and in the early evening, which are peak mosquito biting times. Make sure any window and door screens are intact so that mosquitoes cannot get indoors. Use mosquito nets around beds at night while asleep.
Apply insect repellent sparingly to exposed skin. The more DEET a repellent contains the longer time it can protect you from mosquito bites. A higher percentage of DEET in a repellent does not mean that your protection is better—just that it will last longer. DEET concentrations higher than 50% do not increase the length of protection. Choose a repellent that provides protection for the amount of time that you will be outdoors.
Typhoid FeverTyphoid fever is a life-threatening illness caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi. It belongs to the Salmonella group which contains nearly 2,000 different types causing mild diseases such as food poisoning, through to the more serious disease of typhoid fever. Paratyphoid fever is a similar but less severe variant.
It is a common illness in the developing world, where it affects about 12.5 million people each year.
Typhoid fever occurs in most parts of the world except in developed countries such as the United Kingdom, Western Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Therefore, if you are traveling to the developing world, you should consider taking precautions. Travellers to Asia, Africa, and Latin America are especially at risk.
The typhoid fever bacteria is carried in the bloodstream and intestinal tract of infected persons. A small number of persons, called carriers, recover from the fever but continue to carry the bacteria. Both ill persons and carriers shed the bacteria in their feces. Diagnosis requires medical opinion and examination of the blood.
You can get typhoid fever if you eat food or drink beverages that have been contaminated by a person who is shedding S. Typhi or if sewage contaminated with S. Typhi bacteria gets into the water you use for drinking or washing food. Therefore, typhoid fever is more common in areas of the world where handwashing is less frequent and water is likely to be contaminated with sewage.
The incubation period depends on the quantity of the bacteria swallowed and can vary from one to three weeks.Persons with typhoid fever usually have a sustained fever as high as 39° or 40° C. They will also feel weak, have stomach pains, headache and loss of appetite. In some cases, patients have a rash of flat, rose-colored spots.
Treatment: Typhoid fever is usually treated with antibiotics such as ampicillin or ciprofloxacin which are very effective but should ideally be given under medical supervision. Hospital admission may be more appropriate abroad. Persons treated with antibiotics usually improve within 2 to 3 days, and deaths rarely occur. However, relapse is not uncommon and patients may develop the carrier state after treatment. It is therefore very important to have your stools examined on your return if you have been treated for typhoid abroad.
Without treatment this illness can be fatal!!. Persons who do not receive treatment may continue to have the fever for weeks or months, and as many as 20% may die from complications such as peritonitis resulting from perforation of the gut wall.
Typhoid fever can be prevented and can usually be treated with antibiotics. If you are planning to travel to a region where it exists, you should know about it and what steps you can take to protect yourself.
There are two basic actions that can help to protect you from typhoid fever:
1. Get vaccinated against typhoid fever. 2. Avoid risky foods and drinks.
Watching what you eat and drink when you travel is just as important as being vaccinated. This is because the vaccines are not completely effective. Avoiding risky foods will also help protect you from other illnesses, including travelers' diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, and hepatitis A.
TetanusTetanus is a potentially fatal disease which is caused by an infection of the bacterium Clostridium Tetani. The bacteria enter the body through a wound where they grow and produce a powerful toxin which circulates in the blood and causes muscular rigidity and painful muscle contractions. Death is usually caused by respiratory problems and exhaustion.
Tetanus spores are present in soil worldwide and may be introduced into the body during injury through a puncture wound, burn or trivial, unnoticed wounds and scratches.
While vaccination has largely diminished the incidence of tetanus, the disease has not disappeared. If individuals are not fully immunised there is always the risk of tetanus developing in wounds contaminated by soil. The incubation period is between four and twenty one days, commonly around ten days.
The first sign of tetanus is when the patient may notice jaw stiffness and difficulty in opening the mouth (lock jaw).
Treatment: Requires medical supervision in hospital.
Prevention: All wounds, even minor ones should be thoroughly washed with clean water and soap taking particular care to remove all dirt and loose tissue.
Immunisation against tetanus is highly protective and adults and children should ensure they are in date for it. Booster doses should be given at ten year intervals.
This is caused by a virus which is spread from person-to-person primarily through faecal contamination of food and water although it can also be spread by droplet transfer.
Initially, infection of the gut can spread to the spinal cord or brain where it can cause paralysis. In the days before widespread vaccination it tended to occur in epidemics.
Travellers who have not been immunised or whose immunity has waned are at risk if they are travelling to areas of the world where polio still occurs. ie. Nigeria, Niger, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are particularly high risk.In many cases infection with the polio virus has no symptoms. When they do do occur, the onset of polio is sudden with fever, headache, nausea and vomiting as the virus multiplies in the gut. The virus then invades the blood stream and nervous system. Paralysis occurs in less 1% of the time, increasing with age. The patient may die if the respiratory and swallowing muscles are affected. Those who survive may develop residual paralysis. Severe pain, and wasting are common in paralysed muscles. Recovery can take up to a year.
The incubation period is 7-14 days. A blood test for antibodies will confirm the diagnosis, although this is not always available abroad. Patients are infectious by close contact and should be isolated for at least a week.
Treatment: The development of paralysis is clearly an emergency and medical help should be sought without delay. If the paralysis affects the breathing muscles, artificial means of respiration may be required. Extreme care should be taken when disposing of excreta for up to 6 weeks.
Prevention: There is an effective vaccine available. Ten yearly boosters should be given to ensure maximum immunity and travellers should ensure they are in date for polio immunization. Past infection with polio does not always give complete protection as there are three strains of the virus.
As the disease is usually spread through close contact, try to avoid crowded places in high risk areas as much as possible. (buses, trains,public swimming pools). This could prove difficult in some countries such as India. Therefore vaccination is strongly advised if travelling there.
