Friday, October 20, 2017

SAFETY AND PREPAREDNESS - for the wary traveler

              With plane tickets purchased months in advance, it was nerve wracking to see each country I was scheduled to visit gradually making the headlines --- Concert bombing in the UK...  Van mowing over pedestrians from London Bridge... Louvre stabbing and hammer attack in Paris... Acid thrown on two Americans at train station... Istanbul nightclub massacre... Slaughter at Turkish restaurant...  Oh Boy,  I was headed for London, Paris, and Istanbul, and things weren't looking great.

But this wasn't my first time traveling to a "dangerous" area. On a prior trip I had traveled the Sinai desert twice through Egypt, as well as backpacking across the borders into Jordan and Israel - with one of my kids.

If you are contemplating travel, or you must travel and you're seeking peace, than this was written for you. 

As an avid prepper, I too have thoughts of "what if" when it comes to terrorist attacks, EMP - knocking us off grid, accidents, natural disasters, anxiety, and the safety of my children...  So let me share my way of preparedness and safety so that you too can enjoy travel with a peace of mind!

Knowledge is Power

               Before I embark on any trip, I research. One of the best ways to get info about an area I'm traveling to, or to find out if it's really safe (and not depend on the news and hype) is to seek out the opinion of backpackers who were recently, or are currently THERE --- Lonely Planet - thorn tree forum     Just click on the country or destination you're traveling to, and ask away!

Anxious about flying? This book was written by a pilot who sets your mind at ease on the safety of air travel, SOAR: breakthrough treatment for fear of flying

I'm a huge advocate for facing one's fears, as I used to suffer from panic attacks. Due to educating myself on the risks, and getting to the root of my worries, I was able to do the impossible.

I must confess, I started to feel nervous as I planned my itinerary from London into France. We would be taking the train 250 feet under the sea of the English Channel (The longest underwater tunnel in the world.) Someone pointed out that it was too claustrophobic. Others remarked that it was the perfect spot for a terrorist attack. My mind drifted to the lack of oxygen... or power failure while half way through... I dug into my research, watching history videos of the construction. I learned of the extra canal for escape... the 31 miles in length --- which meant at the most I'd have to walk 15 miles to sunlight...  We'd be crossing under the channel twice by train... I packed a flashlight for the trip. The more I learned, the better I prepared.


Let's get to the nitty gritty of what you can bring for preparedness. Or at least what TSA will allow. 

             My first line of preparedness is to pack as a CARRY ON. Most airlines will allow 1 suitcase - usually 9 inches x 14" x 22" with the usual combined weight of 40 pounds for 1 carry on suitcase, and 1 large handbag. This of course limits on what I can bring, but it also guarantees that I will NOT lose my luggage or risk theft. Double check with the airlines you're flying with for exact measurements. 

TSA only allows travel sized containers with 3.4 ounces of fluid or less. These fluid containers MUST fit inside a quart sized (preferably zippered) transparent case. See photo above. 

Anything that is cream, jell, or liquid, must fit in your quart sized case. Not counting cosmetics, this is my MUST PACK list:

BAR OF SOAP (you're never guaranteed to find soap in some hotels/hostels, as well as public bathrooms)
Hand Sanitizer 
Activated Charcoal - for food poisoning, toxins, upset stomach 
Ibuprofen - Headache, toothache, pain killer
Benadryl - depending on where I'm traveling to - risks of allergic reaction, allergies. 
Bandaids/first aid kit - Depending on what type of travel, hiking, etc. Would add additional for extra outdoor events. (Gels/antiobiotic creams would have to fit in quart sized bag) 
Prescription meds - don't have to fit in TSA bag, but make sure they're in original bottle. I actually packed an entire unopened bottle of the Activated Charcoal, even though it was large, it was practically weightless. 
Baby Wipes - do not have to be included in the quart sized TSA bag, and these are handy for when there's no running water. 
Ankle Support Wrap - I have a weak ankle from a previous injury, so this is a MUST for just in case. 
Chewing Gum - For relaxing the inner ear from air pressure while flying. 

**Keep in mind if you're traveling with others, or kids, you each have the same allowance for CARRY ON - so evenly distribute your fluids/weight if you find yourself going over limit!

