Travel safety tips from Kate Fitzsimons
“Be careful when you cross the road! I’ve heard they don’t care about road rules over there!”
“Don’t walk around by yourself; you never know who you’ll run into on the streets!”
“Carry an extra phone battery with you, just in case!”
We’re often quick to brush off the fretted cautions and warnings from loved ones ahead of travelling overseas. For some reason, many of us ditch our regular sense of safety that we carry every day at home and take on a feeling of invincibility as soon as we head to the airport. We take on a false and misguided mindset of “I’m on holiday! Nothing bad is going to happen!” Unfortunately, this just simply isn’t true, as one Australian family learned in the most horrific way possible.
In October 2012, 24-year old Nicole Fitzsimons tragically passed away in a motorbike accident when she was holidaying in Thailand with her boyfriend. This unimaginable tragedy spurred her little sister Kate Fitzsimons to establish the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation. Kate now dedicates her life to educating people about the importance of travel safety.
Kate, who has been named one of Australia’s Top 100 Women of Influence, was recently announced as an ambassador for Tourism Fiji’s ‘Bulanaire List’; an initiative that celebrates authenticity, resilience and happiness.
We spoke to Kate about travel safety, and she shared some of her top tips on staying safe overseas, as well as how she practices happiness every day…
Why do you think we can sometimes be so oblivious to the potential dangers of travel?
It’s easy to lose ourselves in the excitement of going on holidays that we forget that we are travelling to a foreign country where there can be differences in culture, rules and safety standards that can put us at a greater risk. Many travellers also have a ‘’it won’t happen to me’’ mentality that tempts us to push boundaries and take risks that we wouldn’t normally take at home. In fact, 82% of under 30’s admit to undertaking risky behaviour when holidaying in South East Asia. I believe this is because of a sense of ‘invincibility’ combined with a lack of awareness of the danger they’re actually putting themselves in.
How can we best prepare ourselves in terms of safety ahead of travelling overseas?
The main reality check we need as travellers is that when we leave Australia we leave behind the ‘safety net of protection’ we have at home including all our support systems, emergency services and medical facilities, so when something goes wrong, it’s a lot more difficult (and expensive!) to seek and receive help as a foreigner. With this in mind, don’t take senseless risks you wouldn’t normally take here at home. You owe it to yourself, your friends and your family to keep your safety a priority no matter where you are in the world. If something doesn’t feel safe, it probably isn’t, so don’t do it.
Here are my top six travel safety tips:
- Research your destination – Smartraveller website is a great source to learn about your destination’s differences in culture, laws and safety issues. Beyond Smartraveller, there’s a wealth of information on travel websites, blogs and social media (Tripadvisor is one of my favourites!). No matter how adventurous your intended travel, chances are someone has done it before and shared their experience online that you can learn from. Please note though, the most reliable and up to date information will always be on Smartraveller.
- Buy travel insurance tailored to your needs and activities before you leave Australia.
- Subscribe to Smartraveller’s free Travel Advice updates for the latest safety and security info about your destination delivered straight to your inbox.
- Download the ‘Travel Guard’ app on your smartphone – this app gives you the details and directions to the closest approved hospitals, doctors, embassies and clinics no matter where you are in the world. It also works without the internet so you don’t have to worry about big data bills.
- Make copies of all important travel documents (e.g. passport, itinerary, insurance policy, driver license etc) and leave a copy at home with someone you can contact quickly in case of emergency.
- When travelling alone with a driver, act as if someone is expecting you and will raise an alarm if you don’t arrive (make a phone call or mention in passing to your driver that your partner is waiting for you) and where possible, sit with your belongings within arm’s length .
Many people are misinformed about the importance of travel insurance and why they need it. First of all, what do you think is the minimum level of insurance travellers should have? And how can travellers ensure they know exactly what is and isn’t covered under their insurance?
There are misconceptions that travel insurance is a waste of money – but truthfully it was a saving grace for our family during our darkest hours. After travelling for 12 hours to be by Nicole’s side, the first thing that my parents were greeted with as they walked through the hospital doors, before they were even allowed to see Nicole even though she’d already passed away, were medical bills that had to be paid for. Without travel insurance, our family would have not only have been suffering emotionally but financially as well.
The minimum level of insurance that travellers should have is the insurance policy that is tailored specifically to their needs and activities – nothing less. As having the wrong travel insurance can be just as useless as having none at all.
Travellers can ensure they know exactly what is and isn’t covered under their insurance by taking the time to actually read through their policy. It’s an extra 5 – 10 minutes that could save them thousands, because if you make a claim for something that’s not specifically outlined in your policy then the insurers have every right not to cover you for it. I recommend for travellers to be mindful of properly declaring existing medical conditions they may have, and also to be aware that you need to have a valid motorbike licence in your home country to be covered for any injuries sustained on a motorbike overseas.
Who do you think is most at risk of something bad happening overseas?
I think the under 30’s travellers are most at risk of something bad happening overseas because their youthful ‘bulletproof’ mentality combined with peer pressure from friends and attraction to thrill-seeking makes them more likely to take the risks that expose them to far greater dangers.
You were recently named an ambassador for Tourism Fiji’s ‘Bulanaire List’ – which celebrates people who are rich in happiness – how do you practice happiness every day?
I practice happiness every day through acceptance and gratitude. I accept the things I cannot change about circumstances beyond my control – whether it’s heavy traffic or a late train – so I am not caught up in frustration or resistance. I then choose to redirect my focus to what I can appreciate about the situation or what I can learn from it so I find value in every experience. That’s happiness to me.