While travel is amazing, it does often pose certain risks, both to your safety and health. Latin America is a spectacular region – however, it is likely quite different from what you are used to back home. This means that it's necessary to take certain precautions in order to stay safe and healthy when travelling around Latin America. Here are some tips on how you can do this.
Before You Travel
Review Climate Conditions
Prior to booking any travel, check what the climate is like in your country of destination. While there are some places that have mild and peaceful climates, others get a hurricane and rainy seasons. For example, Bolivia and Peru have rain seasons, during which there are many landslides on the roads. On the other hand, most of Central America and the Caribbean have a hurricane season – it might be cheaper, but you probably don't want to travel during this time. While not so much of a safety issue, Argentina's and Chile's winter seasons are reverse to the one in the North.
Check Travel Alerts and News
Most countries in Latin America have reasonable stable governments. However, anywhere in the world, situations can change rapidly. If you are planning to travel anywhere in Latin America, stay up-to-date on the current news in that country. It is often possible for situations to destabilize. For example, at the time of writing, Rio de Janeiro is experiencing a lot of political turmoil, Venezuela is generally unsafe and elections are coming up in Colombia. Keep those things in mind when planning your travel and try to steer away from important calendar dates, including electoral processes.
Visit a Travel Clinic
Particularly if you are going to travel to a country with a tropical climate, check if you need some vaccinations before you go. Many of these are standard in your destination country, but not back home, simply because you don't need them. For example, during my first trip to Colombia, the travel clinic recommended I get a vaccine against yellow fever, typhoid, and hepatitis. While some people think that travel vaccines are a hoax – they are not. These diseases exist and they are dangerous. Spend the extra cash and protect yourself!
During Your Trip
Be Mindful of Your Belongings
I know that this sounds rhetorical, but you'd be surprised how many people do not do this. Partially, it's because being mindful of your belongings can mean different things in different places. There are some basic rules, such as not wearing expensive brands and jewelry to avoid attracting attention. But in many countries in Latin America, it's also best not to have your smartphone out in public, particularly if it's a newer model. While this doesn't apply everywhere, it's often a good idea to have an older simple phone for placing calls while on the street. You can use locals as your guide – if no one has their phone out, it's best not to flash yours around either.
Don't Bring Too Much Cash
It can be tempting to avoid banking fees for withdrawals and bring cash only with you when travelling. However, my inclination would be not to. Instead, bring a reasonable amount and a debit card where you can withdraw money easily. Unless you are travelling somewhere very remote, there are ATMs readily available everywhere in the region. On that note, here are some tips on using ATMs while travelling (or anywhere really):
- Try to only use machines placed inside reputable banks to avoid scams
- Always cover your PIN number when punching it in, even if no one is around
- Always wipe the keyboard after you are done keying in your PIN
- Never take out money late at night, and even less so if you are by yourself
- Try to take out money when heading to your hotel, so that you don't need to carry all that cash around with you all-day
- Notify your bank that you will be travelling, so that your transactions don't get blocked
Spend on Safety
I can't stress this point enough! Pay an extra few bucks when necessary to stay safe. If you are advised not to take local taxis in a certain area, then it's best to call a reputable taxi company or an Uber where available. Sure, this may cost you a few dollars extra, but isn't your safety and security worth it? This particularly applies to taking taxis from and to the airport or at night. Same goes for your accommodation – do not stay in areas that are not considered safe for tourists just because it is cheaper. Another consideration is health – go with food that is not going to make you sick even it is going to cost you more; additionally, select a reputable company for tours and transportation.
Pay Attention to the Locals
Typically, the best way to stay safe and healthy anywhere is to ask the locals for tips. The people at your hotel should be able to provide you with these recommendations. For example, they will be able to recommend reputable companies, ATMs, restaurants, etc. At the same time, just watch the way locals around you behave. If they are taking certain precautions, then so should you.
After Returning Home
Cancel Your Travel Advisories
This is a simple step that many of us forget to take. When you come home, call your bank to cancel any advisories that you have set up on your credit cards and other accounts.
Visit a Doctor If Needed
In case you are not well after a trip, you should always see a doctor. When you do, it's important to advise them where you were and what you were doing there. This is because our bodies are not always used to the same viruses and diseases we may be exposed to abroad. Plus, many tropical diseases are really unpleasant. So it's best to nip them in the bud and seek medical attention where necessary.
Overall, if you use common sense during your travels, you should be safe and stay healthy. Follow the way that locals behave when it comes to their safety and don't disregard any alerts or safety tips. Unfortunately, you are not invincible just because you are on vacation. And who wants to have something ruin their vacation? At the same time, follow your intuition. If you feel that something is off, then listen to that feeling – you are probably on the right track! Finally, enjoy your trip and don't worry too much. Staying safe and healthy is just a basic part of life that you already do every day – just continue practising this during travel!