With a tanking economy and terror incidents like the recent one in Mumbai targeting hotels, transport, restaurants -- and Westerners-- the temptation is for American travelers, notoriously squeamish, to stay put.
No way. These are the very times we need to get out into the world to enjoy, relax, learn about others, and have them learn about us. We need to keep economies flowing, and keep the shadowy specter of terrorism from changing our way of life.
We need to act like New Yorkers and Londoners, going about our lives aware, but with a new normal; living as we did before, just smarter. Similarly, we need to adjust our travel style to be safe and savvy so we can enjoy the world much as we always have.
Over several decades I've traveled to more than a hundred countries, often alone. Many of them were challenging and so-called third world, but I've gotten through incipient coups, typhoons and a couple of muggings without major incident.
I've tried to follow these tips wherever I go, adapted from my book Solo Traveler (Fodor's). You may want to share yours, or you may disagree. The main thing is to keep traveling.
Check government travel alerts. Thestatedepartment.com offers latest advisories. If there's a warning, heed it. If not, keep planning and go on to the next step.
Travel to countries that not only interest you, but where you'll feel comfortable. Write a list. If language is a problem for you, factor that, although books and gadgets can help. If places are reputed to be anti-American or difficult for women, trust your gut. Use the internet and guidebooks to clue you in.
Reach out. Be sure people know where you are, and stay in touch. Have an international cellphone with you. Get travel assistance for immediate medical help and other needs, from companies such as On Call International. If you're in a potentially dangerous area, register with your embassy or consulate.
Fly local airlines. Usually local airlines and smaller planes are less frequently targeted. Nowadays air travel is safe throughout the world. If you want to minimize flying, plan your travels accordingly.
Keep a low profile. Dress down, in local styles if possible. Don't wear bling, even if it's fake. If you're a woman, the less you project it the safer you'll be. Be tactful and discreet. Respect local customs.
Avoid large groups. Being alone is the lowest profile. Large groups and crowds the highest. Choose accordingly, when possible.
Stay away from tourist venues. I prefer small hotels with a local feel. And that's good, because large, chain, upscale hotels tend to be the ones targeted. Same for restaurants and entertainment venues. Get a local guidebook and get into the scene, but not where tourists congregate. At least not for long.
Walk, bike or drive when possible. I still take public transport, but don't hang around stations.
Err on the side of caution. Stay healthy. Bring extra meds. Take minimum cash and credit cards. Have photocopies of passport and credit cards. Get enough sleep. Lock your doors. Know the exits. Stay alert. Avoid walking at night on empty streets. Don't enter unlicensed cabs. You know. There are hundreds of decisions when you travel. Be as skeptical as you can be.
Trust your gut. Don't be afraid to avoid something you're not comfortable with. Or to say "no." Just say it firmly and nicely.
That said, enjoy. Odds are huge that if you take care you'll continue having a lifetime of wonderful trips.
Lea Lane is former managing editor of "Travel Smart" newsletter, and is the editor of sololady.com
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