Category: Travel safety

93 confirmed cases of Zika virus in Florida

As of 4/22/16 there were 93 confirmed cases in Florida, all from returning travelers. Zika used to be found only in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Now there are travel warnings for most of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. The CDC list is at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information

Zika is transmitted through mosquitoes and there is also evidence that the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted from a man to their partner(s). Most of those infected with Zika virus (80%) are without symptoms. Symptomatic disease is usually mild and symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are advised to postpone travel to areas with Zika virus transmission due to harm the virus may cause to an unborn baby. All travelers should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites, such as those found at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html, if going to any of these high risk areas.

Bicycle on vacation? Be careful out there!

I recently learned a new word, when a good friend of mine announced that he got “doored” while riding his bike in New York City. He’s OK now but he did end up in the back of an ambulance and the ER. So this guest post seemed especially relevant. Like any other vehicle, there are a number of hazards cyclists should be aware of when on the roadway. By being aware of hazards, bike riders can avoid accidents, collisions and injuries that may otherwise require enlisting legal help from a service such as Motor Accident Legal Service. Here are four more things that bike riders must be careful of.

1. Potholes

Potholes are a risk for any vehicle but especially for cyclists with narrow wheels. Depending on their depth, hitting a pothole can cause damage to bike frames, wheels and a loss of control, potentially resulting in an accident. Cyclists should always look ahead to the horizon to give themselves enough time to identify approaching potholes and ride around them when safe to do so.

2. Glass and Other Sharp Objects

Punctures are the bane of any cyclist’s existence so riding over sharp objects is something to be avoided at all costs. Sharp gravel, road rubble from broken tar, and uneven, unsealed roads can all cause punctures. Despite the fact that a puncture may not mean loss of control, a flat tyre is always inconvenient. For cyclists that do happen to ride over glass, pulling over as soon as possible and inspecting the tyres for sharp fragments and removing these from the tread will minimise the chance of a puncture.

3. Slick Spots

Oil, painted lines, leaves and wet sewer grates on the roadway are all slippery to cyclists, especially when turning. To avoid being flung from the bike and becoming one with the pavement, bike riders should lean against a turn, shifting their weight to the outside pedal. Roads are the most slippery after the first few minutes of rain, when the oil residue accumulated on the road turns into a slick film. It may be worth waiting for these deposits to be run in and distributed by other cars before continuing riding, especially if it’s been a long period since the roads have been wet.

4. Other Vehicles

It goes without saying that vehicles, including cars, trucks and other bikes, represent a potential hazard for cyclists. It’s important that riders wear high-visibility clothing, especially in low light conditions, and also use reflectors and headlights so they can be more easily seen. Riders should avoid riding too closely behind other cyclists to avoid collisions from overlapping wheels. When riding along roads where cars are parked, cyclists need to be observant of motorists who may be leaving their cars, since car doors opening into the paths of cyclists is another major hazard. Motorists who are parked parallel to the curb also have a responsibility to check for cyclists before opening their doors. A cyclist can’t always trust people to do so though, so always be on alert.

What other hazards and risks make cycling potentially dangerous and how can these be avoided? Let others know by leaving a comment below.

Is Mexico’s legal system too crooked for a visit?

I was reading this article about an American woman who was jailed in Mexico. There was some marijuana under her bus seat when she entered Mexico, but videos of her getting on the bus showed that she couldn’t have been carrying a bunch of marijuana. There was some talk about paying a bribe. That bribe was refused though no doubt some believe that was due to the media attention and public scrutiny.

Reading the comments on the article, a number of people said that they would not be visiting Mexico. It seems people think that stories like this one are too normal to risk a trip to Mexico:

My ex-husband was detained and jailed after being accused of leaving a bar without paying for a $200 bottle of wine. First off, he doesn’t drink wine and secondly, he was indeed framed. This happened on his first night in Cancun and he was jailed for 4 more days until his mother wired $3500 usd to the jail. He was released on the day he returned back to the US, never spending a night in his hotel room. Even more pathetic was the jail cell he was held in. No cot and only a metal folding chair to sit in. He was also given a 2 liter empty pop bottle to pee in.

I had never before considered removing Mexico from my list as I did with Barcelona.

If anyone here won’t visit Mexico, please leave a comment and tell us your reasons.

Missing tourists and travel safety tips

A NYC woman, Sarai Sierra, goes missing in Istanbul (Istanbul is considered a fairly safe city while Turkey is considered safe for tourists overall) and we have to renew our interest in travel safety. The media has largely lost interest in the case, but I did find this recent article about the search.

So what do you do to keep yourself safe when traveling, particularly when traveling alone?

