Summer Travel Trouble-Shooting

It’s the season for sun, fun and adventure — and the challenges that go with summer travel. Here, how you can avoid the season’s hot-button issues.

While the “livin’ is easy,” travelling this time of year isn’t always so relaxing. Peak travel season can make for some sticky situations that have little to do with the weather.

travel-strikes

Transportation strikes

The issue: Labour unrest in the travel and transportation industries often comes to a head during the summer months. It’s tourist season: a good time to draw attention to issues and turn up the pressure on company execs. In past years, widespread strikes have paralyzed parts of India and Nepal, and thousands of flights have been cancelled in Germany, Italy and other European countries thanks to airline strikes. Even Canadian carriers like Greyhound and VIA Rail have held strikes (or threatened to) in recent years. In Italy, transportation strikes are so common that they’re practically a way of life.

Chances are a labour action isn’t going to break your trip, but it could cause some serious disruptions to your itinerary. Some strikes only last an hour or two, but others could go on much longer and leave you scrambling to make other arrangements.

How to avoid it: Keep an eye and ear on local news — and keep in touch with your travel provider. Most strikes are limited in duration and you’ll usually have some advanced warning. Some strikes may affect a certain carrier only (such as a pilots’ strike) or they could affect all providers at a certain airport or station (like a baggage handlers’ strike).

If you know about a potential strike, make alternative plans for the day to avoid it or contact your travel service provider to make alternative arrangements. (For more tips, see Tips for avoiding transportation disruptions.

travel-protestsProtests and demonstrations

The issue: Most protests and demonstrations cause relatively minor inconveniences for travellers such as clogged roadways, transportation delays or blocked access to embassies. However, large-scale protests and associated unrest have lead to violence several times over the past couple of years, including incidents in Greece, Thailand and China.

According to government travel advice, most protests are peaceful but there is a possibility of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

How to avoid it: Pay attention to what’s going on at your destination and avoid areas that are prone to trouble. There’s often some advanced warning because many countries require a permit or special permission for groups to hold a rally. Major holidays, anniversaries and elections can be a catalyst — not to mention continuing economic turmoil and austerity measures.

If a protest is happening, try to keep away from the area altogether and take alternate routes to get around. Foreigners often aren’t welcome, so avoid joining in or taking pictures. If a rally has been officially banned, there could be clashes between organizers and police.

Government travel advice, local news and sources like the Overseas Security Advisory Council and ASI Group’s Hotspots often have warnings about upcoming demonstrations and events that have been known to cause unrest.

travel-crimeCrime

The issue: Anywhere travellers gather, crooks are sure to frequent too. Peak travel times such as the summer, major holidays and major events are often associated with a rise in crime. Violent crimes and kidnapping certainly can affect tourists, but you’re far more likely to have your wallet or passport stolen, your luggage pilfered, your credit card cloned or be overcharged for food, taxis and other services. Travellers are often perceived as being wealthy and uninformed — making them easy targets.

Organized crime is also on the rise in some parts of the world like Northern Mexico, and tourists run the risk of being caught in the crossfire.

How to avoid it: Be aware of the risks and know how to protect yourself. Learn about any local scams or cons, and pay extra attention to your cash and travel documents. Take some simple preventative steps like keeping a copy of your passport and visa with you (and leaving one at home with a friend or relative) in case you need to replace them. Make sure you have the contact information for your embassy as well as the phone number for the local police or tourist police.

Also, check out government travel advice for any known risks associated with your destination country. As always, leave your valuables at home whenever possible, and take the usual precautions such as locking your door, not walking alone at night and being aware of your surroundings. Try to blend in, and avoid any obvious shows of wealth like jewelry or designer clothes.

travel-heatExtreme heat

The issue: Soaring temperatures and heat stroke aren’t just a threat at home. In past years, heat waves have turned deadly, causing scores of deaths and landing thousands in the hospital in parts of Europe. They can also aggravate current environmental and infrastructure issues and cause wild fires, power disruptions, water shortages and traffic chaos.

Even something as minor as sweating more than usual can cause unpleasant conditions like heat rash, fungal infections and yeast infections (for which over-the-counter treatments might not be available).

How to avoid it: Don’t be alarmed, but be aware. Heat-related illnesses can easily be avoided by keeping tabs on the weather and adjusting your itinerary accordingly. For example, plan outdoor activities earlier or later in the day, and opt for air conditioned environments like museums and libraries when the sun is at its peak. Drink plenty of fluids and seek medical attention if you feel a little “off”.

