'Be pro-active, be informed and be prepared': Travel in an uncertain world

Recent attacks in travel destinations around the globe have shaken the tourism industry and would-be adventurers. But if you have the right tools and foresight, the world is still your oyster, say travel experts.

'No adventure will ever be satisfying or fun if we don't feel safe,' says travel specialist

Yearning for a journey abroad? Somewhere across windswept oceans, far away from the daily grind?

Sometimes these kinds of big dreams can be deflated before takeoff, when the reality that the world can be a wildly uncertain place sets in. 

Personal safety and the safety of family and travel companions is a top priority for most, so finding that sweet spot between adventure and security is vital. 

Then something like this week's attacks on Turkey's busiest airport happens: shootings and bombings that took at least 43 lives, maybe more in coming days. The carnage followed horrific mass killings in places like Nairobi, Orlando, Paris and Brussels, all in very recent memory. 

The point is that terrible things can happen anywhere, any time. That's the truth, unsettling as it may be. 

But how would-be travellers respond to these kinds of events varies from person to person and they shouldn't stop us from exploring, says Allison Wallace, spokeswoman for the Vancouver-based Flight Centre Canada.

"Someone who doesn't travel a lot is going to be more wary, but an experienced traveller will tend to understand that most often these events are one-offs," she explains.

Travel advisories, warnings

There's even a class of traveller known in the industry as "opportunists." They'll seek out trips to destinations hit by a natural or man-made disaster, knowing there will probably be deals in the aftermath. Usually opportunists are seasoned travellers who understand the risks of what they're doing, Wallace says.

For anyone questioning the safety of a country, the Canadian government keeps a running list of "travel advisories" for every destination in the world (you can check them out here). It's considered the definitive source for information on what's happening on the ground in any given place.

Though the government refers to each escalating level as an advisory, the two most serious classifications are colloquially known as "travel warnings." They're only issued when "the safety and security of Canadians travelling or living in the country may be compromised." Warnings are deadly serious and shouldn't be ignored.

But many people tend to conflate advisories with warnings. Even the safest places in the world come with some sort of advisory that often boils down to using common sense, according to Alexander Handa, founder of the Toronto-based agency I Love Travel. 

"I take travel advisories with a grain of salt," he says. Adventure seekers should, however, always be on the look out for specific information in the advisory that's directly relevant to them. 

Avoid 'holiday mode'

Beyond the official word coming from the government, travellers can also consider less formal resources, keeping in mind that the internet is, well, the internet, and a skeptical approach is always a good idea. 

"No adventure will ever be satisfying or fun if we don't feel safe and secure," says Handa. "Asking friends who have travelled, joining online travel communities and bulletin boards — they become important because they'll often have very specific information."

Wallace adds that proper preparation is really only the first step. People are susceptible to falling into what she calls "holiday mode," which can lead to trouble in some circumstances. 

"They do things that they would never do at home, like walking down a dark street in a rough area alone at night. Common sense rules above all," she says. "Be pro-active, be informed and be prepared. That includes everything from packing to understanding the destination."

Louise Blazik, director of Travel College Canada in Toronto, offered up some advice for Canadians going abroad. It's not an exhaustive list, but it's a start:

  • Register with Global Affairs Canada before leaving. That way the government will know your whereabouts if something goes wrong. 
  • Ensure your travel documents are valid for at least six months and always carry back-up copies.
  • Secure a visa that is good for a longer period than your stay, in case unforeseen events keep you in-country for an extended period of time.
  • If you have prescription medications, always carry the original prescription and pill bottle.
  • Make sure your travel insurance is adequate and extensive. 

Countries with 'avoid all travel' warnings from Global Affairs Canada