           Clean water is critical and in most countries, you'll be reduced to drinking bottled water. But what happens if SHTF or you don't have access to clean water? You will NOT get through TSA with bottled water. Once you clear customs, you can purchase water to carry on plane (if you have time and not dashing for a connecting flight!)  Also, on my recent trip from Istanbul to London, we cleared TSA 4 times (that's 4 times unloading/repacking my gear) before catching our flight!

This is why it's important to make sure your liquids are packed properly and quickly available for inspection as this is the routine when going through the line:

Take off shoes, place in bin (on conveyer belt)
Take off hat and jacket, add to bin.
Place purse/bag in bin
Cellphones, electronics, out in bin
Open suitcase, and
Take out quart sized bag of liquids,
Take off belt or any jewelry that will trigger alarm. Place in bin...

Redress. Repack, head for next checkpoint. Repeat.

With the long lines in front, and behind you, you'll be thankful (and so will TSA) for packing properly.

So to answer the earlier question of what to do if SHTF and needing clean water... the solution is to pack the WATER FILTRATION BOTTLE. Keep it empty to get through TSA, and refill once you've cleared customs. These bottles are perfect for travelers and missionaries who don't have access to bottled water and need to filter locally and safely.  Fortunately, we can pack snacks to carry on planes, so pack extra food for emergencies.


          For long distance travel, especially international, airlines do provide meals. Take advantage of the beverage cart and drink as much water as possible. The stewardess will even refill your empty water bottle if you hold it out to them. On some flights, complimentary bottled water is handed out. Dehydration is the biggest risk on airlines, so reducing alcohol and caffeine in favor for water is always preferable while in flight. In preparation for the trip, I drank Gatorade and extra water, days in advance. 

My biggest line of defense for health is to keep my hands washed, avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth. 

On this recent trip, we logged more than 30+ hours of flying in less than 1 week. Knowing we would be sitting for long periods of time, in cramped conditions, I added exercise to my preparedness. Each day as the trip drew near, I vigorously walked my dogs. The morning of my flight, I took an extra long walk. Not only does this get your body circulating properly, but it also builds endurance to fight illness. 

While on the flight, I made sure to visit the bathroom frequently, for stretching limbs and moving about.


       Stress is a close relative of Health, but deserving of its own topic. After all, when embarking on a trip, especially an ambitious one, it is very common to find oneself dealing with a lot of negativity! 

EXERCISE - First line of defense in reducing illness, anxiety, depression, and an overall sense of wellbeing. 

EATING RIGHT - You know your body better than anyone else. Probably not the time to eat what usually disagrees. Foods that give you energy, and pep is best before and during your travels. 

FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE -  Remind youself why you're on this trip. Read travel memoirs of others. Get excited about your trip. Look at your long flight as an opportunity to read a book, and watch free movies from your flight monitor. Listen to relaxing music (offered from flight monitor too) and catch up on your journaling. Snack on something good and remind yourself again that you are on an exciting adventure, and this is what living is all about! 

FEAR AND ANXIETY - This is back to square one --- research what worries you. For example, claustrophobia is the result of feeling trapped and not in control. This is probably the biggest concern for air travel. After all, most tend to feel that once the plane takes off, you're "stuck" in the sky...

Believe me, my mind goes there a lot too. But I had to face some hard truths. Will I allow fear to keep me from fulfilling my dreams? Am I really, "stuck" on a plane? After all, sitting on a plane for several hours is not really much different than a long roadtrip. 

I had recently driven straight to St. Louis, from Austin Texas, logging in a good 12+ hours. This was about the same distance (length of time) as my flight from Houston to Istanbul. I had stopped the car maybe 3 or 4 times to go to the bathroom and to buy a snack. At least on the flight, I can tune out with a movie, go to the bathroom numerous times (without cutting into my travel time), Enjoy hot meals served at my seat, and I can even sleep as much as I want. And yes, flying IS safer than road tripping! 

I also had to resign myself to the fact that I will never be in total control of my situations. Many times we place our faith in others for the food they prepare, public transportation, that the other driver is sober and paying attention... the pharmaceuticals, doctor's making the right decisions... 