Most of the tips I see are common sense – stick to busy areas at night, don’t look like a tourist, don’t wear flashy jewelry, that sort of thing. I’m looking for tips that may be a little less obvious if anyone has them.

One thing that might help is the Google latitudes smart phone app or something similar. I know when my friend went biking around The Netherlands, he used one of those apps to track his entire trip and get a location for every photo he took. I used Latitudes when driving from Florida to New York to Boston and back. This way instead of checking in every hour, my friends or parents could just look at their phones to see where we were. I could see something like that helping in a missing persons case – friends would be able to report locations to the police, who would have a better help retracing the missing person’s steps.


Sometimes the same topic
can be more funny than scary, like when a bus driver counts wrong and everyone on the bus begins looking for someone who had been on the bus in the first pace. The headlines quip about the woman searching for herself, but the people sitting next to her and the driver who counted wrong seem just as laughable to me.

Safety of Puerto Rico in question after Hector “Macho” Camacho shooting

So how safe is Puerto Rico? Certainly this high-profile case will hurt Puerto Rico’s image: The former boxing champ, Hector “Macho” Camacho, is expected to survive, but another man in his car was killed. They were in their car when the driver of another vehicle opened fire. So how scared should tourists become?

This article claims that most violent crime in Puerto Rico is avoidable – just avoid the drugs and the gangs. A friend of mine had this to say: “I used to go down with friends who had family in some less than desirable areas, like Toa Baja, Bayamon, San Sebastian, etc. and they basically showed me the ropes. Rule number one, don’t stop at night with a nice looking car, even a rental, just look both ways really quick and keep going.”

Another friend elaborates: “The metropolitan area can be real grimy just like any hood in the states. The rest of the island is calm and beautiful. The whole western side of the island (Aquadilla, Rincon, Boqueron) is completely safe, so are many other areas. The whole don’t stop at red lights is for the San Juan and surrounding areas only. And don’t rent a hot ride frontin and you should be just fine.”

Getting harder to travel in a messed up world

“When U.S. citizens are traveling abroad they don’t enjoy a lot of protections. They have contact at the embassy, but they need to pay attention to what the current conditions are,” said former assistant director of the FBI, Chris Swecker.

So the US issues a travel warning for Libya and encourages Americans to leave. I can’t imagine too many American considered Libya safe before this travel warning though. Now we have attacks on US embassies in Yemen and Egypt. Now Yemen people should have already known was unsafe, but Egypt has been a pretty regular tourist spot for a while for many Americans.

Meanwhile, if Americans can’t safely travel to a country, travel warning issued or no, I have to question how much aid the US should be sending. I don’t like giving my money to the US Treasury, largely because I don’t like what happens to the money after I write my checks. If we’re going to send tons of money to Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, shouldn’t I be able to travel there?

Anyhow, before I turn my travel blog into a political blog, let me ask a question – Which countries in the Middle East would you feel comfortable traveling in?

And let’s keep in mind the risk that US ambassador Chris Stevens and the soldiers who serve abroad and the aid workers who serve abroad took on because America asked them too. They work for a safer world for Americans. Ambassador Stevens and so many others will never see that world but there’s still hope that we might.

How To Reduce Ear Pressure When Flying

Here’s a guest article by Joan McKechnie, BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan works for hearing aid vendor Hearing Direct and maintains a blog with useful information on hearing.

How To Reduce Ear Pressure When Flying

In 2010 more than two billion people chose to fly either for business or pleasure. Many of those have experienced the sensation of their ears ‘popping’ on takeoff or landing. For some people this can be quite uncomfortable or even painful.

Before we discuss the various means to help ease this sensation, let’s look at the reason for this happening.

What Causes Air Pressure changes In The Ear:

The middle ear, which is mostly an air-filled cavity, is affected by changes in the surrounding air pressure. Ordinarily, the eustachian tube, a passageway that leads from the middle ear to the back of the throat equalises the air pressure in the middle ear to the outside air pressure by opening and letting air reach the middle ear. ). If the pressure isn’t equalised, the higher air pressure pushes on one side of the eardrum and causes pressure. This can be from a decrease in air pressure (when an aircraft is climbing) or by increase in air pressure (when going below sea level, diving and when an aircraft is descending. When our ears “pop” while yawning or swallowing, the eustachian tubes are adjusting the air pressure in the middle ears.

In adults – For most people the sensation is a little uncomfortable, which in some cases may lead to slight pain. Normally, the pressure build up will last for only a short while until the eustachian tubes let the air pressure equalize on both sides of the eardrums.

