A few years ago on a trip in Jamaica my cab driver stopped at an intersection and went to his trunk. As I watched through the space between the open trunk and the car from the back seat, I saw him grab a pistol. I immediately jumped out and ran for the biggest group of people I could find. Now I was off of the beaten path far from where cruise ship tourists normally venture and I am unsure of the cab drivers intention (maybe he was concerned for my safety or his) but the fact is that because I was alert I avoided a potentially bad situation. This cautionary tale is not meant to sour the reader on travel, this is but one story mixed in among years of wonderful travel experiences. By being observant and knowing what is going on around or at least appearing to know your surroundings, will go a long way to keep you out of trouble.
This does not apply to just avoiding robberies or other malicious activities. Being aware of your situation includes knowing the weather forecast, is a dangerous storm coming your way? Is there potential for flash floods in the low valley canyon you are trekking through? Not all foreign attractions or cities are equipped with the same safety features that we take for granted like hand rails, grates over open holes, or sufficient emergency escapes. Be alert to animal threats, snakes and insects etc. Claudia and I were quite amused (admittedly, doubled over in laughter) by the monkeys in the Monkey Forest of Ubud in Bali. Despite posted warnings, we watched them steal unwary tourists blind. They took the bananas they had planned on rationing as well as the contents of their pockets and backpacks, just about anything shiny and anything in a plastic bag. It wasn’t funny for the young woman hiker who had a monkey remove a ziplock bag of her medicines out of her backpack and run high up a tree. There are well marked signs about the behavior of the monkeys and not engaging them, but so often they go unread.
Situational awareness also applies to being aware of potential political and military turmoil. Cambodia is rather peaceful now but there are still unexploded land mines, a lapse of judgment and wandering of the beaten path could have dire consequences. We were in Pokhara, Nepal the day the Prime Minister resigned setting off demonstrations by the local Maoists who we watched march past our hotel. Issues generally affect a very small area but if you are unaware and find yourself in the middle it could get harrowing. Always check with your hotel, the news and the State Department website (www.state.gov) for current information. Also bear in mind border locations are not always a clear line drawn in the sand. There are currently two Americans in an Iranian prison because they were close to a border. Just because you are on vacation does not mean that your brain should be as well. As Claudia likes to remind me, “my mom will not want to see us on CNN!”
Geo political situations, weather, pandemics, hostile borders, knowledge of local law and customs, local dangerous (and mischievous) animals, among other threats sounds intimidating does it not? A little common sense and situational awareness will go a long way to keep you safe and have a pleasurable trip.
This is part 2 of Situational Awareness to read part one click here Travel professionals keep up to date with the ever changing situations of travel. A Travel Consultant can make additional recommendations and suggestions to make your trips safer and more enjoyable.
An additional article on how the U.S. Marine Corps is reinforcing situational awareness in Afghanistan http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2008-06-26-combathunter_N.htm