The World Health Organisation is making great efforts to encourage the widespread use of polio vaccine in an attempt to eradicate polio from all the countries of the world. Many countries have already been certified polio free by the WHO. By 1994, the Americas were certified as polio-free.
This is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the liver. It occurs worldwide and is especially prevalent in areas of poor sanitation and hygiene.
Many children in developing countries are infected with the virus at an early age, usually without symptoms. Past infection with hepatitis A virus gives life long immunity.
However, in the developed world where sanitation is better, fewer people are contracting the disease during childhood and are therefore at risk when they become adults from the more severe form of the disease, which they could catch when they travel to areas of the world where hepatitis A is more common.The virus is transmitted from person-to-person by the faecal-oral route particularly in areas with poor sanitation and overcrowding. It is quickly spread through close contact, particularly within families and institutions and is commonly associated with eating and drinking contaminated food and water. Food outbreaks are often linked to raw or undercooked shellfish and raw vegetables although almost any food can be implicated which has been poorly cooked in sewage-polluted water.
Hepatitis A has a wide range of symptoms, from an infection without any noticeable symptoms through to jaundice, liver failure and death. Unlike hepatitis B, there is no chronic carrier state for hepatitis A.
Symptoms include fever, chills, weakness, loss of appetite, nausea and abdominal discomfort, followed within a few days by jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). The urine becomes dark and the stools pale. Jaundice may be severe and prolonged and complete liver failure may occur.
Prevention: Avoid contaminated food and water.
Hepatitis A can be prevented by vaccination. The immunization schedule consists of a single dose of vaccine followed by a booster dose six to twelve months after the first dose to give immunity up to ten years.
Cholera is a bacterial infection of the gastro-intestinal tract caused by the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae. These bacteria are typically ingested by drinking water contaminated by improper sanitation or by eating improperly cooked fish, especially shell fish.About one million Vibrio cholerae bacteria must be ingested to cause cholera in normally healthy adults, although increased susceptibility may be observed in those with weakened immune systems, individuals with decreased gastric acidity (as from the use of antacids etc.), or those who are malnourished. The incubation period is usually two to three days but may only be a few hours.
Vibrio cholerae causes the disease by producing a toxin that induces severe painless watery diarrhoea of sudden onset, occasionally accompanied by vomiting, which rapidly leads to dehydration. The profuse diarrhoea allows the bacterium to spread to other people under insanitary conditions.
The bacteria are transmitted in water or food contaminated with infected faeces and the disease can occur in large-scale epidemics where sanitary conditions have broken down such as those in areas of natural disasters. Cholera is rare amongst travellers as they tend to avoid the insanitary conditions which would put them at risk.Treatment: Medical help should be sought without delay. Cholera is treated with rehydration and antibiotics, but in severe cases, can lead to death. Fluid replacement is essential and should be started as soon as symptoms occur. The patient should aim to drink as much non-alcoholic fluid as it takes to maintain a good output of normal looking urine (this may be as much as six or seven litres a day).
Prevention: Avoid contaminated food and water, especially raw or undercooked seafood from polluted water.
There is a new vaccine (Dukoral) for immunisation against cholera for people travelling to highly endemic or epidemic areas, particularly emergency relief and health workers in refugee situations. The vaccine may be considered for the following:
- People working in areas where there are known cholera outbreaks (e.g. aid workers).
- Travellers staying for long periods in known high risk areas and/or where close contact with locals is likely, and who do not have access to medical care.
- Travellers to risk areas who have an underlying gastro-intestinal disease or immune suppression.
The vaccine is taken as a raspberry flavoured drink for adults and children over two years.
Meningitis is an infection that causes inflamation of the membranes and fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection.Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves without specific treatment, while bacterial meningitis (meningococcal) can be quite severe and may result in brain damage, coma or even death.
It can occur in epidemics, especially where large crowds are gathered, as it is acquired through direct contact or inhalation of bacteria in droplets coughed or sneezed into the air.
Early diagnosis and treatment are very important. If symptoms occur, the patient should seek medical help immediately. Medical supervision is required since large doses of antibiotics are employed. Treatment should be started without delay. Identification of the type of bacteria responsible is helpful for the selection of correct antibiotics.
High fever, headache, and stiff neck and a blotchy rash are common symptoms. These can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 to 2 days. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort with bright lights, confusion, and sleepiness. As the disease progresses, patients may develop seizures before going into a coma.
Sporadic cases of meningitis are found worldwide. In temperate zones, most cases occur in the winter months. Localized outbreaks occur in enclosed crowded spaces (e.g. dormitories, military barracks). In sub-Saharan Africa, in a zone stretching across the continent from Senegal to Ethiopia (known as the African “meningitis belt”), large outbreaks and epidemics take place during the dry season (November–June).Bacterial meningitis is contagious. The bacteria are spread by direct person to person contact including aerosol transmission and exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (i.e. sneezing, coughing, kissing, etc.). Fortunately, none of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as the viruses that spread the common cold or influenza, and they are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.
The risk to travellers is generally low. However, the risk is considerable if travellers are in crowded conditions or taking part in large population movements such as pilgrimages eg. the Haj to Mecca. Localized outbreaks occasionally occur among travellers (usually young adults) in camps or dormitories. Backpackers who use crowded hostels will be at greater risk during an outbreak
Prevention: Avoid overcrowded places and close contact with the local population.
There are two vaccines used to protect travellers. The meningitis A + C vaccine and the meningitis ACWY vaccine. The latter is required for pilgrims and seasonal workers visiting Saudi Arabia.
Effective treatment is undertaken with a number of antibiotics. It is important, however, that treatment be started early in the course of the disease. This will reduce the risk of mortality to below 15%, although the risk is higher among the elderly.
