Calculated Travel Risks

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There was a cool breeze in the air as I panicked and nervously stroked my wallet in my back pocket. Still hadn’t been mugged. As quick as the pickpockets may be, I trusted I would be quicker. The air was hot, the streets winding and the pool just the right temperature at our holiday destination in Parga, Greece. We had rented our own villa at a lovely hotel about 2 km from the town centre. During my stay there I stumbled upon an article outlining 20 classic travel mistakes, inspiring me to write my own version, not of travel mistakes, but maybe more of how to survive when you make them.

I travel with such frequency nowadays that I have grown familiar with some of the cardinal sins of travel (like not checking if you have your passport and arriving at the airport too late) and how to avoid them. I never want to end up in a situation again where I’m stranded somewhere on the outskirts of Warsaw, on the wrong side of the airport. And I don’t even mean in the wrong terminal I mean behind the runway with the airport in the distance in the middle of an industrial park with no taxis in sight. However the good thing about those kinds of situations is you usually don’t find yourself in them twice. Or if you do, you should probably stop travelling.

When starting to learn ice-skating in PE at Finnish schools, the first thing they teach you is how to fall down safely. It’s a principle I try to live by while travelling, something I wish to pass on with this article. What I mean by this is only taking necessary calculated risks, in other words learning to fall down so that you break the fall with your ass not your wrists.

My first rule is to always make sure I can take a taxi to the airport if I need to. Most of the times I avoid it because it’s expensive and I prefer to take a bus or coach, but there’s always a possibility that one won’t turn up for some reason. This is why I like to know how to get a taxi quickly in case of an emergency. Sure it’s still an expensive fall back but it’s a lot cheaper than missing your flight, or in the worst case the entire trip. Getting to the airport early enough is never something to toy with. It’s like a traveller with diplomatic immunity; you can’t do anything about it, just respect it.

There are a few specific things I pay attention to while at airports and on the plane. Firstly, I’m always prepared for security. The video and millions of instruction boards are there for a reason, so I get everything ready before I even get into line. It isn’t that hard to empty your pockets, take out your laptop and take off your belt. It saves time and the mental health of the people working at security.

When getting on the plane I always pay attention to the safety video/demonstration, even though I’ve seen it about a hundred times and probably know it by heart. It’s become almost like a superstition for me. If I listen to it, nothing bad can happen. In addition however I always count how many rows of seats there are to the nearest exit. There’s no harm in maximizing my chances of survival if something does go wrong. It also makes me feel more in control of the situation.

However as much as you can plan for how to get to your destination from home, and make rules for yourself to follow, most of the time once you get to wherever you are travelling, the real risk taking, or necessity of it, starts. You are in a foreign place where you may or may not know the language and everything is strange. You can’t always trust taxis or understand safety instructions. This is where learning to fall safely becomes one of the most important skills the Finnish school system ever taught me.

When in a foreign country, falling on your ass for me translates to always having at least 2 possible courses of action for a situation, knowing where you are, letting someone else know where you are and finally, if worst comes to worst the best back up plan you have is the knowledge of money still in your bank account and the possibility of buying yourself out of trouble. Because then if you do somehow find yourself on the wrong side of the airport, you still make your flight.