The morning we left on our trip, the news was reporting on the concert shootings in Las Vegas. The death count was already at 50. This was happening at HOME. Is any place 100% safe?  While enroute to the airport, I was crushed to learn that the musician, Tom Petty had just died. This was from natural causes. 

Again, fearing danger and terrorist attacks requires sorting the facts from hysteria, and understanding the risks and statistics. For example, the chances of me being the casualty of a terrorist attack is less than the chance of me winning the Texas State Lottery! The chances of winning the lottery is less than 26 million! 

Life is full of surprises, good and bad. We will all 100% someday die. Some of us will live to be 100, and the majority of us won't. Life goes on...  Doesn't it make sense to find one's purpose in life, make each day count, stop to smell the roses, be kind, live with integrity, and make peace with God and others? 

PRAYER and THANKFULNESS - Being thankful is a great stress reducer! Whenever dealing with anger, or anxiousness, focus on the things you're thankful for. Spending the next 5 or 10 minutes being thankful can unload your mind from your problems, and to bring into focus the things that are most important ----You have a job. You have a kitchen. You have a home. Your children are healthy. You can walk. You have money in your pocket. Food in the fridge. Someone said they loved you. You were able to make that trip. A beautiful bird is chirping from your window. The sun is shining today. You just enjoyed a cool glass of water... 

Okay, so what if you don't have any of those things...? Well, you DO have opportunity!

Do something nice for someone else. Pray for them. Make their day. The most rewarding day of my life was when I helped someone else who wasn't expecting it. I'll never forget their tears of gratitude. THAT is true happiness and a stress reducer! 

For breathing and relaxation, I force myself to feel tired. I allow myself to feel sleepy. This is tricking my breathing to slow down, and to draw deep from my belly, rather from my chest. Yawning will follow... The body relaxes... Praying goes hand in hand with acknowledging God, being thankful, and understanding one's mortality. Again, we are never fully in control, so it's important to make peace with that. Be thankful for the opportunity to travel, and enjoy the journey! 


         This is the number one question I get asked the most  - Is it really safe to travel there and are you scared? 

First of all, I do have fears, but I have learned to sort through them.

Fear is the number one killer --It dashes dreams and it takes away your quality of life.

Fear can also be your friend - when it tugs at your gut, or gives you a little nudge.

Just keep in mind, fear is like a wild animal that needs to be leashed. It can be your "seeing eye dog" at times, but if you use common sense, you don't need fear to dictate your every step. 

COPY ITINERARY - It is important to copy all of your documents before travel, and each person carry these documents in suitcase or purse, as well as leaving copies at home with a friend or loved-one. This ensures that not only does someone knows where you're at at all times, but you are easily able to be reached during an emergency.  This also gives your traveling companions/children the ability to locate (by address/phone number) the hotel/hostel you're staying at, and to provide back-up information during an emergency. *** Also, always accept a business card by your hotel. This is handy to show your cab driver when dealing with language barriers! 

LOCATE EMBASSY - Always map out your destination, and study the route to your nearest embassy. Print out map and distribute copies for traveling companions and safe person at home. Picture how you will make it to embassy by foot or car, if faced with an emergency. Make sure phone number is listed. Before I had traveled to Turkey, the US embassy allowed me to enter my location/phone number so they knew where I was residing at while in Istanbul. This was an extra safety feature in case there was another government coup, or we were in danger. The embassy also said we would be contacted by "safe people" in the area if they were not able to make contact. 

HAVE A PLAN - Having a plan is important especially when traveling with others. What is your line of action if you were accidentally separated in a crowd? When traveling to Egypt, my young daughter kept a spare cellphone in her hidden belt to call me if we were accidentally separated.

Another safety feature is to carry a Whistle. A whistle is a great way to draw attention, or to pinpoint location in a crowd. While shopping in the souks in the Middle East, crowds were a huge issue and we made a habit to hold hands, or to link arms to prevent getting lost. 

During government coups or catastrophes, there is a good chance you will not have access to your cellphone, or Internet! This is why it's important to have a back-up plan, and why your safe person at home needs to know how to get into touch, or they at least have a general idea (based on your Itinerary) where you're at for the day. For example, while in Egypt, I made a day by day announcement via email/facebook with family members whether I would be at the pyramids, the museum, or I was traveling by bus to the border, etc. 