Diphtheria is an infection caused by a bacterium called Corynebacterium diphtheriae that causes a moderately sore throat. Sometimes the lining of the throat may swell to form "a false membrane" which can cause difficulties in breathing.
In its early stages, diphtheria may be mistaken for a severe sore throat. In severe cases the neck tissue may become very swollen and in tropical countries the infection can occur in skin ulcers.It is mainly spread by droplets expelled from the nose and mouth usually by breathing in diphtheria bacteria after an infected person has coughed, sneezed or even laughed. It can also be spread by handling used tissues or by drinking from a glass used by an infected person.
Nearly one out of every ten people who get diphtheria will die from it. Most cases occur among unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated people.
The bacterium produces a toxin which can seriously damage the heart muscle and the nervous system. After two to six weeks, the effects of the toxin produced by the bacteria become apparent with severe muscle weakness, mainly affecting the muscles of the head and neck. Inflammation of the heart muscle can cause heart failure. Death usually occurs either from respiratory failure, heart failure or a build up of toxin in the nervous system.Whether or not the patient dies depends on the severity of the illness, their level of immunity and the speed with which treatment is started.
One of the regions where diphtheria is present is eastern Europe, including Russia and the former states of the Soviet Union. Cases of have occurred in Finland, Estonia, Poland and Belarus and even Germany, Belgium and the UK resulting from imported infection.
Treatment: This is specialised and requires medical supervision in hospital.
Prevention: Try to avoid too close contact with people in crowded places when travelling in endemic regions (particularly kissing and sharing bottles or glasses).
Diphtheria can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine. A vaccine is now available for travellers to provide protection against both diphtheria and tetanus.
Immunization is very effective and UK children are immunized within their first year. Boosters are required every ten years for travellers and those at risk.
My friend, Ted Bogard, a big blonde American was walking with me down a street in Quito Equador when he was suddenly bitten by a dog that came out of nowhere. Perhaps Ted's sheer size frightened the animal, but we didn't know for sure. We looked all over for the dog afterwords, but never found it, so Ted ended up staying for an extended rabies treatment in the event the dog was rabid.
This is a viral infection that is acquired from the saliva of an infected or rabid animal, usually a dog or cat. In most cases infection results from a bite but even a lick on an open cut or sore may be enough.Symptoms start with itching and tingling at the site of the healed bite and then rapidly progresses to include headache, fever, spreading paralysis, confusion, aggression and hydrophobia (fear of water). It may take many weeks or months for symptoms to develop although it is usually two to eight weeks. Animals may be infectious for five days before they develop symptoms.
Treatment: Thoroughly cleanse all bites with soap and water and do not allow the wound to be stitched. Limited bleeding should be encouraged. Apply alcohol if possible.
If available, human immunoglobulin (HRIG) should be given especially for bites to the head/face. The disease can almost always be prevented, even after exposure, if the vaccine is administered without delay.
You should therefore seek medical advice immediately and have a course of five injections of Purified Chick Embryo Cell Vaccine (PCEC) or Human Diploid Cell Vaccine (HDCV). This can be difficult to obtain abroad and if necessary a first world embassy or consulate should be contacted for a supply.
If you have had a pre-exposure course of vaccine you should still have a 'booster' course of two doses of vaccine without delay.
Prevention: Never approach or handle animals you don't know, particularly if they are acting strangely (duh!). Pre-exposure immunization against rabies is recommended for long-stay travellers/residents and those who intend to travel to rural and remote areas. In the event of a bite, your body's responses could be quickly activated by booster doses of vaccine. There are rarely any side effects or discomfort from the new type of vaccine unlike the old types.
Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is one of the leading causes of all adult deaths worldwide.
The disease is usually spread through infected sputum but there is a form spread through milk from infected cows.
The bacteria that cause TB are inhaled in the form of microscopic droplets that come from a person infected with TB. When coughing, speaking or sneezing, small droplets are expelled into the air which quickly dry out but the bacteria can remain airborne for hours. However, the tuberculosis bacteria are killed when exposed to ultraviolet light, including sunlight.
After the tuberculosis bacteria have been inhaled, they reach the lungs, and within approximately six weeks a small infection appears which rarely gives any symptoms but sometimes general malaise, weakness and weight loss are characteristic during the incubation period which may be up to twelve weeks. After this, the bacteria can then spread through the blood.The infection remains dormant in most cases in people who are otherwise healthy and does not do any obvious harm. Months or even years later, however, the disease can become reactivated in different organs if the immune system is weakened. The lungs are the favourite place for the illness to strike.
Symptoms of TB include cough, blood in the sputum, weight loss, fatigue and night sweats. The bacteria can spread to the blood in individuals who have weak immune systems (especially when caused by alcohol).
TB is primarily a disease of the lungs causing persistent cough with fever and sweating. However, the infection can spread via blood from the lungs to other organs in the body, the bones, the urinary tract and sexual organs, the intestines and even in the skin. Lymph nodes in the lungs and throat can also get infected. Sometimes the disease can be overwhelming; producing meningitis and coma; this particularly dangerous form is usually found in children and those who have not previously been vaccinated or exposed to the disease.
Three million deaths occur each year from TB, which is more than any other single infectious disease. The disease is more common in areas of the world where poverty, malnutrition, poor general health and social disruption are present. The disease has been commonly found in places of crowding such as hostels and prisons where healthcare is poor.
Treatment: Effective and affordable antimicrobial drugs to treat TB disease have been available for decades but these must be taken for six to eight months under medical supervision because if treatment is not completed, the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the TB bacteria may be encouraged. These medicines may not always available abroad.
