They’re not your everyday vacation incidents, but they do happen: on Tuesday evening, a 2-year-old boy, Lane Graves, was dragged into a lake by an alligator at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and found dead on Wednesday afternoon, and last month, a 4-year-old boy was tossed around by a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo after he slipped through the exhibit’s barrier (the gorilla was shot and killed; the boy survived).
While such episodes may be rare, safety can be an issue on any vacation, no matter the destination, and should be a top priority for any traveler, according to Judy Stein, the co-president of the New York City travel consultancy Ovation Vacations. “Every aspect of your personal safety, including your health, are at potential risk when you’re on the road,” she said.
Here, Ms. Stein, along with crime and health experts, share their recommendations for how to stay safe on your next trip.
Comply with Age and Height Restrictions on Activities Age and height minimums on certain activities, such as white-water rafting and horseback riding, are in place for a reason and help prevent accidents, Ms. Stein said. “You might want to go white-water rafting with your 8-year-old on your trip to Colorado, but if he or she isn’t old enough, don’t push the operator to bend the rules, which travelers sometimes try to do because they’re caught up in the excitement of wanting to do the activity,” she said. “Compromising your safety isn’t worth it.”
When It Comes to Crime Protection, Multistory Hotels Are Best Chris E. McGoey, a security expert based in Los Angeles who has traveled to more than 110 countries, says that properties with multiple levels are safer than motels and single-story hotels. “Multistory hotels tend to have lobbies with a front desk where there are employees as well as video surveillance. That’s a more challenging scenario for a criminal to navigate than a motel where you don’t have to pass through a lobby to get to your room,” he said.
Also, he said, there’s minimal risk of someone climbing in through your window if you’re in a room that is above ground level, and buildings with more levels tend to have hotel rooms with heavy doors to comply with fire regulations, making them harder for perpetrators to kick open.
Be Alert When Sightseeing Vacations are a time to relax, but Mr. McGoey says that it’s wise not to let your guard down completely to prevent against two common vacation crimes: pickpocketing and having your entire bag swiped. He advises being in physical contact with your bag at all times. “You can have it on your lap or hang it off your shoulder. You can even put it on the floor, but make sure the strap is around your foot, which makes it less likely that someone will try to grab it,” he said.
Also, he suggests, that when dining at restaurants you face the room, not a wall, so you’re aware of your surroundings and anyone who make try to approach you.
Pack a Mini First Aid Kit It doesn’t have to take up a lot of space, but Dr. Jahangir Rahman, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University, said that travelers should pack a first aid kit with hydrogen peroxide to clean cuts, bandages of varying sizes and a painkiller such as Advil or Tylenol. Also, if you’re visiting a developing country, he suggests getting a prescription from your doctor for an antibiotic, such as Ciprofloxacin, to treat traveler’s diarrhea.
Make Photocopies of Personal Documents Mr. McGoey advises making backup copies of all the documents, such as your driver’s license, and credit cards you’re taking with you on your trip and leaving them with a family member or trusted neighbor back at home. You can also scan and email them yourself. If your bag or wallet containing these is stolen, having backup copies allows you to find the card company’s customer service phone number on the back of the card and report it stolen, and if you’re flying, you won’t be left without the identification you need to get back home.
He also suggests having a copy of a backup credit card and leaving that card back at home with someone you trust. “That person can overnight you the card, and having another card to rely on ensures that your entire vacation won’t be ruined,” he said.
Arm Yourself Against Food- and Water-Borne Infections Diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration are the three most common health issues on most trips, according to Dr. Rahman. Stay safe by sticking to bottled or boiled water, even on some domestic trips. “If you’re going to Yellowstone National Park or any countryside destination in the U.S., there are parasites in the water that can make you sick,” he said.
Be even more cautious if you’re traveling abroad by eating cooked food as much as possible, which puts you at a lower risk of contracting a bacterial infection like E. coli and salmonella. And, in developing countries such as Thailand, Mexico, India and many countries throughout Africa, avoid salads altogether because they could be washed in water of questionable cleanliness. For the same reason, don’t eat fruits that need to be washed, like grapes and strawberries; those that require peeling such as mangoes and oranges are safe.
Avoid Contact With Animals Outside of Controlled Settings. Dr. Rahman says that, unless you’re interacting with an animal in a controlled setting like in a bookable vacation activity such as an elephant ride, minimize your chance of infection and injury by not touching any animals, even cats and dogs. “There are too many risks,” he said. “That cute kitten, for example, roaming the street on your vacation to a developing country may be tempting to pet but could also be carrying a bacteria known as Bartonella that can manifest in cat-scratch disease,” characterized by swollen lymph nodes, fatigue and high fever.
Take Physical Limitations Into Consideration When Planning Your Trip Santorini may sound like a dream vacation, but it’s an island with lots of hills and long, unavoidable stairways leading to the main towns and many hotels — not ideal for travelers who have issues with climbing or walking. “You are at higher risk for falling and hurting yourself, and it’s not worth going there,” Ms. Stein said. Similarly, skiing in Aspen, at about 7,900 feet above sea level, may be on top of your wish list but isn’t suited for travelers who suffer from altitude sickness — Ms. Stein says Whistler in British Columbia has equally favorable skiing conditions minus the altitude; it’s at about 2,200 feet. Factor in physical requirements before heading to a destination