Category: Travel safety

Would you visit South or North Korea?

Although North Korea has threatened war too many times to count, now that they have been officially blamed for sinking the Cheonan some people are taking the current talk of war more seriously.

My sister said that the war had better not start before her planned visit this July. My wife says if she’s doing a DMZ tour while war breaks out to get the dogs in the car and drive south without her (we live in Seoul).

What do you say? Would you consider visiting Korea now or ever? What about North Korea?

Going to Jamaica Next Week – how do we stay safe?

Reader question: My wife and I had booked a trip to Montego Bay in Jamaica for next week but after reading the news about the chaos there, she’s a little worried about going. I assured her that the craziness isn’t going on in the same area where we will be staying but, to be honest, I don’t really understand the politics there. Anyone with more knowledge of the situation know if the area is okay?

Answer 1: In the MoBay/Negril section or even Ochos Rios you should be fine. The violence seems limited to Kingston, which is on the other side of the island. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’re doing an All Inclusive and have travel to the resort lined up. Get off the plane, pass customs, sit in the lobby area and wait for your ride and then enjoy life on the resort and stay there, on site. Again, probably no real concerns on the West side of the island, but better to be safe than sorry. If you do go off the resort, line up the trip with the front desk and just be smart about it (pay more if you have to, bad time to save $5).

Answer 2: I got married in 2001 and went to Dunn’s River for our Honeymoon. Similar issues were going on in Kingston and I asked some of my buddies who are in the State Department if I should be worried. I was told just stay on the resort and you’ll have no worries. The Govt. won’t let anything go on near the resorts and the problems tend to stay in Kingston.

Answer 3: I just went in April. Stayed at Holiday Inn Montego Bay the first day and last day of the trip and went to Rui Negril for the bulk of the trip. Negril I thought was way better, but I also stayed at a more expensive hotel.

The begging is annoying at first, but if you just tell them your not interested they will leave you alone. And if they persist, just say “respect mon”, and they will stop in their tracks.

One odd thing I noticed is that they have really good memory too. Not just the people working at the resort (that remembered my name after hearing it once) but the people begging around it as well. I would travel by them on a different day wearing different clothing and they would remember me, and if I had given them some lame excuse like I didn’t bring my wallet with me, the next day when I went by they’d ask if I remember my wallet.

Another story – My wife got sunburn, so this guy tried selling us aloe leaf. Again I didn’t have my wallet, and the guy gave us the leaf and said you pay me tomorrow. I thought it was really cool of him so I brought him some money later that day.

Anyone changing plans to visit Thailand? When will you be willing to go?

What can Thailand’s tourism industry do to recover from from the negative publicity generated by recent events? What would it take to get you to put Thailand back on your list (or are you willing to go now despite the travel warnings)?

I was having dinner with some colleagues and they were talking about an upcoming conference in Thailand that has needed to extend its deadline for submissions. Apparently they can’t find enough presenters this year. You have to wonder how large a financial toll the drop in tourism is going to take on Thailand.

Some people are calling this the worst thing that has ever happened to Thailand’s image as a friendly, gentle tourist destination and fancy hotels are closed (with razor wire) while occupancy at the open hotels is 20-30%.

The New York Times said 47 countries have issued travel warnings. Here are a few official statements:

USA: “US citizens should defer all travel to Bangkok and defer all non-essential travel to the rest of Thailand. The Department of State has authorized the departure of all non-emergency US government personnel and eligible family members from Bangkok.”

Australia: “The security situation in Bangkok has deteriorated significantly this morning. On the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Government has raised the level of the travel advice to not travel to Bangkok.”

Thailand: “Visitors and tourists are advised to be vigilant, follow news developments, exercise extra caution and avoid areas covered by the declaration of a severe emergency situation.”

Is it safe to travel to Sao Paulo Brazil?

Reader question: I am going to Sao Paulo for work in May for two weeks and I was wondering if anyone here has ever been there? Let me know your good and bad experiences. Thanks.