Prevention: Avoid overcrowded places, particularly where spitting is common. Never drink unpasteurised milk. If in doubt, boil it before drinking. There is a vaccination against TB which can give a valuable degree of protection, particularly in children. Those who have not received BCG immunization are advised to do so and if for travel purposes, at least six weeks before departure to ensure a protective level of immunity.
Also known as bilharzia, is a disease caused by parasitic worms called schistosoma. They belong to the family of flat worms known as trematodes or flukes. There are several different species e.g. S. mansoni, S. haematobium, and S. japonicum. About 200 million people are thought to be infected world-wide.The infection occurs when the skin comes into contact with contaminated fresh water which contains a certain type of snail that carry the schistosomes.
Fresh water becomes contaminated by Schistosoma eggs when people who are infected urinate or defaecate in the water. The eggs then hatch, and if the snails are present in the water, the parasites invade the snails and grow and develop inside them. The parasites eventually leaves the snails and enter the water where they can survive for up to 48 hours. Schistosoma parasites can penetrate the skin of persons who are wading, swimming, bathing, or washing in contaminated water. Within several weeks, worms grow inside the blood vessels of the body and produce eggs. Some of these eggs travel to the bladder or intestines and are passed into the urine or stools.
Symptoms: Within days after becoming infected, a rash or itchy skin may develop. Fever, chills, cough, and muscle aches can begin within 1-2 months of infection. Most people have no symptoms at this early phase of infection. Eggs travel to the liver or pass into the intestine or bladder. Rarely, eggs are found in the brain or spinal cord and can cause seizures, paralysis, or spinal cord inflammation. For people who are repeatedly infected for many years, the parasite can damage the liver, intestines, lungs, and bladder.The symptoms of schistosomiasis are caused by the body's reaction to the eggs, not by the worms themselves. Anyone travelling to areas where schistosomiasis occurs and whose skin comes in contact with fresh water from canals, rivers, streams, or lakes, is at risk of getting schistosomiasis.
If someone does develop any of the symptoms after visiting one or more of the countries where schistosomiasis is found and was in contact with fresh water, they should go immediately to their doctor and describe in detail where and for how long they travelled and that they may have been exposed to contaminated water.
They will need to provide a stool or urine sample for analysis to see if the parasites are present. A blood test has also been developed but there should be a six to eight week interval after the last exposure to contaminated water before the blood sample is taken.
Prevention: Avoid swimming or wading in fresh water when you are in countries in which schistosomiasis occurs. Swimming in the ocean and in chlorinated swimming pools is generally thought to be safe. Drink safe water. Because there is no way to make sure that water coming directly from canals, lakes, rivers, streams or springs is safe, you should either boil water for one minute or filter the water before drinking it.
Boiling water for at least one minute will kill any harmful parasites, bacteria, or viruses present. Iodine treatment alone will not guarantee that water is safe and free of all parasites Bath water should be heated for five minutes at 65 C. Water held in a storage tank for at least 48 hours should be safe for showering. Vigorous towel drying after an accidental, very brief water exposure may help to prevent the Schistosoma parasite from penetrating the skin but you should NOT rely on it. There is no vaccine available.
Treatment: Praziquantel is a safe and effective treatment of schistosomiasis. Treatment is usually for one or two days and no serious toxic effects have been reported.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. It affects humans and animals and causes a wide range of symptoms, including high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches, and vomiting, and may include, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or a rash although some infected persons may have no symptoms at all. If the disease is not treated, then kidney damage, meningitis liver failure, respiratory distress and even death may result.
Humans become infected through contact with water, food, or soil containing urine from these infected animals. This may happen by swallowing contaminated water or through cuts and contact with broken skin. The disease is not spread from person to person.
The incubation period is anything from two days to four weeks. The illness usually begins abruptly with fever and other symptoms. Leptospirosis may occur in two phases; after the first phase, with fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, or diarrhoea, the patient may recover for a time but become ill again. If a second phase occurs, it is more severe; the person may have kidney or liver failure or meningitis. This phase is also called Weil's disease. Diagnosis of Leptospirosis is confirmed by laboratory testing of a blood or urine sample.
Leptospirosis occurs worldwide but is most common in temperate or tropical climates. It is an occupational hazard for many people who work with animals, such as farmers, sewer workers, veterinarians, fish workers, dairy farmers, or military personnel.
It is a recreational hazard for campers or those who participate in outdoor sports in contaminated areas and has been associated with swimming, wading, and whitewater rafting in contaminated lakes and rivers.
Leptospirosis can be effectively treated with antibiotics, such as doxycycline or penicillin, which should be given as early as possible in the course of the disease. Intravenous antibiotics may be required for persons with more severe symptoms. Persons who are thought to have symptoms suggestive of leptospirosis should seek medical help immediately.
Lassa Fever, Ebola and Marburg Viruses
This is an acute viral illness that occurs in West Africa. The illness was discovered in 1969 and named after the town in Nigeria where the first cases originated. The virus, a member of the virus family Arenaviridae is animal-borne and is acquired from a particular kind of wild rodent known as the multimammate rat.
The disease is known to be endemic (constantly present) in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and the Central African Republic, and there is evidence of infection in nearby countries including Mali, Senegal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, because the rodent species which carry the virus are found throughout West Africa, the actual geographic range of the disease may extend to other countries in the region.
The virus is shed in the urine and droppings of infected rats (which are infected for life), and most infections arise through contact with materials contaminated by these.
Lassa fever may also spread through person-to-person contact. This type of transmission occurs when a person comes into contact with virus in the blood, tissue, secretions, or excretions of an individual infected with the Lassa virus.
The virus cannot be spread through casual contact (including skin-to-skin contact without exchange of body fluids). The virus is present in semen for up to three months after the disease begins, thus sexual transmission can also occur. It may also be spread by contaminated medical equipment, such as reused needles etc.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a severe, often-fatal disease that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976.The disease is caused by infection with Ebola virus, named after a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, where it was first recognized. The virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called the Filoviridae. There are four identified subtypes of Ebola virus. Three of which have caused disease in humans.
