Unless you’re going on a solo walkabout in some remote, untamed wilderness area, safety while travelling may be the last thing you think about when planning a trip. It’s something most of us take for granted, especially if the destination is a popular spot in the Caribbean, the U.S. or Western Europe.

And as a general rule, there really is no cause for worry. Whether you’re in Cuba, Florida, France or Portugal, you can walk around stress-free, just as you would at home in Canada.

“It’s not impossible, however, for the political and social climate in a country that’s known to be a safe place to be affected by a specific event that alters the general safety level and may put tourists at risk,” says Philippe Blain, CAA-Quebec’s Vice President, Travel Services. “That’s why, if a government travel advisory is issued for a particular region, it’s important to talk to a travel consultant to get a proper understanding of the situation.”

Travel insurance to the rescue?

For information purposes, the Canadian government provides safety rankings of countries around the world based on the risk posed to individuals’ safety. There are four risk levels: Take normal security precautions, Exercise a high degree of caution, Avoid non-essential travel, and Avoid all travel.

“It’s important to realize that the risk level determined can be a factor if you have purchased travel insurance,” explains Suzanne Michaud, Vice President, Insurance. “An insurance contract normally has exclusions that kick in when certain government advisories have been issued. Always check these limitations before you leave. And remember that trip cancellation or interruption coverage can come in very handy if an advisory is issued after you’ve purchased your trip,” she adds.

A recent case in point: Jamaica

One particular safety concern in Jamaica has been in the news recently. On January 19, the Government of Canada issued a temporary advisory warning citizens to exercise a high degree of caution in St. James Parish (where the resort town of Montego Bay is located), whereas “Take normal security precautions” is the standard advisory for the area. Jamaican authorities tipped off their Canadian counterparts after police noted that violent crime among citizens had increased in recent months in an area outside Montego Bay, where tourists tend not to go (and where, travel experts warn, they should never venture anyway). Upon hearing that news, and given the area’s proximity to the beach resorts, Canadian authorities decided to play it safe and issue the advisory.

So is there reason to be extremely concerned in situations like this? Should you call off your trip? Definitely not! The thing to keep in mind is that there is always some degree of risk when travelling. Never take a travel advisory lightly, and always adopt appropriate behaviour to make sure you don’t find yourself in trouble far from home.

Dos and don’ts for staying safe at your destination

For our many members who’ll be heading South for a break this winter, here is some advice to stay safe once there:

  • Avoid travel in the evening or at night.
  • If you leave your hotel “compound,” go with a chauffeur or taxi driver authorized by the hotel, have a specific return time planned, and agree beforehand on the cost of the return trip.
  • Going on an excursion? Deal with a recognized, recommended tourism provider. Don’t buy from a vendor on the beach. Talk to your tour operator representative before you leave or at the destination: they’ll put you in contact with the right people.
  • If you go shopping in town, avoid out-of-the-way spots. Stay where the traffic and the action are.
  • Keep a low profile: don’t show off your valuables. There’s a safe in your hotel room, which is often available at no charge: use it!
  • Before you leave, remember to visit the “Travel Advice and Advisories” section of the travel.gc.ca site to be sure of the situation in the country you’re heading to.

Further reading:

9 more tips for safe travels

10 tips to deter thieves on your travels

In short, while there should be no cause for alarm, it’s good to recall the adage “forewarned is forearmed” as well.

Bon voyage!