While in England, I had cancelled my 2nd night at a hostel, and had moved to another hotel. This change in plans was immediately texted to my husband back at home, so he would know where we were at. This decision was based on the lack of safety of the area we were staying at.

BE AWARE - Always be alert. Part of preparedness is not about fearmongering, but making sure all of our ducks are in a row so we CAN relax and enjoy the trip!

Avoid placing yourself in vulnerable situations. This means, staying sober and making eye contact, and walking with our heads up and paying attention. Quickly assess your surroundings wherever you go. Where are the emergency exits? Why is this person giving off bad vibes? Why are there no lines at the food stand? Is the food spoiling? What about sanitation, or the safety of that boat without life jackets?

Avoid political gatherings and demonstrations. This is a hotbed and recipe for disaster. I'll never forget the time I was at a market in Cairo, Egypt and two men were screaming at one another. I didn't understand their Arabic, but the looks that came across the faces from the nearby spectators was enough language for me. We booked it out of there fast.

Try not to flash your valuables and be discreet when handling money. I made the mistake of pulling out what looked like an expensive camera in Mexico, and every head turned. Just like in the animal kingdom, camouflaging is a safety feature and this means, not standing out like a vulnerable tourist!

RESPECT CUSTOMS -  While traveling through religious or Muslim areas, I show respect by dressing like the locals. Not everyone does this, but I tend to travel on the less beaten path, and have found that being invisible in a crowd is the best safety feature. Also, it's important to learn about the culture one is traveling to and what is acceptable behavior. As a traveling female without a male chaperone, I want to make sure my outgoing personality isn't regarded as flirtatious, or I'm giving off the wrong signals.

PICKPOCKETS - Theft is a huge issue in some countries, especially France and the UK! This goes back to always being aware, never taking your eyes off of your luggage and keeping your phone and passport tucked away safely.

I highly recommend this Adjustable Waist Belt for security. Not only does it have several pockets to tuck away passport, cash, and important papers, but there's room for a large cellphone, and mini flashlight! Affordable and an important safety measure against loss and theft.


       Depending on your mode of travel (with or without tour group) Some organizations demand proof of medical insurance as a prerequisite for booking. I personally travel alone, and my personal insurance covers emergencies whether at home or abroad.

As for dishing out extra $$ for travel insurance, my word of advice before investing extra is to READ THE FINE PRINT.  Especialy when purchasing budget tickets through Orbitz, or Cheap Tickets. Right after clicking your purchase you're given the option to add an additional $50 - $100 for travel insurance --- Getting refunded isn't as easy as you think. Medical emergency causing the cancellation? Be prepared to show proof. Terrorist Attack at your destination? Not necessarily covered.

CARRY CASH - Just like at home, having cash stashed for emergencies is golden. A credit or debit card is not 100% going to work all the time, especially if there are connection issues with your bank. Your bank also needs to know of your travel plans, otherwise, this explains why your card is not working.

Prepaid bank cards do not work in every country and getting cash from these cards are difficult. I make a habit of hiding a few hundred of USD for emergency use only.

EXTRA FUNDS FOR EVACUATION - It is nice to have the funds available in case you need to book an emergency flight home. But going home early or changing plans on an original ticket, isn't always possible.

For example, my original ticket was to Istanbul, with a connecting flight to London 3 days later. After 4 days, I was to fly back to Istanbul for my connecting flight back to Houston. Well, what if I decided to just stay in Turkey till my flight left for Houston a week later? This won't happen! Most tickets will NOT allow you to skip the itinerary and use a portion of the ticket. Once you skip stepping on the connecting flight, the rest of your ticket becomes void.

Two weeks ago, I learned that Turkey was no longer allowing US citizens visas to enter the country. I had JUST left Istanbul that very day. Talk about close call! But I also learned that many Americans were not so lucky. They had long layovers in Turkey, with hopes that they would get to tour the country. Now they were forced to remain at the airport for days on end, or to buy new plane tickets to leave. This is normally not covered by travel insurance!

For whatever reason to fly home early, emergencies, a sick loved one at home, it is a peace of mind to tuck away extra funds to buy that unexpected plane ticket home. I don't always have the funds to do this, but it's nice when I do, and it's an extra safety measure.