Infections with Ebola virus are acute. There is no carrier state. Because the natural reservoir of the virus is unknown, the manner in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak has not been determined. However, it is thought that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal, usually a primate.
After the first case-patient in an outbreak setting is infected, the virus can be transmitted in several ways. People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct contact with the blood and/or secretions of an infected person. Thus, the virus is often spread through families and friends because they come in close contact with such secretions when caring for infected persons. People can also be exposed to Ebola virus through contact with objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected secretions.
The incubation period for Ebola HF ranges from 2 to 21 days. The onset of illness is abrupt and is characterized by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhoea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash, decreased kidney and liver functioning, red eyes, hiccups and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients.
Researchers do not understand why some people are able to recover from Ebola HF and others are not. However, it is known that patients who die usually have not developed a significant immune response to the virus at the time of death.
There is no standard treatment for Ebola HF. Patients receive supportive therapy. This consists of balancing the patient’s fluids and electrolytes, maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure, and treating them for any complicating infections.
The prevention of Ebola HF in Africa presents many challenges. Because the identity and location of the natural reservoir of Ebola virus are unknown, there are few established primary prevention measures. There is currently no vaccine that protects against the Ebola virus. Education regarding infection control measures to prevent the spread of the virus is paramount.
Unless you are travelling to an area where an Ebola outbreak is occurring and you have direct contact with an ill individual infected with Ebola, the risk of acquiring Ebola virus is extremely low.
Marburg haemorrhagic fever is a rare, severe type of haemorrhagic fever which affects both humans and animals. It is caused by a genetically unique RNA virus of the filovirus family, and its recognition led to the creation of this virus family. The Ebola virus is the only other known member of this family.
Marburg virus is indigenous to Africa but the actual geographic area to which it is native is unknown, but could include parts of Uganda and Western Kenya, and Zimbabwe. As with Ebola virus, the actual animal host for Marburg virus also remains a mystery.Just how the virus is first transmitted to humans is unknown. However, as with some other viruses which cause haemorrhagic fever, humans who become ill with Marburg fever may spread it to other people.
After an initial incubation period of five to ten days, the onset of the disease is sudden and is marked by fever, chills, headache, and myalgia. Around the fifth day after the onset of symptoms, a rash appears, most prominent on the chest, back, stomach. Nausea, vomiting, a sore throat, chest pain, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea may then appear. Symptoms become increasingly severe and may include jaundice, inflammation of the pancreas, severe weight loss, delirium, shock, liver failure, multi-organ dysfunction and even death.
Because many of the signs and symptoms of Marburg fever are similar to those of other diseases, such as malaria or typhoid fever, diagnosis of the disease can be difficult, especially if only a single case is involved.
A specific treatment for this disease is unknown. However, supportive hospital therapy is required. This includes balancing the patient's fluids and electrolytes, replacing lost blood and clotting factors, maintaining their blood pressure, and treating them for any complicating infections.
Due to our limited knowledge of the disease, preventive measures against transmission from the original animal host have not yet been established. Measures for prevention of secondary transmission are similar to those used for other haemorrhagic fevers.
People who have close contact with infected humans or animals are most at risk.
Travelling with a disabilityIf you have a disability and are planning to travel overseas, the first thing to remember is that the Western world's arrangements for people with disabilities are very thoughtful and comprehensive. As it is unlikely that you will find similar facilities in many Third World countries, so it is important to plan ahead.
Tips for travellers with disabilities
- Call airports and airlines well ahead of time to find out about services, including seating arrangements, special meals and shuttle services.
- Make reservations wherever possible and confirm all bookings and arrangements 48 hours beforehand.
- Notify others about your needs. Inform your travel agency or companies you are using such as airlines that you have a disability and the implications of the disability.
- Book direct flights where possible and when making bookings allow plenty of time for any necessary transfers between planes or other forms of transport.
- Contact the local tourist authority to find out if the public transport system accommodates your disability.
- Do not make assumptions. Check that the bathroom is wheelchair accessible. Also, check before hand that entry into the building is wheelchair accessible.
- Contact relevant embassies to check rules and regulations about your personal aids, whether it be a wheel chair, a guide dog or medication.
Food and drink
Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel (with at least 60% alcohol) to clean your hands.
Drink only boiled or bottled water or carbonated drinks like soda and beer from sources you trust. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. Unless glasses and cuttlery have been washed in 180 degree (F) for thirty seconds, they are not disinfected.
Eat only fully cooked food or fruits and vegetables you have peeled. Remember: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it!
Stick to busy restaurants because they are busy for a reason, good food, low prices, and in particular, a fast turnover of inventory. In particular, avoid street vendors selling meat products. What they didn't sell yesterday is available today.
Driving in the Third World
When renting a vehicle it is very important to become familiar with driving rules, and signs of the country. Most rental cars have standard (stick shift) transmissions, automatics are usually quite a bit more money. Poor visibility because of heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous and should be avoided. In the rainy season, landslides are common in mountainous countries with uncontrolled deforestation. Always carry a map since most of the roads in the Third World are not well marked. Get directions often, people are generally happy to help. Unlike taking your turn in the US and Canada, look for the yield sign when crossing single lane bridges giving the right of way to oncoming traffic. Fools rush into intersections.
