I just saw where Kim Ogg, Harris County, Texas DA, is trying to make Houston seem like a safer destination for international travelers. That’s right; for international travelers. They’re just as scared of coming here as we are of going there. There’s something about crossing the ocean and landing in an unfamiliar land that puts some of us a little on edge.
Ogg wanted to be proactive in addressing the travel anxiety of potential visitors, so she’s distributing flyers that tell them how to stay safe in her city. The flyers also tell tourists who to call if anything bad happens, which, you know, it probably won’t.
But something bad did happen to Ogg’s brother. He was mugged, about a decade ago, when he was living abroad, and he didn’t know how to report the crime. Would you have known what to do? What’s the equivalent of 911 in the country where you’re traveling next? You almost certainly won’t need it, but if you do, it’d be good to know.
There’s An App For That
Turns out, there’s an app for that. Created by Sitata and offered through Travel Insured, the app is billed as the “…perfect travel companion before, during and after a traveler’s journey.” I mean, I’d want a little more stimulating conversation from my travel companions than an app can provide, but that’s not true for a lot of people, as you’ll see in a minute if you keep reading. And this app does have some important things to say if you’re of a mind to listen.
Before your trip, it can give you the down-low on which vaccinations you need for the country you’re visiting, where the hospitals are, and what the emergency number is (no, it’s not 911 everywhere). Then it transmits information in real time on weather warnings, disease outbreaks, violence in the area, and transit strikes while you’re away. It gives you advice on how to take care of yourself if something bad happens (it probably won’t), and if that doesn’t work, it helps you out with filing a claim.
Would having this app reassure you on your trip? Would it calm your travel anxiety? If it would, I hope you’ll get it or another one like it. My fear, though, is that all this emphasis on what can go wrong makes us think that travel disasters are more prominent than they really are. Now why do you suppose a travel insurance company might want you to think that? Hmm…
But, regardless of their motives, you’ve got to admit that knowing the local emergency number for any country you visit is a great idea. There are plenty of other good, common-sense precautions you can take to make your trip safer too, things like:
• Don’t walk through the slums alone after midnight.
• Don’t get in the car with someone who says they’ve lost a puppy and need you to help them find it.
• Don’t eat that fried rat on a stick some little kids sold you just because they said it tasted like chicken.
• Don’t walk around looking at your cell phone instead of the sidewalk in front of you. That one bears repeating…
Don’t Walk Around Looking at Your Cell Phone Instead of Where You’re Going
That advise is included on Ogg’s flyer and you’d like to think nobody would need to warn you about this, wouldn’t you? I mean, who doesn’t have that kind of common sense, not to know they actually need to watch where they’re going?
A lot of people, as it turns out. In fact, so many of these distracted cell phone zombies, as they’re called (or Smombies, for short) were being injured in Salzburg, Austria, that the city started strapping airbags onto the lampposts to protect them (the tourists, not the lampposts). Airbags for your cell phone are also on the horizon.
Traffic safety expert Martin Pfanner was quoted as saying that the Salzburg initiative was really intended to get people’s attention. He hopes they’ll see the airbags and start walking more carefully.
But does having an airbag in your car make you a better driver? No. In fact, padding the posts might feel like permission to walk around, careless and clueless, while you snap your pics and count your “likes.”
I’m not sure Austria’s gene pool is being well served by efforts to protect the Smobies. But they truly are an endangered species, according to Pfanner. He told the Daily Mail that more pedestrians are involved in accidents in the city than anyone else. And that includes cyclists, moped drivers, and people in cars. And if that’s the case, why not just go all-out and make them wear helmets? That’d cut down on all that selfie action, because how cute does anyone look with a shiny fiberglass barrel on their head?
Not very. So strap ‘em on, walkers. Watch where you’re going. Look twice. Save your own life.
The Daily Mail reports some other initiatives various countries are experimenting with to limit the injuries incurred by the selfie-absorbed. Officials in Augsburg, Germany have started installing traffic signals on the ground. These should be helpful for people who can’t be troubled to look up so they can actually see when to cross.
And “in China, there are special sections of certain pavements that are reserved for people using telephones and walking at the same time,” if you can believe that. What’s next? Special lanes on the highway for people who want to get drunk and drive?
Dear Cell Phone, I Love You
Do we love our smartphones so much we can’t break eye contact with them? We’d never dream of leaving home without them; that’s for sure. They’re the travel accessory of choice for a lot of folks.
In fact, almost half of the respondents to a survey conducted by Hotels.com said it was more important to have a cell phone along with them on a trip than it was to have a beloved human travel buddy. This finding seems to support Travel Insured’s assertion that their app is the perfect companion for your next trip.
Not surprisingly, the survey was seeking (and found) information about people’s booking practices in particular, but they also discovered that having a cell phone makes people more spontaneous. They may wait until the last minute to find a room, for example, because they’re sure their best friend, the smartphone, will help them nail one down. And if they’re more spontaneous in general, I guess they’re more likely to participate in other activities they hadn’t planned, too (like running into lampposts).
Is Ogg’s flyer going to change that? Maybe not, but don’t say you haven’t been warned.