We all look forward to our holidays, and an overseas vacation enables us to take a well-deserved break. Unfortunately, however, we live in an ever-increasing troubled world, so we have to take greater care in planning our time abroad.
In this two-part feature, rather than focusing on visitors to Portugal, I am going to provide some useful tips for those living here planning a trip overseas. The first part deals with preparations.
Deciding where to go
Whether you are planning a relaxing beach holiday or something adventurous such as skiing, the common denominator is that safety and security matter. An ABTA survey conducted in 2015 found that ‘safety and security’ is the number one priority among holidaymakers.
Luckily, there are some excellent tools around, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office “Travel Aware” advice system at www.gov.uk/travelaware. Its purpose is to provide information and advice to help British nationals prepare for foreign travel, stay safe abroad and make their own informed decisions about foreign travel. Specifically, this gives up-to-date assessments and advice concerning matters such as safety and security, including crime and road travel, terrorism, laws and customs, and, in some cases, natural disasters in no less than 225 countries worldwide. If you are planning a trip that takes you into a troubled country, this is essential reading. Do not rely on travel guidebooks as the situation in most countries changes regularly.
Apart from British nationals, this also provides excellent safety and security advice for any national travelling overseas. Links for travel advice for other nationalities can be found on our website.
It is also a good idea to try and read local newspapers, to check news in the area you are travelling to.
Lastly, understand the local laws, customs and cultural differences of the destination country before you travel. In some countries, public displays of affection and same-sex relationships can result in your arrest and prosecution.
Booking your holiday
These days, most of us do this through the internet, including air flights, accommodation and even the restaurants we will eat in! Whereas the vast majority of companies advertising their services on the internet are reliable, there is an increasing number of fake sites, or sites containing fraudulent information.
Safe Communities has undertaken much research on this particularly, focusing on booking holiday villas. Questions to ask are: Does the website have credible contact details, including name, telephone numbers, address and email address which you can reach and verify? Is the company located at the address given? Is the phone number, if a landline, actually in the same area or country as the address? Look carefully at content and photos on the website – do they look original or copied and are they related to the company’s services? Check grammar.
When booking online, to reduce the risk of ticket fraud, you should, where possible, pay for travel using your credit card. Also check out the company you wish to buy an e-ticket – use a well-known brand. The IATA logo is one indicator that a company is legitimate. Avoid buying e-tickets from classified websites which sell other things such as cars and villas, auction websites, or from someone in the street or in your local bar!
Choosing a hotel
Remember location is as important as the hotel itself. Check if it is located in a high crime rate area. Do some research before you travel. Look at sites such as Trip Advisor and customer reviews – are there any issues that give you concerns regarding safety and security?
If you are travelling by car, check if the hotel has in-house parking or whether you need to park on the street or public car park which may be less secure.
Google Maps is a great way to see what a different country is really like – without having to actually be there. Use the innovative tool to take a virtual walk around the hotel or resort you would like to visit. Be sure to check the following: Does your intended hotel have good surroundings and security? What are the streets around the hotel like? Are there potential escape routes in case of an incident? Can you see police patrols on the beach?
In planning your trip, prepare a travel check-list. Firstly, well in advance, consult the healthcare and vaccination situation for that country as well as any visa requirement. Before travelling, make copies of your travel documents, boarding passes, passport and driving licences. Take these with you and keep them in a separate place from the originals. Having these can be very helpful in the event of loss or theft of the originals. Keep these separate from the originals.
Make a note of your credit/debit card numbers and the phone numbers you will have to ring if you lose your cards.
Also keep up to date with news and travel advice before travelling. Many things can change between the time of booking and actual travel.
It goes without saying that having travel insurance is essential. This can be taken out at the time of arranging a flight or annual insurance. Please check the fine print and conditions, and ensure it provides for the activities and type of trip that you will be undertaking. If you travel regularly, annual insurance is likely to work out cheaper.
Hiring a car can give you greater independence and flexibility during your holiday, but there are a few things to consider. For instance, do you feel safe driving a vehicle where road signs may be in a different language or driving on the opposite side of the road for which you are used to and that traffic accidents could be much higher than your own country? Bear in mind also that the largest cause of deaths on holiday overseas for British holidaymakers is through road accidents.
Before deciding which company to use, check if it displays company stickers on its vehicles which may make it more attractive to criminals.
In part two, we will look at safety and security during the holiday itself.
By David Thomas
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David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In October 2011 he founded Safe Communities Algarve an on-line platform www.safecommunitiesalgarve.com here in the Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its type in Portugal, with a new website www.safecommunitiesportugal.com launched in May 2015. He can be contacted at [email protected], or on 913045093 or at www.facebook.com/scalgarve