It isn't fair to say all of the Third World has terrible roads, and drivers, but before you get behind the wheel of your rental car anywhere, be prepared for an experience beyond belief. After driving on the sane roads of Canada, for the first half of my life, I wasn't prepared for this type of driving. Two major factors create havoc on the roads in the Third Wolrd. Firstly, their roads vary greatly. The majority of main roads and highways are excellent routes and a pleasure to drive, smooth, open, you can enjoy the scenery, the mountains and greenery around every corner, the seascapes and the small friendly villages. But in general, country roads tend to be narrow, winding, many are washboard or pot holed and usually unmarked. In cities, often manholes are several inches below the road surface. It can take several weeks or even months to pave the road smooth after roadwork, leaving jagged edges for your tires to contend with.There was one pothole I'll never forget, infront of my first hotel in Costa Rica, hard to see on a busy down hill slope, cars kept slamming into it to the point guests constantly complained about the banging sound, and once I saw three cars below changing their tires at the same time. I called and called the municipality about it, but it took maybe eight months for them to finally come by to fix it. When they finally did, they discovered a three meter deep hole that needed to be filled. You can't suggest to the monopolies or government down here to do anything, especially with a foreign accent!
Outside of the big cities, with less traffic, you have more room to maneuver a bit, and take your time, get your directions, drive around pot holes, and relax. Remember center lines are just a guide. Be prepared to use the whole road, splitting obstacles on the left and right down the middle. Slow down to give children and animals a wide pass.
Many older city cores are laid out in one way streets in a grid pattern, however they can be quite congested because they were never planned for future increases in vehicle numbers. A single little accident in downtown, or parade, or road construction or strike can jam traffic several blocks in all directions. You just have to wait it out, as often seeming shortcuts get you nowhere.
If the topography is flat, navigating around traffic is easier, however with hilly topography, huge 'catch basin' suburban areas get in and out of a city on very few main arteries. As a result, from about 7am until 9pm every working day, these main roads are busy, often frustratingly bumper to bumper. Coming in or out of the suburbs, if there is construction or an accident blocking one of these few arteries, it can mess up the whole end of a city, as everyone needs to drive several kilometers out of their way, jamming up other main arteries worse than usual.
Many traffic lights are out of order, so you just cautiously take your chances crossing intersections. If you see stop signs at traffic lights, they are there to indicate who has the right of way when the traffic lights are out of order.
But secondly, and a far greater reason that havoc is created on the roads is the other drivers themselves. You just can't believe it until you experience it, and even then, I just shake my head at how clueless every second or third driver is. I drove for years in Canada and never ran into situations that I consistently find here within my first thirty seconds of driving each day. You would swear many are in another world when they are behind the wheel of a car.I've seen drivers talking away and looking directly at their passengers between glimpses of the road ahead, hands waving in the air. In congested conditions, they drive like they are the only vehicle on the road. About half of all drivers never use their mirrors. Maybe the reverse image is confusing. Nothing matters if it is not in their front vision. For no apparent reason, rather than pulling off the road, they will stop in the street holding up traffic, and forcing everyone to risk going around them. Many believe that as long as their emergency flashers are on, they can do anything, I call it their magic button. About one in five has his or her directional signals flashing away for no reason, yet they'll quickly hang a turn without signals. As I am writing this, today a police car infront of me had his left signals on then turned right! Often, drivers will pull into a busy intersection and stop, trying to decide which way to go.
It is frustrating how inconsiderate many seem to be of other cars. If they need to make a left turn, they'll stop in the middle of the lane rather than moving over to the center line to allow cars behind them to get by. They swerve all over the road driving at a snails pace while on their cell phone, cars jammed up behind them. Red lights to many drivers just means to slow down, especially on Sundays and after about 10pm. Some buses don't pull off the road to pick up passengers, even when there is room. Taxi drivers troll for customers at a fraction of the speed of the traffic. Motorcycles weave in and out like they have their own laws. On the four lane highways, slow cars always crawl in the fast lanes, faster cars race up the slow lanes, and often cars will drive beside each other preventing others from passing. If you are lined up behind a few cars at a red light, when it turns green, someone usually needs to honk their horn or the front driver will just sit there mesmorized by the pretty green light.
It is very obvious that many drivers never actually obtained legitimate drivers licences, and paid for them under the table. Precious few seem to realize the responsibility of free-wheeling a ton or more of speeding glass and steel through crowded places. Often, taking a taxi rather than driving yourself makes a lot of sense, especially on your nerves.
The following is an article written by Katherine Stanley for the Tico Times, June 2nd, 2006, San Jose, Costa Rica. This may help put things in perspective of what I have been trying to explain about the uncaring attitude of Third World drivers and the authority's response.
Driving, Watching TV? No Problem, Some Say
Facing a growing trend of drivers watching television while driving - yes, you read that correctly; televisions mounted on dash boards or DVD screens covering the rear-view mirror are increasingly common - the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT) announced last week that it is studying the possibility of a fine of 10,000 colones (less than $20) for any driver demonstrating this particular brand of multi-tasking.
A fine of 2,000 colones ($4) is already in place for drivers of public transportation, including buses and taxis, according to Transit Police director German Marin. He told the Tico Times that it is not yet clear whether the Transit Law allows for such a fine on other drivers, though a fine is already in place for talking on a cell phone while driving. Authorities are concerned that TV-watching will increase during the upcoming World Cup soccer games, according to the daily La Nacion.
However, for some taxistas, driving while watching is perfectly reasonable. One driver spoke to Tico Times last week while simultaneously driving on the highway between San Jose and the western suburb of Escazu and watching 'Bad Boys II' on a DVD screen that almost completely obscured his rear-view mirror.
"It's not dangerous... at night it is because it reflects a lot (of light)," he said. "You have to be very careful and have good eyesight. Sometimes I watch it while driving, sometimes I don't."
He added that he doesn't need his rear-view mirror to see behind him, pointing to his side mirrors.
Apparently the law agrees. Marin said drivers are required to have a rear-view mirror - but aren't prohibited from covering it up.