While searching this blog I was surprised to see an old Brazil travel plan from 2005. I had also forgotten about this one that’s more recent.

I was able to speak with 4 people, two who went there on business, one who knows someone who went there on business, and one who lives there. Interestingly it’s the guy who has never been there who has the most negative opinion (although one guy who has been there seems pretty down on it as well:

1: I was there in February for 3 days, my company has an ongoing project. I found it very industrial and nice. I was told to keep my phone and laptop out of sight but I enjoyed the restaurants and the people in the hotel were very friendly.

2: Sao Paulo is pretty industrialized, lots and lots of traffic. My company hired us a driver and pretty much told us not to go out that it can be very dangerous. I only went out with the folks from Brazil that I was with. As for the dangerous part, our driver would not allow us to use or even display or phones/laptops etc. in the car. Guys on motorcycles drive past and will look in windows, smash them, and rob you of all your equipment. Everything had to remain in the trunk.

3. My buddy is down there a decent amount for work and is terrified every time he has to go down there. Be very very cautious. Its 80x worse than Rio. His company’s policy doesnt let them bring down laptops because of two stabbings over them.

4: A resident of São Paulo here 🙂

I’m from São Paulo and the violence – it’s not even close from what happens in Rio. Of course, we have problems with violence but it’s not an outlaw city where criminals reign. lol

It’s a big city, the biggest in Brazil. There are some problems with traffic and public transportation but nothing out of the acceptable, much like the Los Angeles traffic.

Since you’re coming in autumn, the rain season is over so the traffic is much better than would be in summer.

Like I said it’s a big city so there are many options for entertainment, restaurants, sports and other things. In your free time you probably will not stay with nothing to do.

By the way, about 2.5 years ago I mentioned a friend of mine and I were talking about a business where we would offer tours to Brazil. People want to see Carnaval but they just don’t know if they’ll be safe. Plus we want to show people the less touristy carnavals outside of Rio. I’ve never even been to Brazil – My friend is the expert and the one with connections so it’s up to him to design the product (while I would help market it). He did tell me recently that he’s working on getting a few tours up and running…

Can tourists bribe their way out of Machu Picchu? Would you?

CNN doesn’t mention it, but Korean TV news stations are reporting that helicopter evacuations of tourists stuck in Machu Picchu depend on bribes.

I was able to find an Australian news article that said helicopter seats were going for as much as $500. That article seems to pretty much copy the Times Online.

Anyway this all leads me to some questions:

Why doesn’t CNN mention this? Their article is only an hour old according to Google news so it should be pretty up to date. The Australian one was 3 hours old so the British one must be even older.

Would you try to bribe your way onto a rescue helicopter? On the one hand it seems pretty unfair – why should the people with cash in their pockets get to go first? But then what would be more fair? Whoever is able to push to the front of the crowd gets to go first? If it were my wife and I stranded, I would be willing to bribe my way on to a helicopter (though I never have $500 on me) and wouldn’t really worry about the morals of it.

Would you take Machu Picchu off your list of places to go? My wife says she’ll only go when they don’t expect much rain. Now I’ll have to research which seasons get the most precipitation…

Staying safe from swine flu while traveling

Interesting article here on traveling during flu season. They mention a few things I think I can add to. They say there’s no evidence that wearing a mask helps which is pretty much what a colleague said to me the other day after we saw a bunch of Koreans wearing masks (on planes, subways, in crowds, etc.). I argued that they probably do help because they stop you from putting your fingers in your mouth or nose – getting germs from your hands in those places can get you sick so blocking access is good if you ask me. But I find those masks too annoying to wear myself.

Travelers are likely to get their temperature taken in some places. Last time i arrived In Incheon, Korea they had some cool thermometer that they put near your ear. A friend of mine at a university out in the country said they were taking temperatures of anyone entering campus by sticking a thermometer in your ear. No plastic cover, no sanitizer. Sounds like a dumb idea to me!