Rest is also essential for avoiding heat-related illnesses, so be sure to give yourself time to recover from jet lag and to get acclimatized to the local conditions. (For more information, see Keep cool during your summer travels).

If you’re in an area experiencing forest fires, be aware that smoke can aggravate breathing problems and chronic lung conditions. When in doubt, avoid strenuous activity and stay inside.

travel-severe-weatherSevere weather

The issue: We all hope for sunny skies on our vacation, but there are worse things than a little bit of rain. Tropical storms and hurricanes (also known as typhoons and cyclones) can cause severe damage. High winds can lead to storm surges, and heavy rains can lead to landslides and flooding. Even once the danger has passed, there are other threats like water-borne diseases, contaminated water and damage to infrastructure and transportation.

However, hurricanes aren’t the only concern and they aren’t the deadliest threat either. Severe thunderstorms, high winds and tornadoes can be a risk to your health and safety as well as cause property damage. According to National Geographic News, more people are the victims of lightning strikes each year than hurricanes, snowstorms and tornadoes. One of the deadliest states is Florida, also a common vacation spot.

How to avoid it: The threat of severe weather doesn’t have to discourage you from taking advantage of off-season deals to places like the Caribbean. The chances of having your trip ruined are pretty small, and you can further minimize the risk by avoiding travel during the peak of hurricane season (August and September) or avoiding certain islands and areas that are more likely to get hit. (See Tips for travelling during hurricane season for more details).

If you’re taking a road trip instead, be mindful of weather conditions for safe driving. Find a safe place to shelter during a storm, and don’t take chances if you’re in open areas like a beach or the golf course. (For more information on how to avoid injuries, see Protect yourself from summer storms).

travel-illnessPreventable illnesses

The issue: Every year travellers get sick while they’re away or “don’t feel right” when they return. There are numerous risks people face from minor ailments like tummy troubles to more serious infectious diseases. Summer is a hot time of year for food-poisoning, and insects are plentiful too.

Worse yet, an illness can do more than ruin people’s plans — sometimes it’s an unexpected souvenir that can spread to friends, family and others in the community back at home.

How to avoid it: You know the drill — get your hepatitis A and B and typhoid vaccinations, watch what you eat, drink bottled water and protect yourself from insect bites. That’s everything, right?

Not quite… You may require additional vaccinations depending on where you travel. Yellow Fever outbreaks throughout South America and Asia have made getting the Yellow Fever vaccine a travel requirement. Other concerns include protection against rabies, Japanese Encephalitis and meningococcal disease. Even an outbreak of the measles can be cause for concern if you haven’t been keeping up with your routine shots.

To find out what you need and how to protect yourself, visit a travel doctor six to eight weeks before you leave and read up on what health risks you might face at your destination. (For more information, see the CDC’s Travelers’ Health website and our article on Travel Health).

travel-drivingDriving

The issue: Whether it’s heading to the cottage, touring in a foreign country or simply driving to the airport, your biggest risk of serious harm is from accidents on the road. Extra traffic on the highways during busy holiday times is a problem the world over.

And when you’re away from home, you may have to deal with different rules of the road and unfamiliar conditions like poor signage and wandering animals too.

How to avoid it: If you plan to drive out of the country, make sure you have the right documentation and you’re aware of any known hazards and laws. In order to rent a car in many countries you’ll need an IDP — an International Driver’s Permit. You might also be required to carry certain emergency items too. (For more advice, see Five things to know before driving abroad and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Driving Abroad).

If possible, tune into local news for traffic details to avoid havoc on the roads. If you’re travelling in the U.S., Nova Scotia or Quebec you can receive traffic information by calling 511.

Also, protect yourself by driving smart — that is, avoid getting behind the wheel after you’ve had a few drinks and pace yourself on long road trips to avoid getting overtired.

In the end, the biggest risk to your vacation is being ignorant of any potential dangers and not taking precautions. You don’t need to look very far for examples of unwise behaviour that got tourists into trouble — like walking alone at night or drinking to excess.

Should you be paranoid? No, but experts agree that you should be informed and aware. Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you should be lulled into a false sense of security. Knowing how to prevent issues — and how to find help when they do arise — might just save your trip.

Additional information:
Travelling and Living Overseas (travel information from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office)
Voyage.gc.ca (travel information from the Canadian Government)

READ MORE
7 summer health risks
Avoid the latest hotel scam
Last minute travel deals