Travel is now an inescapable part of our lives be it for business or leisure, or just to meet an important personal commitment. With travel and hotel bookings a mere mouse click away, planning a trip has never been so easy and travelers have endless options (air, sea or land) to choose from. The basic criterion of planning a trip has not changed - factors such as budget, journey time, destination location and activities on site (for leisure or holiday) continue to be the primary considerations, however one important factor that has steadily crept into the travelers' mindset and influences the travel plan is 'Security'.
Although travel risks have not increased dramatically, it is the awareness of the risks linked to travel that have improved tremendously. With the advent of 24x7 news and advancements in information and communication technologies, travelers can now stay constantly tuned to the latest developments which have a bearing on their plans. There has not been a significant change in the threats faced by travelers, which are mainly petty or street crime, natural disasters, terrorism, civil unrest, violent demonstrations, public protests, accidents (air, rail or sea) and pandemic/epidemic outbreak etc. Some of these conventional threats have however evolved with time and impact travel security to a greater extent - for instance, the risks associated with natural disasters or travel disruption caused by severe weather conditions has increased manifold. Every few months, thousands of travelers are affected by freak weather phenomenon which is attributed to global warming and climate change.
The risk of global terrorism has also compounded in recent times (since late 1980s) and several innocent travelers have been victims of terror attacks that have specifically targeted transportation nodes and popular business hotels across major cities. Notwithstanding the deadly nature of the threat, terrorism's impact upon travel security is unduly exaggerated. Terror acts attract extensive media attention, and in response the authorities issue travel advisories for specific cities or countries, generating high anxiety and personal safety concerns amongst travelers. Actually, one hears of more instances of travelers stranded by adverse weather conditions or tourists affected by crime, in comparison to travelers targeted in terror incidents. Travelers continue to be victims of opportunistic crime, especially in the lesser developed and the developing countries, where the economic gap between the haves and have nots continues to grow wider and instigates criminal activity.
Today's travelers are however better informed than ever before, and information is undoubtedly a critical element of travel safety. The adage 'forewarned is forearmed' holds true, and travelers have the benefit of resources such as country and city security briefings, information updates on current developments and breaking news alerts -all easily accessible via smart phones by travelers on the move. Travelers can now take prompt decisions prior to their journey or even during the course of their trip based on reliable information that is available to them. There are several invaluable online resources for travelers that provide updated information and travel advisories; some of them being government driven (for e.g. US State Department, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Australian Government), media (Reuters, CNN etc.) and other popular travel forums (trip advisor, lonely planet)
http://travelsecure.infrastructure.gov.au/ (Australian government's travel security website)
http://travelsecurity.blogspot.com/ (travel security blog)
http://travel.state.gov/travel/ ( US State Department's International Travel section)
http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/ (UK's foreign and commonwealth office website- travel advise by country)
http://www.safetravel.co.uk/ (UK government's website promoting safe travel and advise for tourists visiting UK)
http://blogs.reuters.com/business-traveller/ (Retuer's blog providing tips for business travelers)
http://www.tripadvisor.in/ (destination/ hotel reviews include articles on travel security issues)
Travelers need to be particularly cautious while undertaking a trip to a dangerous destination - which could be areas that are witnessing a high level of violence, insurgency or active military operations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Congo, Jammu & Kashmir etc.), or are known to be prone to high criminal activity (Johannesburg, Mexico etc.). Generally, it is advisable to avoid or defer travel to such a location unless it is a mandatory business trip, and in most such cases companies make necessary arrangements (such as security escorts, trusted driver and cab etc.) to ensure risk mitigation.
For other locations that are not perceived as high risk, travelers are safe as long as they just adhere to practical and common sense precautions. A majority of travelers become victims of crime when they become complacent and do not follow the basic rules. So, what are some of these rules? To start with, it is always advisable to keep a low profile - dress conservatively and do not wear flashy jewelry, expensive watches or carry high-end mobile phones that attract attention to bag snatchers. Many travelers prefer to carry cash separately as pocket money, so that they do not display their wallets or purses to strangers. In certain locations it may also be wise to carry a duplicate purse with some loose currency (without credit cards, licenses etc.) which could be conveniently handed over to a thief in a confrontational situation.
Foreign visitors or business travelers are also common targets of confidence tricksters, especially at airports, railway stations or market places where 'touts' are especially known to be lurking around, looking for gullible victims. Strangers are never to be trusted, and one should be aware that fraudsters often operate in pairs or groups and create diversionary tactics to confuse an unknowing victim. One should never accept any eatables from unknown fellow travelers, which could potentially be mixed with a sleep inducing drug. Similarly, in many parts of the world, female travelers are advised to not take lifts from strangers or venture out at night alone.
Despite the risks, one must ensure that travel is stress-free and enjoyable; and this can be achieved by simply following the rules based on the risk perception, without getting too paranoid or tense about the trip. There could possibly be no better time than now to see and explore new places, so go and enjoy the journey but remember to stay safe!
Some basic dos and donts
Seek travel insurance; most travel agents or travel websites off