I’m thankful I’ve been lucky enough to have ridden a camel in the Egyptian desert; toured castles and palaces in Europe and China; gone on safari in South Africa, had drinks in the 7-star Burj Al Arab in Dubai; watched a football (soccer) match in Brazil and more. BUT none of those experiences trump the feeling I get when I go home. Every single time I go back, I find something new to appreciate about my little land of wood and water.
That’s because, to me, there’s no other place on earth where…
The food, like home-cooked salt fish fritters and a cup of bush tea or hot milo is as delicious and as filling.
The road side stops with random vendor interactions are as entertaining. Or where the fruit stall purchases are as fresh and as satisfying.
The natural landscapes are so lush and breathtaking.
The wildlife is as colorful.
The history of the country is as relatable and as poignant
The early morning ocean sprays and the warm water are as refreshing and enticing.
And for all those reasons and more, I am proud to call that place HOME.
In case you’ve wondered about it, the yellow in theJamaican flagrepresents oursunshine and natural resources; the black, the burdens borne by the people; and the green stands for agriculture and hope for the future.
If you aren’t an optimist by nature, making travel plans in today’s tense environment can suck the joy out of vacation planning. Not only does it zap the anticipation, in some cases, the scary realities actually mar the experience itself.
Case in point, I’ll never forget wondering what could have happened had I visited Egypt during the 2009 Cairo attacks as opposed to walking through the markets there some four months earlier. Nor can I ever fully expunge the shell-shocked and dazed feeling I had in New York City on September 11th,a day that started out quite innocently. One minute my sister and I were sitting quietly with other audience members on the set of the Live with Regis and Kelly show and in the next, we became increasingly traumatized as we watched a horrific event unfold.
Of course, predicting the future is impossible so working yourself into panic mode during the trip decision-making process will not solve anything. But while we can’t fully eliminate potential danger, there are some basic things you can do to alleviate some of the dangers in travel – especially in the busy holiday season. I’ve compiled a few pointers for you to note.
Do your research
Gone are the days when you only check the guide books or a great travel feature in your Sunday newspaper to select a holiday spot. Now, you must also stay abreast of the news. Check only fact-based and unbiased media sources – across print, television and digital platforms – so you can remain aware of potential areas of political, social and civil unrest.
Stay under the radar
Nothing screams ‘tourist’ more than gaudy jewelry and clothing that stands out from the local garb. And loud, obnoxious behavior that draws attention to yourself or your group has a similar effect too. It is always best to respect local customs and dress codes, to be courteous, and to speak in low tones that allow you to blend in rather than stand out.
Avoid clichéd tourist traps
Inevitably, the most written about festivals, shopping malls, outdoor concerts and busy street cafés top many travelers’ must-see lists but nowadays it may be best to avoid the areas sure to attract large crowds. Check with your hotel concierge or a local insider for recommendations on where to find the work of resident artisans, chic boutiques and entertainment venues. Also try to patronize the ‘Mom and Pop’ eating establishments over international chain restaurants with a distinctive Western brand. The one-off eateries are likely to be safer and your experience is guaranteed to be more unique as well.
Take note of the city and hotel you are in
Get a general idea of where the offices of the city’s emergency services such as the police and fire department are and get their numbers, then keep them close. Also, while you check-in, look around the lobby to note all the entrances and exits which, in an emergency, could be your best escape routes. Do the same thing when you step out of the elevator to go to your room and study any maps provided on the back of your door. You may have to evacuate the property in the dead of night, when panic is at an all-time high and visibility is poor, so having a good sense of where to go ahead of time will help.
Avoid unnecessary risks
Sometimes simple precautions can make all the difference in the world, so try to evaluate all levels of risk. For example, try not to accept rooms with a balcony on the first floor because they give the bad guys too much access. Also, never assume a knock on your door means it is housekeeping or room service. Call the front desk to check before you open up. Additionally, lock your doors behind you, select local transportation wisely and avoid keeping your cash and credit cards all in the same place. At least one money source should be away from your person. Use the safety deposit boxes provided; most are reliable and free.
Share your travel plans with a trusted confidante
Whether you are traveling with someone or going solo, it’s always a good idea to make it easy for family and friends back home to get a hold of you in an emergency. So I recommend leaving your itinerary and contact information with one person you trust. It helps if that family member or friend has a clear idea of where you are supposed to be and when, and as much as possible, you should try to touch base with him or her regularly. With phone apps like Whatsapp, Viber, Skype and Facetime, it’s now easier and more cost effective than ever before.
Keep copies of your passport in a safe place
Always, always have a copy of your passport stashed somewhere safe! You can scan it and e-mail it to yourself or take a photo and save the image on your smartphone. Plus, you should have a copy at home. That way, if an unforeseen event happens, like a natural or a man-made disaster, you’ll have access to all your details. That copy will speed up the replacement process.
Register with your embassy or consulate
Embassies and consulates provide assistance for their citizens in emergencies so remember to register with them before you leave home and ensure you have their address and telephone number on you at all times. For instance, U.S. citizens and nationals planning to travel abroad can enroll in The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service designed to enable them to share trip details that would facilitate making easy contact in times of trouble. It also provides travelers with important updates on safety conditions in your destination country. Click link for more details here.
British citizens can subscribe to their Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) for travel advice alerts and follow FCOTravel on Facebook and Twitter for real time updates.
Other countries have their own emergency assistance systems in place so familiarize yourself with them before you go.
