Des Conway has over 20 years' experience in police and commercial security. He uses his additional research and commercial security experience to ensure his own and his family's safety while planning and taking holiday and business trips. Through this and his other security handbooks he is committed to helping people keep themselves and their loved ones safe, wherever they are.
During your holiday you should have managed to balance your caution with relaxation and liberal doses of enjoyment. In fact you had such a nice holiday that you are in danger of sitting down under a palm tree and forgetting the flight home.
Don’t relax too much yet, because you are about to encounter a new range of risks and threats.
Confirm Flight and Travel Plans
Even though you hold a return ticket, some airlines require you to contact them a day or so before your return flight to confirm that you will be travelling. Check with your travel agent and airline to see if you need to do this. You don’t want to book out of your hotel room and find yourself at the airport with all of your cases, only to be told that you are not booked on the flight and the next available seat is in three days’ time.
Some countries prohibit the export of their currency. That means that you could be required to exchange any currency back into pounds at the airport, using government facilities that offer very unfavourable rates. The worst possible scenario is that the authorities could simply seize any local currency in your possession.
At least a few days before you are due to fly back, find out what the rules about local currency are. With any such rules in mind, review your own needs. You may never want to come back to the country again, so you won’t need the local money on future trips. On the other hand you may love the country and can’t wait to get back, so you could feel that any spare local currency will be used again within a few months. I try to monitor my usage of the local currency and towards the end of the holiday be careful about how many traveller’s cheques I exchange. That way I know I won’t be left with a lot of local currency.
Local currency at the airport
Your next consideration is how much local currency you will need at the airport, where you may have to pay for a taxi, food and drink, or local taxes, all payable in local currency. If you haven’t been very thorough with your research or if your travel agent has left some vital information out, you could be in for a shock.
Trying to book in for my flight home, congratulating myself for having spent my last local currency, I was surprised when the check-in desk clerk asked me for the new departure tax. All foreigners were required to pay about £7 each in taxes to compensate for the environmental impact of their travel (well that was what they said). I had to go and change another traveller’s cheque.
Travellers often seem to get stuck with a pocket full of change. When I was writing this I had a quick whip around among close family members and collected all the forgotten dusty holiday change. We had coins from 11 different countries, but the most surprising thing was that between us we had almost £53 in change. It quickly adds up and banks and travel agents won’t accept or exchange foreign coins, so any change you bring back is lost.
In a security-conscious world, packing and luggage take on a new and crucial importance. All airlines ask if you packed your own bags, and if you are carrying anything for anyone else. This is partly as an ineffective security measure (will a terrorist or criminal really admit to carrying something he shouldn’t be carrying?), but mostly to do with deniability. When and if drugs or other illegal imports are found in your case, you have already admitted three things. It is your case, you packed it and everything in the case belongs to you!
Treat travelling seriously, and be aware that the greatest threat is probably drug smugglers looking for ‘mules’ to carry their substances for them. They use all sorts of tricks, including the old favourite of a free holiday as long as you bring back one small package for them. Drugs detection and intelligence is improving all of the time, and the likelihood of drug smugglers being caught is increasing. Make sure that you strictly follow the guidelines set down by airlines and travel agents. DON’T CARRY ANYTHING FOR ANYONE ELSE.
As with the journey out, pack your things neatly, and make sure that you follow the airline safety rules. Don’t pack electrical equipment with batteries installed. Security will make you open the case and remove the batteries. Don’t try to carry sharp objects onto the aircraft in carry-on luggage. They are banned because they could be used as weapons by terrorists. You should also remember to make sure that the lids of bottles of shampoo or perfume are securely sealed. There is nothing worse than getting home to find that your new digital camera has had a bath in a mixture of medicated shampoo, nail varnish remover and suntan lotion!
Clearing Your Room
UK holidaymakers and business travellers leave hundreds of millions of pounds worth of clothes, equipment, money and valuables behind when they travel. In fact one report put the value of items forgotten and lost by holidaymakers as high as two billion pounds a year!
While on holiday, before you leave a restaurant, hire car, beach or anywhere else – especially the hotel room when you pack to come home – check to make sure you are not leaving things behind.
We all have to pass through immigration to allow the authorities to check that we have a right to enter the country. They do that job, but usually very slowly, so be prepared to wait and make sure that you have your passport ready to present to the staff manning the desk.
Customs and Excise
There are strict rules, regulations and laws governing what can be freely imported, what is barred and what has to be licensed or taxed. Customs and Excise staff members have the widest powers available to any official in the UK. They have more powers than UK police forces!
Don’t try to smuggle anything into the country. Some products like cooked and raw meats or plant material can carry diseases that could wipe out whole species of plants and animals. Some products are simply dangerous and do not match UK and EU safety laws and standards.
UK Customs defines lists of goods that are ‘prohibited’ or ‘restricted’ in the UK to protect citizens’ safety, health and the environment. These rules apply to ALL travellers, whether you are travelling within the EU or from outside the EU.
- Prohibited. Prohibited goods are goods that are banned completely in the UK.
- Restricted. Restricted goods are goods that cannot be imported into the UK without the appropriate legal documentation, such as a licence.
The rules are quite complex. For more information see www.hmce.gov.uk
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has introduced a campaign which aims to reduce the risk of exotic animal disease entering the country and then threatening our public health, livestock, agriculture and horticultural industries. For further information on the regulations of bringing back meat, animal products or plants from outside the EU see www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/illegali/
Penalties for smuggling can be quite severe. Trying to bring things into the country could be a very expensive game to play.
Remember that some medications may be legal and sold openly in one country, but if you try to take those medications into a neighbouring country it could be treated as a serious criminal act. In some circumstances, travellers have faced the death penalty for possession and transportation of illegal drugs that were purchased innocently in a neighbouring country.
You might experience another extreme climate change. When you fly into a British winter from Barbados you will undoubtedly need the warm coat you carried just for this moment, or coming from a cold climate you may feel uncomfortably hot. Make sure that you’re prepared for the weather, whatever it is or might be when you finally get off the aircraft.
Don’t be complacent about foreign diseases when you return to the UK.
Holiday infections and injuries
If you sustained any injuries, suffered any adverse symptoms from altitude sickness, food poisoning, sunburn, cuts or bites while on holiday, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.
When you see them, explain what happened, what your symptoms were and the treatment you received. If you were given any medication or purchased any medication, show the medication and its packaging to the doctor.
Be safe, not sorry. Your original sickness may merely have been a symptom of a major infection that the doctor can treat easily if he catches it in time. On the other hand, that wound that looked like just a little scratch, may well be just a little scratch’!
Infection and food workers
If you are or were recently suffering from a stomach upset and/or diarrhoea and are due to return to work which involves handling food, call in and tell your employer before you report to work. For Health and Safety and food hygiene reasons, they may require you to have a medical checkup to get permission to return to work, rather than risk infecting those who eat the food you handle.
Monitor your health for a few months
Because the incubation period for some diseases is measured in months, you must monitor your health for months after you return. If any symptoms appear, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Explain where you have been and voice your concerns. UK doctors don’t often see dengue fever, so if you think you have the symptoms, say so. The doctor may be able to tell you that it is food poisoning or constipation, or you could discover that you do indeed have dengue fever. The speedier the diagnosis, the quicker and more complete the recovery.
If you were prescribed some medication abroad, as with any medication you should always finish it. Don’t stop taking it because you begin to feel better. If you stop taking the medication before reaching the end of the prescribed course, any infection can take hold again.
If you are in any doubt about the medication or if you are suffering side effects, you should see your doctor. If you cannot get an appointment to see the doctor within a day or so, consider going to the local hospital.