How swine flu has created one travel opportunity and denied me two others

I felt sorry for myself for a moment today when my wife asked if I wanted to go to Hong Kong one long holiday weekend – I guess she saw a good deal.

But because my school has that new rule where you can’t come to campus within 7 days of returning from abroad, if I were to go to Hong Kong I would miss a week of classes when I got back. I would never do that so I felt sorry for myself a bit. Swine flu also cost me a chance to visit Costa Rica this summer.

But then I remembered that everything I did last week was kind of a bonus because I wasn’t allowed on campus. That made me feel better.

Even normal vacations can be dangerous

Here’s an article that reminds me of my recent post on dangerous vacation activities. I just returned from my live action roleplaying game. It involved running around a campground hitting people with foam swords. It’s actually much safer than it sounds; injuries are very rare. But I’m always careful because I know that playing this game could potentially be more dangerous than standing in front of a classroom (my job).

So the New York Times article I linked to above is about staying healthy on vacation. They say that when traveling domestically, people don’t give much thought to health:

“If you’re going to Africa you know you need shots. If you’re going to a cabin on a lake, health is typically not one’s concern.”

But it should be.

“People on vacation tend to bend the rules,” observes Dr. Kurt Frantz, medical director of the Mammoth Clinic in Yellowstone National Park, who treats thousands of vacationers each year. “They don’t wear helmets, they drink too much — that sort of thing.” And then they get into trouble.

Anyway the article follows with some common sense tips that most of us probably don’t and won’t follow. But maybe we should…

3 exercises that made me a better / healthier traveler

About 2 years ago I decided to get serious about working out and I started with 3 main exercises (which I learned from Matt Furey’s Combat Conditioning DVD. I mention them here because for two reasons:

1. I am a better traveler now. Getting in shape helped me experience more when i travel. Before lower back pain would stop me after a few hours on my feet. I didn’t have a back problem, except for being weak. Now I can stay out of the hotel room longer.

2. The three exercises I share here are also good travel exercises. You can do them in pretty much nay hotel room with no equipment at all.

The Hindu squat for legs and cardio:

The Hindu pushup for arms, chest, back (mostly stretching in the back I guess):

And the bridge. I didn’t find a great video of the bridge but this one is OK. I guess he goes on to explain Hindu pushups and squats but I didn’t watch that far:

The best bet might be Matt Furey’s Combat Conditioning DVDs or some other professional instructions. If you go for Combat Conditioning I suggest Ebay – otherwise it is pretty expensive and probably not worth the money.

Also, even after doing these exercises for a year I had lower back pain after a day of walking. I think lifting weights is what finally made me strong enough for the pain to go away. But this is what got me started and this is what I do when I am in a hotel room or something.

But anyway, like I said at the beginning, a little exercise can improve your travels. I can also recommend Fat Free Yoga with Ravi Singh & Ana Brett. Not for losing fat, but for working your core; core work should make it easier for you to travel. It’s DVD I got on Amazon and it’s fairly cheap. Actually, let’s try this, Here’s a link. I think if you order through there I get a 5% referral commission or something but you still pay the same price – Amazon just makes a little less profit.

A couple of articles on travel safety

I’m busy entertaining my in laws, so two quick articles for you today:

1. This one talks about how doctors should ask their patients if they travel. I guess that means you should tell your doctor if s/he does not ask:

Robert Frenck Jr., MD, advised that pediatricians inquire about travel because more children are traveling internationally. “It is important to incorporate these questions into well-child or well-baby visits.” Frenck is professor of pediatrics, division of pediatric infectious diseases at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

2. This one talks about Mexico. I’ve been getting press releases from Cancun tourist organizations about how safe Mexico is but I haven’t been publishing them. Cancun probably is safe (but I don’t know). This article says most of the violence is directed at police and army and drug cartels.