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5 Common but paranoid travel tips

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Needless to say, diplomats travel a lot. I love traveling, and try not to stress out about things that may go wrong; tight airport transfers, bad-weather cancellations, turbulence, full flights, empty flights - been there, done it.

I also like to make the best of long layovers. Sometimes I book them on purpose, just so I get to hang out in a new place like Prague, Dubai, or Oman. I’m not obsessively “checking off” countries, but I’m always excited to go to places I know little about. It’s just fun to see how other people live. And I just think it helps me to understand the world a little bit better.

Unfortunately, not all of my friends and family members are willing to travel to far-flung places. And when they do, I noticed that it often causes a bunch of stress – usually about things I have long ago stopped caring about. Here is a short list of things I think people worry about way too much when traveling abroad:

Never drink the water!

According to some sources, water isn’t safe for drinking almost anywhere in the world. As a result, people are terrified of the local food and drinks. Like: “Oh my god, there is an ice cube in my coke!”

Yet it’s not really true. There are plenty of places where water is perfectly potable, even if some website says it’s not. I know from experience; I drank the water in China back in 2005 when it was yellow, and now I drink the water in Armenia without any problems. In fact, I force myself to drink the tap water in Armenia, because apparently it is an important source of fluoride. And my teeth can’t handle a day without fluoride. I think. I have terrible teeth.

Of course, there is a good chance that your stomach has to get used to a new type of water. That's normal. I don't fault people for sticking to mineral water just so they don't have to worry about tummy upsets. I'm just surprised about how worried people get about water in other countries, as if their own country is the only one that figured out clean water!

Bring lots of cash, you can’t trust ATM machines abroad!

ATMs abroad are fine! Just check, preferably in advance, if your card will work abroad. Travelers worry unnecessarily that ATM machines abroad don’t work, eat foreign debit/credit cards for breakfast, or may be tampered with.

The thing is: the chances of this happening are just as big (if not bigger) back home. ATMs only swallow cards for your protection, and tampering with ATM machines is a relatively advanced type of fraud that – frankly speaking – is not as commonplace in less developed countries. Just use your common sense when using ATMs, like: don’t use one that’s in a dark ally. You’ll be safer than if you carry around a wad of cash!

Don’t go to Africa, you might die of malaria!

Probably not. Yes, 43 countries in Africa have endemic malaria, and you could get it. But when you go to a country with malaria, it doesn’t mean you will get it.

First of all, there are several ways to protect yourself, like pills, sprays and netting. Second, it depends on the exact location and season you travel. Malaria bugs like certain temperatures, humidity levels and altitudes. Also: if you’re a healthy grownup, it’s not a deadly disease (Usually - there are always crazy exceptions).

Before I first traveled to Nigeria, I got all of the recommended shots and pills. When I told the doctor where I was going, she stared at me incredulously and said: “I would never go to Nigeria! Over my dead body!” She proceeded to give me the shots, but I could tell she hoped I’d still change my mind. Point is, people exaggerate sometimes.

I was in the Nigerian capital Abuja, which is a relatively clean city, and I stopped taking my malaria meds for 9 months. I was fine. Of course, I did use anti-mosquito spray when I went out at night. That’s just common sense.

Only fly with good airlines!

There is no universal standard for a “good” airline. For one person, safety statistics determine if an airline is good. For others, it’s the baggage allowance, or maybe the food served on the plane.

Strangely, a lot of people think that their own national airline is the best – Dutch people think it’s KLM, Germans think it’s Lufthansa, etc. Both of those are good airlines by the way, but mainly in terms of safety. If you want to be treated nicely, perhaps better take Garuda or Asia Air! And did you know that several Chinese Airlines (Hainan Air, Sichuan Airlines) rank far higher in safety than airlines like Air France and American Airlines?

Bring lots of meds in case you get sick!

Don’t worry: they sell meds in other countries too (and a lot cheaper probably). I will never forget the time my new roommate – who had just flown in from the US – opened her suitcase. From where I was sitting, all I could see was medicines. God knows what kinds they were, because she had no medical issues to speak of (I asked her later).

I don’t understand people's infatuation with over-the-counter drugs. Honestly, it’s bordering on an obsession. I can go through an entire conversation that is just about different types of meds these days! Yet I haven't heard anyone say that their "foreign medicine" didn't work.


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