In children – While adults are usually able to withstand this strange sensation caused by changes in middle ear air pressure, this may be more uncomfortable or even painful for young children. It is important to explain to younger travellers with you that the sensation is temporary and will not cause any long term damage.

How To Reduce Ear Pressure When Flying:

Suggestions to help overcome this are to chew on sweets or chewing gum or yawn while the plane is ascending and descending. There are also ear shaped products which can be worn when flying such as Earplanes which use filters to help regulate air pressure. Recommended means to reduce air pressure amongst adults and children.

For Adults – Earplanes are especially useful for adults as they regulate air pressure and reduce noise within the ear canal for a more comfortable journey. Children on the other hand may find a foreign object inside their ear uncomfortable. Adult may also take a decongestant tablet or syrup before the flight which can help reduce ear pain. Lastly, another effective method is blowing up a special balloon which is attached to a small tube. The thin tube fits into one nostril. You then blow up the balloon through that nostril, keeping the other nostril closed with a finger. This method must be prescribed by a doctor and suitable for adults only.

For Children – Chew on sweets or chewing gum or yawn is helpful for both adults and children. However, if the air pressure changes too quickly and swallowing is not done fast enough, this method may prove less effective. To give this method the best possible chances to work, make sure the child is wide wake during take off and landing.

This old blog entry has more advice for flying with kids.

Note: If you are suffering from some kind of upper respiratory tract infection your eustachian tubes may be blocked so your doctor may caution against flying in some cases.

Too much weight / too many people to fly?

A friend was flying from San Francisco to Rochester through O’Hare when the flight from Chicago to Rochester was delayed because of winds in Rochester. Then they asked 24 people to accept vouchers, etc. to get off to make the flight safer. Well 23 volunteered and got off. To get the last person they asked the lady that checked in last to get off.

She put up a fight but eventually had to get off. What I don’t get is why there weren’t more volunteers. If the airline is telling me it’s too windy and that a full flight is dangerous I’m probably willing to get off the plane.

Has anyone ever been bumped from a flight not because of overbooking but because of safety reasons?

European travel alert

This article made it to Yahoo’s front page – there will be a general travel alert telling Americans to be careful in Europe. There is no specific threat but, as far as I can tell, terrorist attacks may be getting planned:

U.S. and European security experts for days have been concerned that terrorists may be plotting attacks in Europe with assault weapons on public places, similar to the deadly 2008 shooting spree in Mumbai, India. While intelligence agencies have viewed the threat as credible, they have not identified any specific targets that terrorists might be considering, the U.S. official said.

Travel warning: Bacelona removed from my list of places to see

I loved my 2 weeks in Madrid and planned on returning to Spain to see Barcelona and some other places. However, Barcelona is currently experiencing a crime epidemic and I don’t want to see that.

A friend of mine is there now. 2 days ago he lost his driver’s license when a bunch of women dressed like prostitutes swarmed him (in a touristy area mind you). He knew they were pick pockets but what can a guy do – unless you start throwing punches their hands are going to get inside your pockets.

So after that he had to carry his passport in order to use his credit cards (you need ID). Then he got robbed again, this time a bag snatcher.

As he told me this I thought his luck was incredibly bad, but it turns out luck has little to do with it. An internet search revealed zero news articles but numerous forum and blog posters sharing their stories. One guy wrote about a line a mile long to report crimes so his friend who got stabbed didn’t even bother. Many people write that pickpockets can’t go to jail so even Barcelona’s heavy police presence does nothing to deter crime.

My friend had his bag snatched at Parc de la ciutadella and was mugged on the stairs coming up from the beach and night clubs at Vila Olimpica. The bag was snatched in front of lots of people in daylight but no one shouted a warning or anything. The prostitute / pickpockets got him at night.

Tripadvisor ranks Barcelona as the world’s worst city for pick pockets but the city has plenty of internet defenders. I saw this thread where one guy (4th page) writes:

I was in Barcelona for several days recently, observed several muggings and car break-ins taking place in that short time, and was the almost victim of an attempted pickpocketing myself (in the historic center).

Crime in Barcelona is much worse than in any other Western European or North American city I have been to. Unless something is done to correct this the golden tourist goose is going to be in bad shape.

The head in sand reply was “Sorry, but no. You’re either (a) imagining things, (b) making things up, or (c) the unluckiest person ever to visit the city.”

I don’t know the flyertalk forums but the original crime in Barcelona thread was closed and the one I just linked to is closed. I guess they don’t want people talking about it although since Feb. 2010 (when they closed the thread) I suppose maybe more have been started.

My friend won’t be starting one though – he’s too busy trying to replace his passport and get a new student visa since he starts his PhD work at Oxford University in a couple weeks. Good luck Cooper!