Most movies in Costa Rica are dubbed with Spanish sub-titles, so the drivers really need to multi-task!
Regarding traffic deaths, Latin America and the Caribbean are second only to Asia for the total number. Most frequently accidents take the lives not of vehicle occupants, but of vulnerable road users like pedestrians, cyclists, or someone changing a tire. According to the Economist, Salvador is 2nd, Nicaragua is 7th, Costa Rica is 12th and Panama is 15th in the world for annual per capita road deaths, just so you know what you are dealing with. Life seems cheap down here sometimes, take care!
CarjackingsCarjackings have increased recently, and motorists have been confronted at gunpoint while stopped at traffic lights or upon arrival at their homes. Late model sports utility vehicles and high-end car models are popular with carjackers. One method of initiating kidnappings and carjackings is to bump the victim's car from behind; the unsuspecting victim stops, believing he or she has been involved in a minor car accident, and is taken hostage. Drivers should remain vigilant to these types of incidents, and use caution if bumped from behind on an isolated stretch of road.
Recently when I was driving new new little Yoyota Yaris, a car cut me off by making a right turn from the left lane. He stopped before completing the turn, blocking me from continuing and got out of his car yelling and waving his arms (as if it was my fault) wanting me to get out of the car. Who knew what his problem was, perhaps he had a gun or knife, maybe he should be put in a mental institution, maybe he was a bad drunk, so I backed up and drove around him, as he slapped the roof of my car. What an idiot I thought, then was told the newest assault is just this, with others hiding in his back seat waiting for me to get out of my car, then they jump me, rob me, and steal my car. See, I am learning, if something doesn't add up, there is probably a reason.
If renting a vehicle, discuss with the company representative the options of insurance coverage, if you want just the manditory insurance or full coverage. If you have a VISA, MasterCard or American Express Gold or Platinum card, there may be a daily reduction in your rental fee, plus, in most cases, you also get the benefits of full coverage, meaning your credit card company will refund you any deductable you must pay in the event of an accident. Check with your credit card company before leaving home if this coverage is available. You will need your passport, a valid drivers licence and a credit card with a substantial line of credit on it that they will use as a security deposit. Before you drive the vehicle, be sure to check thoroughly for any previous scratches or damages.
One should park in secured lots whenever possible, or pay the known street guard a few coins after you return. You get to know their faces if you are in the area long enough. Never leave any visible valuables in your vehicle. There are reports daily of valuables, identity documents, and other items stolen from locked vehicles. In many of these cases, the stolen items were hidden under the seat, in the glove compartment, or secured in the trunk. Thefts from parked cars commonly occur in downtown areas, at beaches, in the airport and bus station parking lots, and at national parks and other tourist attractions.
Adventure TourismAdventure tourism is increasingly popular. I base much of my experience living in Costa Rica, the adventure tourism capital of the world, but
If you want to take a domestic flight, think again
Regardless of how you feel during takeoff, most people know that airplanes everywhere are statistically much safer than cars.
The difference in safety is even more alarming when measured as the number of fatalities divided by the total number of miles flown by passengers. In the Third World countries, for example, this so-called air transport accident rate is 120 times higher than in the U.S.
Aviation experts believe these disproportionately high accident rates indicate widespread deficiencies in areas such as maintenance, training and regulatory oversight.
There are good reasons to do something about improving air safety, however. In addition to preventing the needless loss of life, better safety standards could remove the single biggest obstacle to the growth of the Third World's own airlines, and to the expanded tourism and trade that such growth could facilitate. Safety problems have become a growth constraint because both governments and commercial air carriers are increasingly reluctant to send their own aircraft to countries with poor safety records or accept flights from such countries. For example, the United States, which is by far the most important foreign destination for Latin American and Caribbean carriers, is now denying requests for additional scheduled flights from countries that do not meet ICAO safety standards. In 2006, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua all failed to qualify.
RiptidesRip tides (properly known as rip currents or undertows) cause more tourist deaths in the Third World than all other reasons put together. Augmented by alcohol, weak swimming skills, misinformation, and perhaps sudden weather changes, several tourists secumb to Neptune's quiet hidden killers each year. 90% of total drownings each year occur at 5% of the beaches, the ones with the worst riptides, and 80% of those deaths are riptide related. Understanding rippers allows you to safely enjoy the ocean.
Caused by a build up of higher water along the coast brought in by waves, invisible channels of water from 20 to 100 meters wide begin to flow backwards towards the sea to equalize the sea level. It is like a swift moving river taking everything in it out to sea!There are three parts to the rip. The 'feeder current' runs parallel to the shore. If you notice yourself rapidly passing beach landmarks, you are in one. The 'neck' is where the feeder current makes a 90% turn and starts to head outward. At this point, if you can still touch bottom, walk parallel to the shore helping the waves push you closer to shore.
If you are over your head, relax, lie back and float for a minute or so with your hips up and your face out of the water. The ripper will take you for maybe a hundred or two hundred meters out to the head, where the current weakens usually just beyond where the waves begin to break. Now calmly swim parallel to shore, relaxing and stretching your strokes for a while until you are out of he ripper. At this point take advantage of the waves and head to shore at a 45 degree angle from the neck. Often with the strong waves, there will be surfers around, using the ripper to get back to sea. If you can catch their attention and pull them away from their 'nurly curls dude', a surf board is a very reassuring thing to hold on to. Never try and fight the current. The secret is to relax, float, gently kick from the hips, and conserve your energy, you'll be out in a few minutes, and sorry for the inconvenience!
From the shore, a ripper may look like a muddy stream, it may not have breaking waves, when it is surrounded by breakers, sometimes if has foam along the head and neck, and often river mouths make ideal rippers. Near a hard white sand shore they are the hardest to see. They are strongest at high tide, and can be permanently located, moving along the shore, and even intermittent. Check locally before entering rough waters. Keep this info and pass it on to others, it could save someone's life, really. I'm a good swimmer and have been caught in them myself. It's a scarey feeling.
