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Travel Hacks To Stay Safe While Backpacking

Travel Hacks To Stay Safe While Backpacking

I spent last year traveling through Latin America, from Mexico right down to Patagonia. Judging from some of the reactions of my family and friends before I left (and throughout my travels), Latin America is a place where danger lurks around every corner. Let your guard down just once and you’ll pay the price.

Thankfully, however, I’m pleased to state this has not been the case. I was a lone female visiting some pretty dodgy places – I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt a little apprehensive on some occasions. But in terms of actual bad things happening? Nada. Nothing. Not one story to report. The worst thing that happened was being ripped off by a Cancun cab driver at 5 A.M. Not exactly the end of the world.

Pretending that backpacking, whether solo or with friends, doesn’t come with risks is silly. Muggings, thefts and accidents can and do occur; traffic jams and unanticipated delays will probably, at some point, disrupt your plans. But with some simple planning and research, it’s easier than you think to stay safe and secure while on the road. Here are my three most useful travel hacks to stay safe.

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1. Keep a clear head

Beginning my tips by saying “Don’t get drunk” isn’t going to make me very popular. And I’m well aware that one of the main points of backpacking is to have fun, to experience new things and meet new people. And often those new experiences and new friends lead to drinking a lot. And I mean a LOT. While there is nothing wrong with a couple of drinks, getting wasted can lead to many problems.

I’ve stayed at many a hostel where guests are actively encouraged (read “pressured”) to keep drinking. No one wants to let the team down or appear boring, so most people oblige. Another shot or three can’t hurt, can it?

Yes, it absolutely can. Almost all incidents where I’ve heard about other backpackers getting into trouble, have been because they’ve been drinking. And drinking can lead to very poor decision making.

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No one thinks it’s a good idea to wander along the beaches of Rio de Janeiro at night when they’re sober – but when you’re drunk, it seems romantic. I’ve lost count of the accidents I’ve heard about where people have done dumb things because they’ve been drunk – from driving motorbikes to going tubing while totally smashed… it leads to trouble.

I’m not saying don’t have a few drinks, if you want to. Do have a drink, but keep a clear head and pace yourself. This is particularly important if you are traveling alone, because there’s no one there who can pull you back when you’re about to do something really dumb.

2. Talk to locals about the risks

If you’re heading to a notoriously dangerous place, chances are you’ve done a fair bit of research yourself. Take Medellin in Colombia, for example. I’d read countless articles about the cocaine cartels and Pablo Escobar, and the gang violence that almost ripped Colombia apart… but it turns out that Medellin today is pretty safe. I spent a month there and didn’t feel uneasy once.

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The thing you should be researching is the smaller things – like scams. You’re much more likely to be targeted by petty thieves after a quick penny than a big time crook, but these small scams often aren’t reported much. No one knows the risks of an area better than a local, so speak to employees at your accommodation about what to look out for.

When I was in Santiago, Chile, a local told me that a girl had been mugged the week before, and that I should carry a “dummy wallet” – a small purse with a few worthless cards and a small amount of cash in it. Then, if I was ever mugged, I could oblige and hand over my purse without losing everything. I never got mugged, but I sure felt a lot safer walking around the streets of Santiago.

3. Do the boring stuff

It’s a given that before you go to a new country, you want to research the fun stuff. Which restaurants will you eat at? Where are the most beautiful beaches? Which neighborhood has the coolest nightlife? I can spend hours looking at travel blogs, planning routes and making fun itineraries, but before you do all that, stop – and get the boring stuff out of the way first.

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The boring stuff means things like getting insurance, then making sure it covers everything. Writing down the serial number of your electronic belongings. Backing up and photocopying your travel documents. Take it from me – this can be invaluable.

If anything happens, this stuff is vital. If you’re injured, or a flight is delayed and you miss your connection, you’ll need your insurance number and policy details. If your laptop or phone is stolen, having the serial number is more helpful than I can explain. I learnt that the hard way, when I lost my camera and nothing could be done.

Sorting this stuff is boring but it doesn’t have to take long. Do it all at once and get it over with; read one of the many travel safety guides around, make a list and tick it off. It really is so simple. Then, and only then, can you get stuck into all the fun stuff!

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Ella Jameson

Freelance writer

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Last Updated on October 15, 2018

Why Am I So Tired? 10 Reasons You’re Extremely Tired And How to Fix It

Why Am I So Tired? 10 Reasons You’re Extremely Tired And How to Fix It

“Why am I so tired?” is a question that people ask themselves pretty frequently. Everyone gets tired at one point or another, particularly after something like an illness, a long night up with a sick child, or a busy week at work. When tiredness is persistent, however — when you feel tired as soon as you wake up in morning or when sleep doesn’t seem to help, no matter how much rest you get— it may often indicate a deeper, underlying problem.

While there are a lot of possible reasons for tiredness, here’re some of the most common causes of fatigue:

1. Dehydration

If you want to boost your energy levels, first check whether you are dehydrated. The human brain is 85% water, and needs to maintain this level in order to perform its essential functions.

If you fail to drink enough water, the brain extracts fluids from your blood to compensate for the deficit. As a result, the oxygen levels in your blood drop, reducing the amount of energising oxygen available to your organs and tissues. Fatigue and sleepiness set in rapidly, leaving you more vulnerable to the 2 pm post-lunch crash that many of us experience.

