There are a lot of tragedies that are totally unpreventable. People are struck with illnesses that happened without cause or warning. A person walks down the street and is struck by a car that veers onto the pavement. A terrorist decides to murder a bunch of people and you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But there are tragedies that can be prevented. Adults can be mindful of carrying or drinking hot liquids when there are small children present. One can equip one’s home with smoke detectors. One can drive safely paying attention to the road instead of the mobile phone. One can check the car before leaving it to make sure there are no children left in it– And there are lists of many such safeguards.
What prompted me to write is a recent tragedy of a young person who had gone on a trip far from home. In Israel it is common for young people to travel after high school or Army or university. And every year we hear of healthy, beautiful young people dying tragically on these journeys. Certainly, not all of these tragedies could have been prevented, but people traveling need to pay special attention to their healthy and safety.
1. As many books as you have read and people you have talked to, you still don’t know this foreign country that you are visiting. You don’t know where it is safe to walk and where it is not. “It feels safe” is not a good measure of safety. A few years ago my husband and I were in Peru. A friend had told us that we should check out the Inquisition Museum in Lima. So one bright Sunday morning we set out on foot to find the museum. We were in the center of town and we knew the museum was only a couple of blocks away. We walked across a bridge onto a pedestrian mall and stopped to get a coke and suddenly two people came to us and said, “You need to leave here.” We were puzzled. Who were these people and why were they telling us to leave? Were they going to strong-arm us into some alley and take our papers and money and camera? They were very insistent and we were in public in full daylight, so we walked with them. As we walked with them they explained that locals target tourists in this area, knock them down, and take their valuables. As we came back to the bridge, our companions wished us well and left. Would someone have attacked us? I don’t know. I do know that we thought that where we were walking was safe and that the people who stopped us had no ulterior motive.
2. Because you don’t know these countries and most likely don’t speak their native language, you need to make sure that you are in good physical condition before you leave home. Check with your doctor to see if there is any reason why this travel might not be advisable. Make sure you check as to whether you need inoculations for the area you will visit. Make sure that you carry in your hand luggage any medications you regularly take and bring along over the counter remedies for things like headaches, upset stomachs, and digestive disorders. ALWAYS buy medical insurance before you travel anywhere. Once we had a woman traveling with us in Hangzhou, China, who missed a step of the side of a very gradual incline. She broke her leg! Because she had medical insurance, the ambulance to the local hospital, the treatment there, the ambulance back to the hotel, the ambulance to the ambulance plane and the plane ride to Beijing as well as the doctor’s visit in Beijing (to certify her worthy to fly back home) and two first class seats home all were paid for by insurance. The insurance probably saved her tens of thousands of dollars, and such an accident could happen to anyone.
3. Different trips present different challenges. If you are traveling to a place that is sunny, sunscreen, sunglasses, and appropriate clothing are important. If you are traveling to a cold place, of course you need cold weather gear. Travelers can become dehydrated, so carrying a bottle of water with you and DRINKING from it is important!! If you are going to high altitudes, read up on symptoms of altitude sickness. Understand that it can be fatal. It’s not something you can “tough out.” There are medicines that doctors prescribe to counteract the effects of altitude and getting to altitude slowly over a period of days may help, but at the first sign of altitude sickness, it is time to move lower, immediately. In Kathmandu, the local Chabad emissary lends satellite phones to trekkers so that they can be rescued in the event they are suffering from altitude sickness or exposure to cold temperatures. Recently the rabbi sent a helicopter to rescue two girls who are now alive because they were smart enough to take a phone with them.
4. Many people, particularly young people, enjoy extreme sports. They require special insurance coverage. Without it, in the event of an accident, they have no one to come and rescue them and no medical coverage. It is important to note that safety standards in some countries are not as strict as in others. Regular inspections of zip lines (omegas) and bungee apparatuses are common in many countries, but there are countries that rely on good luck. A few years ago I had a great time on a zip line in Mindo, Ecuador. About two years later, the apparatus failed and someone was killed. Would I go on it again in Mindo? Not so fast. How can I be sure that the authorities are more conscientious than they were then? In addition, many times young people do not listen to instructions for safe conduct on extreme sports. Before we rode on our snowmobile in Finland, we were outfitted with proper cold weather gear and helmets and we listened carefully to instructions that ended up keeping one couple safe when their vehicle overturned. They were fine, but listening to the instructions is what saved them from broken bones. A recent tragedy while white water rafting could have been prevented if the young people had listened to a local person who warned them that the water was at that time much too rough.
Travel is fun! Adventures are the best! But be cautious. Even if you are young, you are not indestructible. The people who love you are waiting at home for your safe return. Please please please…. stay safe!!!!