Staying Safe upon Arrival

My sweet neighbor Harriet contacted me the other day because her granddaughter Jaclyn had just received a medical fellowship to work in a small village in Peru. Apparently Jaclyn is to fly into Lima, then catch a bus to her faraway village to meet up with her new medical team.

hotel 2Harriet had read my tales of solo travel in Adventure Philanthropist and was worried about her granddaughter traveling alone in a foreign country. Initially I was super excited for Jaclyn, but then I became a tad worried too—a young woman age 22 heading off on her first foreign adventure. It was cause for both celebration and caution.

And so I was glad to provide Harriet and Jaclyn a few safety tips to follow. Here’re my top three recommendations to help ensure a safe arrival in a foreign country:

#1 – Book a Proper Hotel

When arriving in a foreign city, you’re usually pretty amped – a combination of excitement, nerves, and jet lag. I tend to just fly into a city and wing it, but I don’t recommend this for everyone. Instead I suggest booking a room at a decent hotel for the first night, one that will pick you up at the airport, offer a clean bed and hot shower, and give you a good breakfast in the morning. Once you’re feeling human, you can begin to conquer the new city you’ve arrived in.

A proper hotel will also give you the breathing room you need to acclimate to your new surroundings. Once there you can start speaking a few words of the local language, get your bearings with free maps, book a  introductory city tour, and get help arranging the next step of your journey if you need it.

Back Camera#2 – Avoid the Bus Station

The original plan was for Jaclyn to take a flight into Lima, the capital of Peru, then take a bus to her village. The problem is that bus stations (in every country) tend to be unsavory places.

Bus stations in Peru are especially dangerous because of the frequency of bandits on the deserted roads between far-flung villages. The travel situation has become so dangerous in fact that bus companies have taken to video-taping their passengers before they leave the station and drivers are prohibited from stopping for any reason.

When taking the bus in Peru (which I did many, many times), I always opt to travel during day-light hours, go with reputable bus companies, and watch myself and my bags pretty closely.

#3 – Get a Local Phone

I travel with an older model phone (in addition to my iPhone) that I’m not afraid to pull out on the street of major metropolises. As soon as I get off the plane I get a local SIM card, usually right at the airport. I know in South Africa there are sales desks as soon as you exit baggage claim, and at London’s Heathrow I got my last SIM card from a vending machine while waiting for my bags.

razr_phone, photo by jayniemoonMany companies need a copy of your passport and a passport photo to register your phone with the government. There’s usually a small activation fee and then you pay for a start-up package. (The only place I’ve had trouble with this was in Turkey when I totally lost my cool with the local phone company. Read: My Foreigner Freak Out).

The phone is an invaluable way to stay in touch with local contacts when setting up volunteer opportunities, confirming hotel / hostel reservations, and arranging rides and meet ups with fellow travelers. Also, when I find myself in a dicey situation, I text the taxi’s license plate number or my location to a local friend. This may not help you survive the rough ride, but it may help your family recover your body…

Safety First

Ahhhh…the joys of global travel! There’s nothing better than visiting a new country, learning about a foreign culture, and making local friends. Just follow these three insider tips upon arrival and your journey will get off to a smoother (and safer) start.

As a bonus, your grandmother will sleep more soundly at night.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 and is filed under On the Road.

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