You cannot cure this crash with caffeine – the only long-term, effective solution is to drink hydrating fluids throughout the day.

2. Lack Of Exercise

A workout will surely leave you feeling even more tired, right? Wrong! As counterintuitive as it may sound, physical activities have an energizing effect. Moving your body releases endorphins, increases your heart rate, and boosts your concentration.

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Try to fit in at least 30 minutes of medium-intensity exercise every day. It’s easiest if you can make this part of our everyday routine, either as soon as you wake up or right after work.

3. A Poor Diet

The food you eat has a direct impact on sleep quality and the amount of rest you get every night. For maximum energy, stick to protein, slow-release carbohydrates, and a moderate amount of healthy (unsaturated) fats. The majority of your food should be plant-based, high in fiber, and low in sugar. These choices will prevent blood sugar fluctuations, which can leave you feeling exhausted.

An easy way to make sure you stick to a good diet is through meal preparation. It’s easy to just get take-out when you’re tired after work, but if you have a meal ready for you in the fridge, you’ll be less tempted by pizza or cheese.

Find out more about healthy meal prep here: 10 Meal Planning Apps You Need To Have To Get Healthier Easily

4. Skipping Breakfast

Physician Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan advises that eating breakfast is key to maintaining a good level of energy throughout the day. When you eat breakfast, you are sending calming signals to the areas of the brain responsible for avoiding danger, along with those that instruct the body to conserve as much energy as possible.

Ingesting food signals to your brain that there is enough food available to ensure our survival. This encourages it to stay relaxed, which in turn, promotes restful sleep.

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Some great ideas for a healthy, filling, and make-ahead breakfasts include overnight oats, smoothies, and freezer-friendly breakfast burritos.

Or if meal-prepping isn’t your think, stock up on easy but healthy breakfast foods like multigrain cereal, yogurt, and fruit: 20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time

5. Poor Quality Of Sleep

We all know that it’s important to wind down a couple of hours before bed. But did you know that it’s what you do throughout the day that promotes good-quality sleep? It’s not just about the number of hours you sleep, but how restful and deep that sleep is.

TO feel rested, try to regulate your everyday routine to make your sleep deeper and better. Get up at a regular time in the morning to ensure that you get regular sunlight.

Eat nutritious foods in moderate amounts, and make sure you stay hydrated. Go to bed at the same time. And before bedtime, avoid screens that can give off harmful blue light and also keep you stimulated when you need to prepare for a restful night.

Read more about how to develop a routine that will get you better sleep: Poor Sleep Quality Comes from All the Things You Do Since Morning

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6. Sleep Apnea (A Person’s Airways Get Blocked off While They Are Asleep)

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder where a person’s airways get blocked off while they are asleep, causing their oxygen levels to drop while they are asleep. This often causes people to stop breathing at night and then to jerk themselves awake (this can happen over 30 times an hour).

Because of this, people with sleep apnea can feel short of breath and have low energy levels. Mouthpieces and other devices to aid in breathing as well as the use of a special breathing machine to keep oxygen levels in a safe zone.

If you feel tired all the time and think you might have sleep apnea, consulting with a doctor is important. Do a sleep study, as this can often reveal if there is an underlying problem causing your tiredness — and once a diagnosis is made, treatment to help you get your energy back begins.

7. Depression

Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States (and in many other countries of the world as well). It is marked by persistent feelings of sadness or unhappiness but has physical symptoms, too. Apart from fatigue, people may also experience changes in sleeping and eating habits and difficulty concentrating.

Treatment can often center on anti-depressants, counselling and lifestyle changes like stress management to help manage this condition. You can take a look at these 15 Ways To Overcome Depression And Sadness.

Many people also benefit from activities like yoga and meditation, which help regulate both the body and mind.

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8. Hypothyroidism

If a person has hypothyroidism, their thyroid gland does not produce adequate levels of these important hormones— and the result can be a persistent and unrelenting fatigue, even if someone is getting enough sleep. Other common symptoms of this disorder include mood swings, weight gain and feeling cold all the time.

Fortunately, simple blood work can reveal if there is a problem and it can be treated with artificial thyroid hormone pills like Synthroid. Check here for signs of having a thyroid problem. If you suspect that you might have hypothyroidism, talk to your doctor.

9. Anemia

People with anemia are not able to make enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the their bodies. This is often due to a lack of nutrients like iron or B-12 and can be caused by problems such as heavy periods, bleeding in the digestive tract or pregnancy (due to the increased demands of the growing baby).

However, in most cases, this can be resolved with treatments like changes in diet, iron supplements or B-12 shots.

While here are some drinks you can try to relieve symptoms of Anemia, it’s best to do a blood test and consult your doctor in case of any hidden medical conditions.

10. Cancer

While you shouldn’t be freaking out about cancer just because you are tired, it is a fact that fatigue is one of the symptoms of cancer. Other common symptoms can include unexplained weight loss and the presence of palpable lumps or growths. This disease is marked by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells that can do damage to surround tissues and possibly spread to other parts of the body.

Diagnosis is usually by biopsy and treatment often focusses on radiation, chemotherapy or surgery— and generally when a diagnosis is made early, the outcomes for the patient are better.

Featured photo credit: Lily Banse via unsplash.com

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