I love to travel. And I love to experience new and exciting things while traveling. The problem? I do dumb and sometimes dangerous things—and so do you.
Do you jump out of planes often? Bungie jump? Go white water rafting? Do these tend to fit into your normal weekend schedule, right after picking up groceries and before date night with your spouse? Of course not! When you are at home, safe in an area that you know well with easy access to medical facilities, you aren’t taking these tremendous risks.
It is when you are ten thousand miles away from home that you and I do amazing, exciting, and oftentimes dangerous things; and of course we chose to do them when we are in remote areas, far from medical care, perhaps in a country that we don’t speak the language and have no idea how to get help. But we do it anyway—and will continue to take risks—on many of our travels. The trick is to make sure that while you are out experiencing the thrill of a lifetime, that you take the steps necessary to protect yourself.
Chris Sidford, Travel Guru extraordinaire with an impressive resume (M.D, U.S Naval Officer, American College of Emergency Medicine Fellow, just to name a few credentials), knows what can happen on a seemingly innocent vacation. His company, Black Bag, provides clients with immediate care guidance and intelligence from all over the world. Here are a few things I’ve learned from Dr. Sidford.
Don’t pet the wildlife
Encountering exotic wildlife—outside of a zoo—is such an incredible experience, and who could resist a cute, friendly monkey? Of course, once the monkey decides to bite you and run off, you’re in a bit of trouble. In fact, you could be in a lot of trouble.
You may have gotten your vaccinations before you trip, but did you think to get a rabies vaccine? Not only that, but the animal could be carrying a host of other horrible viruses. And now you’ve just been bit by a wild animal, in an area with a high prevalence of rabies, and the animal has run away. You have no way to check if the monkey had rabies or other viruses, so you are left with only one choice—a series of painful shots and uncomfortable tests.
Please don’t pet the wildlife. Even if it’s something familiar like a dog or horse, does not mean that it’s friendly or free of disease. I got scolded by Dr. Sidford for this one. I managed to get a cool photo out of it, but trust me. It’s not worth it.
You only Zipline away from home
You don’t zipline in your hometown. That’s not fun. When you go ziplining you want to go through a rainforest, or over a canyon; somewhere exotic where you can take some amazing pictures to share with the family back home. You go rock climbing, cliff jumping, and swim in shark cages in these incredible exotic locations and check them off your bucket list, and take these risks far away from home.
Of course, how do you know you can trust that those ziplines are safe? Sure, people have safely slid down them hundreds of times, but when was the last time that rope was replaced? And how old is that helmet you are wearing? Maybe you’re going cliff jumping- do you know if there are rocks down there? What kind of wildlife or bacteria might be swimming in that water? You willfully put yourself in harm’s way, and chose to do it only when home and easy medical access is far away.
We’re embracing the “carefree” part of vacation a little too much
You may be traveling with young children—perhaps the whole family managed to get away for the summer. Normally your prescription medicine is kept in a child proof cabinet far out of the reach of children. But in your hotel room it might be sitting on your bedside table.
You need to take steps to keep the kids (and you) safe. Many of the precautions you take at home go outside the window. You would never let your kids or grandkids go out on their bikes without a helmet. But abroad, in a foreign city with bumpy cobblestone roads and tons of traffic, you and the kids hop on vespas with complete strangers and speed through alleyways—all without a helmet.
Enjoy your vacation, but don’t throw caution to the wind. Wear a helmet, keep medications out of reach, and don’t forget the basic safety steps that you use at home.
We’re drinking the water—even if we don’t mean to
You know not to drink the water in many places abroad, that’s something you’ve been warned about and are sure to remind your family of. You even know better than to drink anything with ice in it—but we are still letting our guard down.
Starbucks is always okay, right? No, it’s not. You can find Starbucks in cities all over the world, and might be thrilled to grab that familiar iced latte. Just because it’s a familiar name you assume it’s a safe haven, but that’s not the case. A local Starbucks uses the same local water. Don’t feel the comforts of home just because it’s a home brand.
But there are other ways you’re drinking the water. Brushing your teeth? That tap water might not be sanitary. Even if your guide claims it’s clean, and the resort you’re staying at is quite high end, you need to be careful. Err on the side of caution.
I travel a lot, and I have had every possible situation happen. Everything from misplaced medication to extreme medical emergency, I know that the best way to handle these situations is to put a plan in place. And I know not to panic because we were prepared. We had a travel medical expert on call—in our case, Chris Sidford. Dr. Sidford and his team were ready to support us, and they were able to guide us through situations where we would have otherwise been lost. He knows global hospitals and can coordinate care and evacuation if necessary. I know about all of the horrible things that could happen, and I also know not to panic because I am prepared.
I care deeply about my clients, and want you all to enjoy your well-earned adventures and to do so safely. Enjoy your sky-diving, your shark encounters, and hiking the great peaks of the world. But please, keep Dr. Sidford’s advice in mind. And when you do dumb sh*t like I do—be prepared.
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