Managing Travel Risks

 

I am often asked questions such as “Is it safe to travel there?” or “How do you keep from getting sick?” or “How do you protect all your equipment?”.   While there are no guarantees, there are ways to minimize the risks associated with these and other travel issues.

 

All aspects of your life involve risks and you actively practice risk management, often without thinking about it, every day.  You make your home, your car and your work environment as safe as possible for the risks that you normally face.  But you face risks from weather, disease, accidents, crime and transportation too that require a certain degree of vigilance and acceptance in order to live your ‘normal’ life.  Travel has risks from the same causes but the risks tend to be greater and require more attention in order to bring them down to an ‘acceptable’ level.

 

Most people think of insurance when they hear about risk management.  It is important to consider the financial risks of travel but this is only one type of risk that needs to be handled.   This article focuses on managing other risks that you need to personally address.

 

Your first concern should be safety so you need to find out what types of safety risks exist where you plan to travel.  The US State Department does a good job of documenting safety, crime and terrorism risks in each country on their website at http://travel.state.gov/.  They also issue travel warnings and travel alerts when circumstances warrant extra attention.  Warnings tend to be more serious than alerts and generally identify regions that are not considered safe to travel to.  If you need more information about a particular risk, search the web on the topic and you can usually find many relevant articles.

 

Once you understand the safety risks for your destination, you need to use local knowledge to manage them to your satisfaction.  For example, when traveling to any country for the first time, you should consider hiring a local guide or joining a photo tour with local guides.  They will help keep you out of unsafe areas and provide recommendations for safe food and housing.  If you have been to an area several times and believe you understand the risks, it’s still a good idea to discuss your plans with locals to get their input.  Things may have changed since you were last there.

 

Your second concern should be health so you need to find out what types of heath risks there are where you plan to go.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides excellent advice on their Traveler’s Health web page at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ .  They provide recommendations for vaccinations and other preventative measures for over 200 international destinations.  Armed with this information, you should then visit a travel doctor to discuss your particular needs and to get the medicines they prescribe.

 

Once you have addressed the preventative measures your doctor offers, you still need to pay attention to food and water safety.  The CDC has good advice on this too but you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic, just in case.  Your digestive system may not be able to handle what the locals eat, even if it is ‘safe’, so be prepared for the occasional bout of diarrhea.  Medical kit recommendations can be found at http://www.photoinasia.com/medical_kit.html.

 

Another risk area is transportation. You can’t eliminate transportation risks when you travel any more than you can eliminate them at home but you can minimize them.  Transportation risks in foreign countries are best minimized by using reliable vehicles and local drivers.  Avoid the temptation to rent a car or motorcycle when you don’t know the traffic laws, driving habits or road conditions.

 

Many countries don’t provide the safety infrastructure to prevent accidents that is taken for granted in the US.  Sidewalks and railings, for example, are often in need of serious repair or nonexistent.  Walkways and stairs simply require more attention than you are used to giving them but can easily be mastered with extra diligence.

 

Weather is the most uncontrollable element of travel risk but it should still be addressed.  Forecasts are available in all countries and serious weather predictions should be heeded.  Picking well constructed hotels and appropriate transportation are important ways to ride out or get out of bad weather situations.   The timing of your travel can greatly affect your risk too.  Traveling during the ‘dry’ season will greatly lower the chance of weather related problems.

 

The last area of risk is specific to photographers.  If you carry expensive cameras and computer equipment there is an extra risk of damage, theft or loss of equipment.  You need to pack this equipment carefully and carry it personally.  Avoid checking bags with camera or computer equipment.  Put it in your carry on luggage.  Keep these bags locked and consider using a cable lock to chain them to furniture when you are not physically present.

 

Avoid traveling alone with cameras whenever possible.  Travel with friends, hire a guide or join a photo tour.  Groups of people are rarely targeted by thieves who tend to look for easier targets.  Having someone nearby to look out for you and to provide help when needed is the best way to minimize all sorts of risks.

 

In summary, travel will never be risk free but you can manage most of the risks with advance preparation and extra diligence.  While it may sound like a lot of work, it does become second nature if you travel frequently.  If you don’t travel frequently, utilize the services of those who do such as guides and tours.  Their advice and services will greatly reduce the risks associated with travel in regions you are not familiar with.

 

May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!

 

      Roger Nelson