The Pacific Rim is geologically active. Visitors should be aware of the possibility of earthquakes at any time and the need for contingency plans, escape routes out of a building or safe areas within. Many hotels are now required to post escape routes. There are also dozens of active volcanos as well. Though unusual, an American mother and daughter were overwhelmed by the toxic gases from a mild explosion while trying to climb Arenal Volcano a few years ago. A guide, trying to save them died as well.
Around the entire equator, monsoons, typhoons, hurricanes and tropical storms are a fact of life during half of the year at the lower elevations, causing mudslides, flooding and property destruction.
Hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, hostals and resorts come in all varieties and price ranges, far too many to even categorize. In the cheapo backpacker-type hotels, travelers usually arrive by the seat of their pants, and flop where they may. The 'luxuries' along with your room key become a towel, a small bar of soap and a roll of toilet paper. Backpackers are not paying for quality, and they probably won't get it. I recommend you stay at independent hotels that have a personality and heart, that you don't get in the expensive snotty chain hotels with their bow ties and piped-in elevator music.
The smaller hotels are usually family owned, and though their amenities may be less grandiose, cleanliness and personal service are a point of pride, and good advice can make your whole vacation. Many city hotels are wonderfully restored buildings of the past, but location can be very important. Red zone areas with flea bag hotels are usually found around the bus station and central market, and should be avoided. A lot of poor desperate people from everywhere hang around these areas, often addicted to drugs, and life is cheap! Getting robbed, or worse, can ruin your entire vacation. It's not worth it. If you have a need to stay in the city, head for the downtown historical areas with guards on every corner, beautifully restored mansions formerly owned by the wealthy. These areas tend to be close proximity to the museums, shopping and nightlife.
Often the best accommodations you will find are out of the cities in the picturesque rural areas. Though they will cost a bit more, thatched roof cabanas are so neat, waking up to the orchestra of sounds and smells from the nearby rainforest, or the rythme of the waves washing against the shore.
Taxi drivers scam you on your hotel room
Airport taxi drivers scam you by faking a call ahead on their cell phone to your hotel, to say they are all sold out, but he has another better hotel for you to go to. After you check in to his recommended hotel, he returns for a handsome commission. Later you notice a 'no show' penalty on your credit card from the first hotel. You must insist on going to your planned destination. In some cases the driver will not drive you to your hotel even if you insist. In some cities in India, taxi drivers will take you to the wrong hotel and insist it is the one you requested, but the name has recently changed! Sit with your luggage in the back seat and if you need to, get out at a red light. Reading tour books before arriving will tell you the best things to see and there is no need to chance your personal safety by going off the beaten path.
How to check in
In any case, when checking into any hotel, Rule # 1, even though you are exhausted, ask them to show you the room first. It's human nature to try and show you the best room available, I do it myself in my own hotel! If you don't ask to see the room, you may end up with an inferior room for the same price. In most tropical locations you will need atleast a good fan to keep you cool, and foil the mosquitos, sand flies and 'no-see-ems' that come out at night, and 'no-see-ems' away. Many beds have mosquito nets around the bed, but it blocks the cool breeze of the fan in some cases. I'm not sure about breathing the air from burning Pic coils, especially when it isn't necessary.
I come from northern Ontario where in the late spring and early summer, the black flies, mosquitos and the worst, persistant deer flies, practically try to carry you away. Surprisingly, around the equator, there are few bothersome insects, particularly at the higher elevations. Once in a while a giant June bug, about the size of a hummingbird will accidentally navigate its way into your room, noisily bumping against the walls and windows. Or you'll discover a huge cockroach making its way across the floor, not because of unsanitary conditions, but rather, the hotel was built long after he or atleast his grandparents, first arrived! I try and scoop them up and send them on their way outside.
Air-conditioning is great but tends to keep you in your room, consumes a lot of electricity, and though I've never experienced it myself, some people seem to catch a cold with the sudden change in temperature. Try and get a room off the noisy street unless you like to people-watch from your room, and perhaps get a higher floor for the view, and to pick up any breezes if you are on a hot, humid coast. Always plan your escape in case of an earthquake or fire. Wherever you are on the Pacific Rim, people feel an earthquake every few months. For example, there was one today as I write, November 18th, 2006, a brief 5.1 off the Pacific coast of Nicaragua which shook my house here in San Jose.
Earthquakes travel at about two miles second. One day I was talking by phone to my manager at the Adventure Inn, about ten miles to the west of me. She started saying, "Ohhhh!" and about five seconds later I felt the same quake. The power of an earthquake (terremoto or temblor in Spanish), is humbling.
Travelling in the Third World is a fantastic experience, helping one to appreciate all the comforts and security that we normally take for granted in our home country. With some seventy percent of the planet's population living under poverty, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots widening, the poor are getting more desperate, sophisticated and organized. Your best bet is to avoid situations where you become vulnerable. This involves not going to dangerous areas, and if you do, mentally and physically preparing yourself to reduce the risks of mishap. Trust no one on the street who tries to get your attention.
If dealing with anyone, try to ensure you have some sort of recourse in case you have problems. Let your hotel recommend guides, tours, banks, restaurants, car rentals, then you know you will get good, fair service. Your hotel has a vested interest in your security and happiness.
Be careful driving in the Third World as all the rules of the First World are thrown out the window. Learn the rules of saving yourself if caught in a rip tide. Single women and men travellers have several overlapping safety suggestions, and several that are diametrically opposed.
Transportation safety is certainly an issue, and suggestions depend upon the individual country you are visiting.
The bottom line, if it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.
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