NATURAL DISASTERS - Right after I had returned from my trip to Egypt, a volcano erupted in Iceland, causing airports to shut down. I had a friend stranded for days at the London airport. I always think back to how I would prepare if that were to ever happen to me. Naturally, flying home early is out of the question when airports are closed, but having extra funds for food and lodging is another reason to tuck away extra cash, or to have someone you trust at home adding funds to your bank account.

Your Comfort, Your Trip

        When I had written my travel memoir over my journey across the Middle East, I became consciously aware that travel advice, and experiences are heavily opinionated. For example, when I was researching bus travel, I was dismayed to learn from another traveler that the busses in Cairo were hellish. After digging around, I realized this backpacker was complaining about how the air conditioning was unbearably cold and that the driver was playing annoying Arabic music!  How ironic, as my idea of "hell" was NO AIR CONDITIONING and I actually enjoy listening to music from other countries. 

We all take trips for different reasons. Some travel for relaxation, and some of us travel for sheer adventure. 

But travel shouldn't be painful and since we all travel for different reasons, we all have different expectations and comfort levels. My motto is to pack light, but if you must, bring what makes YOU happy, comfortable, and what you can bring on the plane.

One of my comfort requirements is my rechargeable fan! This device was a lifesaver when the plane got a little stuffy, or for our train ride into Paris. I also packed a spare battery charger so that I could keep our phones and the fan charged, and anytime there was an outlet, we took advantage of charging our devices. **Don't forget to pack an International Travel Adapter for hooking up your electronics. 

Comfort rules over style when I had selected shoes. I opted for -- Earth Sandles (Just like walking on a cloud) and if I needed to get dressy, I packed something light and foldable 

For long flights, I dress in layers and I choose skirts for loose and flowing comfort.

Hotels or Hostels? I choose hostels over hotels and this is why. There is a safety feature when staying at a backpacker hostel. This type of environment is more homey, and you know the staff (for the most part) on a first name basis. There is also a sense of "family" when staying in close proximity with other travelers. In a large hotel, staff doesn't notice if you're missing and you tend to feel you are just a number to them.

Let me give you an example. When I had traveled to Israel, I stayed at a hostel by the Red Sea. This hostel was run by Christians who were helping Sudanese refugees. The hostel was like one large family, and many meals were shared freely, as well as bible study for those who were interested. A large dust storm kicked in and I became ill. I was traveling with my young daughter, but I felt comforted in knowing that if something were to happen (If I had taken a turn for the worse) that my daughter was safe among this family. I also knew if we were faced with a financial emergency, we would not be kicked out on the street. The owners of this hostel are now my friends and we stay in contact via Facebook. If I had stayed in a hotel, I would have missed out meeting these wonderful people, and we would have felt isolated while I was recuperating from my illness!

My most recent example, was with my backpacker hostel in Turkey. My daughter and I were catching a ride to the airport for our flight to London. Our arrangements were booked by our hostel, but for some reason, we left before saying goodbye to everyone we had met. While on our way to the airport our driver received a phone call. To my surprise he handed me the phone. The person on the other line was one of the employees (we had befriended) at the hostel wanting to hear my voice and to be reassured we are actually on our way to the airport. For some reason, he wanted to verify that our ride had shown up and that we were being taken care of!  I seriously doubt we would have received this personalized service if we had booked from a chain hotel!

Suitcase or Backpack? I've traveled with both and after this latest jaunt, I will always choose wheels over straps!

When dashing (for what feels like miles) across an airport, these wheels will spare an aching back, or lessen the load. These handy suitcases are durable and can handle a lot of wear and tear --- I know, as I've dragged them over blocks of cobblestones in London, as well as miles of uneven streets in Istanbul. 

For the most part, I think I've covered the important key points for travel preparedness.

By the way, what do most people regret on their deathbeds? Not traveling and building memories with their loved ones.

Do you have an idea or safety measure that your own family practices?  Would love to hear from you! In the meantime, bon voyage!

1 comment:

mistydaze said...

What a fantastic many things that I would never have thought to take the steps for which to prepare. Thank you for writing this.