During Fleet Week 2015, I was able to interact with service men and women aboard the USS Wasp (LHD1), a multi-purpose assault ship that accommodates the full range of Navy and Marine Corps helicopters, conventional and new landing craft, and amphibious vehicles.
It was an informative experience where, by nature of a guided tour, I got a tiny hint of the equipment and technology used in battle and the magnitude of the sacrifice brave military personnel make for us to maintain our freedoms.
The horrors of war are numerous and the devastating effect it can have on lives, both at home and abroad, is unquestionable. Yet, thousands of people enlist each year. In spite of the risks, both veterans and those in active service say military training also teaches valuable life skills. Things like teamwork, attention to detail, self-discipline, how to function in stressful situations and leadership are some of the benefits of enrolling. Of course, persons in active service also get to travel the world!
During my tour of the ship, I spoke briefly with a navy officer and a marine about their trips abroad. We were in groups so I had to slip my questions in between the regular presentations and while my fellow tour participants were looking at the exhibits and learning about the rigors of active duty.
E6 1st Class Officer Jayme Graham is a ship serviceman who has been in the navy for 12 years. She is in charge of maintenance and materials management onboard which means she liaises with vendors and suppliers that repair the ship. As part of the navy, she’s traveled around the world to transport marines to their call of duty and has spent time in many far-flung destinations, including Australia and Malaysia. She liked Australia best.
Corporal Spader was newer to the service. He’s been a marine for just over three years and with his USS Wasp assignment, he had to quickly learn to live amongst the 900 other people onboard. State rooms for the officers are above board while everybody else lives below deck. His tours of duty have taken him to Thailand, Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines so far. With a shy smile, he told me he enjoyed Thailand best. I didn’t have enough time to find out if that was because of the tasty food, the friendly locals, the Instagram-worthy imagery or the women but at his tender age, I suspect it could be all of the above.
What do you think; would you enter military service?
If you talk to me about most things web-based we can have a decent conversation. But ask me anything too techie that’s mobile-related and I am likely to sound – how should I put this delicately – planted firmly circa 2002. Other than my use of basic apps like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter, I am still one of the few people who primarily will use a phone to talk or send messages to family and friends, and to snap and edit pictures.
No, I am not a complete dinosaur. And in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, I know there are many helpful and innovative apps that are only a few clicks away. I’m just extremely hesitant to turn over “complete access to my identity” in order to join the digital party.
Yet, I keep hearing about all the great travel tools that are available for free. I reckon I may have to break down my mental barriers soon to try a few. When I do, I feel these four apps are cool enough to entice me to hit download.
Findery is a user-generated guide that helps you gain insights from travelers who have been in a destination before you. Quite different from a mere restaurant recommendation or hotel rating tool, it is a compilation of tips made up of unexpected, spontaneous and personal notes that enhance your local knowledge beyond what the regular guidebook says. Anybody with the app can add his/her own notes.
Available on iOS, Android, and Windows.
Fundamentally a flight and hotel aggregation search tool, Hipmunk sets itself apart by including accommodation listings from non-traditional lodging platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway in its results. It also allows you to bookmark searches to return to them later. Its newest feature, “Discover”, gives users the option to research your trip according to vacation themes. So, if skiing, diving, or hiking is your objective it will help you narrow things down.
Available on: Android, iOS, Web
I was in NYC for a conference in September and I missed the free Global Citizen concert headlined by Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Beyonce and others because I had no clue it was happening. Perhaps if I’d had the Goby app such a royal travesty could have been avoided. Goby goes beyond listing attractions and eateries, and drills down to the minute detail of helping you find concerts, plays, and other events happening around you.
Available on Android, iPhone/iPad
The feature that appeals to me most about Maps.Me is that I’ve read you can download detailed maps ahead of time and use them at your destination- even without an internet connection. That’s great news for those of us who get annoyed with spotty Wi-Fi connections and who shy away from racking up huge roaming fees while overseas. I’ve also heard their maps are more reliable than Google Maps for places on the road less travelled.
Available on: Android, Amazon Fire, BlackBerry, iOS
I am a mood-driven eater so I rarely make dinner reservations well in advance of meal times. According to all reports, the OpenTable app seems perfect for persons like me because it would save us the hassle of walking and driving around a city in search of a decent restaurant to suit our then frame of mind. When I approach things that way, usually the lines spill out onto the sidewalk for the good places. With this app, I could use it to vet the hotel concierge’s recommendations before I leave the lobby and simply book my dining experience online.
Available on: Android, Amazon Fire, BlackBerry, iOS, Web, Windows Phone
Which ones would you recommend?
I have exciting news!! My Travel Stamps has partnered with GPSmyCity to offer 20 FREE promo codes of one of their FULL VERSION city walk apps to my readers. For a chance to win, all you have to do is go to the comments section below to tell me your predictions for the best travel apps for 2016 (one that is not already mentioned) AND if you have not already done so, also subscribe to my blog. Winners will be selected on November 30, 2015.
Please note that the promo codes are good for iOS devices (iPhone and iPad) only at this time. [And in case, you’re wondering, I am an Android girl so that’s the only reason they weren’t included in my list.]
The company makes popular apps that feature self-guided city walks in over 470 cities around the world. Each app contains anywhere from a few to over a dozen self-guided walking tours per city and each one enables you to explore the best sights and attractions on foot – at your own pace. Yes, minus timelines and without distracting group members! For a list of cities that are covered, click here.
The app has been featured in major publications like The New York Times, Marie Claire, Philly Voice, TimeOutDubai and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, among others.