From avoiding stomach bugs to securing valuables, these essentials for safe travel will stop long trips playing havoc with your health
Having five sisters as I do is wonderful. On your travels, you get lots of messages checking on your whereabouts and well-being. And then you get some more messages. And then you get some more.
Soon, this turns into real-time updates of potential hazards in a 6,000-mile radius. “You’re camping on a beach in Fiji? Did you hear about the couple who got hurt on a beach in Thailand?” “Didn’t you just leave Vanuatu? There’s an earthquake there now.” “You’re in Chile? What about that huge volcano?”
Of course, it’s natural to worry about loved ones when they’re away. Occasionally, that worry is warranted. To help set minds at ease, we’ve gathered eight essentials for safe travel, from emergency SOS systems to staying healthy while on the road.
1. Spot GenX satellite messenger
Essential for: Remote travel, sailing, hiking and extreme sports
Price: $199.99 plus a data plan on top
I’m not a worrier but once in a while, I’ve wished that Peter had hobbies more prosaic than mountain climbing – like when he’s set off for Norway’s Galdhøpiggen and I haven’t heard from him in three days.
If, like him, you have ambitions to climb the seven summits (or indeed know someone who does), consider getting a SPOT GenX. This pocket-sized gizmo tracks you in real-time and allows you to send messages at a touch of a button.
You can transmit an SOS with your GPS location to the IERCC (International Emergency Response Coordination Centre) or just check in with family and friends in areas without mobile coverage. This can be a one-button ‘OK’ which sends a pre-programmed text or email with your location to up to 10 pre-set contacts, or a custom message.
You can also configure your tracking to send your location at certain intervals (5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes or, if you’re doing something really extreme, every 2.5 minutes).
SPOT’s tech has been credited with thousands of rescues globally – including when Peter was airlifted in Greenland. At a basic price of $199.99 with a range of reasonably-priced data plans, it’s a must-have gadget for all adventurers.
2. Travelsafe portable safe
Essential for: Securing your gear
I’ll admit that we’ve often been complacent when staying in hostels, choosing to shove our passports down the back of our big backpacks instead of leaving them with reception. Thankfully, we’ve never been robbed but, as we found out in Colombia, there’s always a first time for everything.
A better alternative is the Travelsafe portable safe, a lockable pouch which allows you to secure your passports, a (smallish) camera, extra cash, credit cards, phone and/or tablet. It comes with a ‘high-tensile stainless exomesh’ between the inner and outer fabric meaning that it can’t just be cut open.
An integrated locking device provides a strong and durable closure while the drawstring cable allows you to lock the safe to a stationary object. The only downside is that it’s quite bulky so may weigh down the ultra-light traveller. We’ll likely leave it at home for short European jaunts but take it with us on longer trips through countries we know less well (and Colombia).
3. SteriPEN water purifier
Essential for: Staying healthy
I won’t reiterate everything we’ve said in those pieces but in summary: the SteriPEN Ultra eliminates over 99.9% of bacteria in up to a litre of water in just 90 seconds, can be used up to 8,000 times and is easily rechargeable via a computer, mains supply or portable solar charger.
With one charge it can treat up to 50 litres of water and has done exactly that for us during our travels through the South Pacific and South America. We love it.
4. Power bank + solar charger
Essential for: Remote travel, camping, hiking
Peter carries a fair amount of electronics on treks and climbs including two cameras and a smartphone. All of these need juice, so a reliable power bank and solar charger make life easier. He uses a Powergorilla charger and a Falcon 21 foldable solar charger from PowerTraveller.
Atlas & BOots
Atlas & Boots
I used my PowerTraveller kit on Aconcagua
Both still function in cold temperatures. The Powergorilla can charge devices up to 24Volts (such as a laptop). The solar charger is also reliable enough to charge smaller devices.
5. Chieftain personal alarm
Essential for: Personal safety
Here’s another of those products you don’t think you’ll ever need – until you do. The Chieftain personal attack alarm can be attached to a keyring, looped through a jacket zip, or attached to your backpack. When activated via the ripcord, it emits a strobe light and 140-decibel siren, audible up to 800m (2,600ft) away.
It is reportedly the only personal attack alarm approved by the Ministry of Defence and has been supplied to military personnel in Basra and other areas of conflict. It’s supplied with a battery that provides in excess of two hours’ continuous running – though naturally, it’s worth testing a few times a year.
Peter and I enjoy running but have seldom done so on the road because I’m a lot slower than him and he doesn’t like to lose sight of me in places we’re not familiar with. The Chieftain means I’ll have a handy way of alerting him and anyone else close by that I need help if such a situation should ever arise. For a tiny price, it’s well worth the peace of mind.
Where to buy: Chieftain personal alarm
6. TRAVEL INSURANCE
Essential for: Personal safety
Price: from $47
It has never been more important to ensure you have reliable travel insurance. The pandemic brought in a new raft of potential medical issues and the knock-on effects have led to a rise in flight cancellations, long queues, lost baggage and strike threats.
We have used a number of travel insurance providers over the years and are now covered by SafetyWing which offers a range of premium travel medical insurance built specifically for digital nomads who have health insurance coverage in their home country but need coverage abroad.
SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance covers travel delays, lost checked luggage, emergency response, natural disasters and personal liability as well as medical assistance up to $250,000 USD. It can be purchased while already abroad, covers home trip visits and operates like a monthly subscription.
7. FIRST AID app BY RED CROSS
Essential for: Personal safety
The official Red Cross First Aid app is available worldwide and is tailored to the user’s location (i.e. American, British, Australian Red Cross organisations). The app provides pre-loaded content offering instant access to safety information and expert advice for everyday emergencies.
The app features videos, diagrams, interactive quizzes and simple step-by-step advice to help users deal with and prepare for a range of emergencies. It also works when offline, so no internet connection is required, making it an invaluable, free life-saving tool.
8. First aid kit
Essential for: Personal safety, staying healthy, remote travel, camping, hiking
A physical first aid kit is also one of our essentials for safe travel. For our first aid kit, we use Lifesystems Pocket, which includes all but the starred items below. We add painkillers and a thermal blanket manually.
Alternatively, you can opt for the Lifesystems Adventurer for your hiking first aid kit. This version of the kit includes all of the below except antiseptic cream and a thermal blanket, which you can add manually.
Loperamide (e.g. Immodium)*†
Open woven bandage
Preparation and tapes
Hygienic cleansing wipes
Blister plasters (such as Compeed)
Low adherent dressing
Steristrips (butterfly stitches)*†
* Not included in Lifesystems Pocket
† Not included in Lifesystems Adventurer
Where to buy: Lifesystems on Amazon