I once had the opportunity to go to Lagos, Nigeria to work on an investment project. I had a great time- in addition to my work responsibilities, I met with local friends and had the opportunity to take a day off to explore some national parks.
I had a (not so) great strategy in place for staying safe and healthy in Nigeria: Hope. I had not taken anti-malarials or gotten the necessary vaccinations. I had been living in Istanbul at the time, and figuring out how to get them with the short travel notice that I had, seemed like too much of a hassle.
When I returned to Istanbul, I came down with all of the symptoms of malaria. Some strains of malaria can kill you within just a few days if not treated properly. The local hospital could not check my test results because their systems had gone down, and malaria medication in Turkey is apparently controlled by the government. Hospitals cannot dispense it without proving the government that you have the illness.
So my doctor encouraged me to go look for the black market for the medication, without giving me any indications of where to find it. I never did find it, but did end up spending three nights in the hospital.
This is but one misadventure of many, so I would like to share some tips and strategies that I have learned over the years for staying safe and healthy during travel to emerging markets. While many of these places are not more dangerous than some of the cities that we Americans call home, others are more dangerous. However, in any unfamiliar environment, the risks are heightened because we are less aware of where they reside and how to manage them.
Here are seven strategies and tips to stay safe and healthy:
1. Get the right vaccinations. Vaccinations are a hot topic right now in the US. Debates aside, in many of these countries you cannot depend on herd immunity to save you from some terrible diseases. To determine what vaccinations you need, check the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (wwwnc.cdc.gov), and discuss with your doctor.
2. Take a basic medical kit. Be particularly sure to take along anti-diarrheals and antibiotics. It is highly unlikely that you will not eventually come down with a bad stomach infection in the course of doing frequent business in emerging markets.
3. Make sure to get travel insurance. It is critical and often overlooked, also under the misguided strategy of hope. Travel insurance is inexpensive, and getting sick while traveling in another country can easily ruin your finances!
4. Maintain awareness of self, environment and neighborhood at all times. Learn to use your natural instincts as a guide for staying safe. Reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker changed my life, and gave me effective strategies to stay safe both on the streets and in my personal life.
5. Avoid looking like a target: Do not carry a fanny pack! Do not carry expensive jewelry or technology, and avoid stopping in middle of a street to check a map. I do dress nicely to go to many of my business meetings, but I make sure that I know my environment well when I do so.
6. Consider using my “zero-tolerance for stalkers policy.” I have been stalked a number of times, particularly in my younger days. I eventually developed a somewhat dramatic but effective “zero-tolerance for stalkers policy.” Use your own discretion based on the environment in implementing this, otherwise it could lead to an escalation.
If someone is following you, ask them three times to leave you alone. If they still persist in following you, go to a local shopkeeper and say loudly, “This person is following me!” The shopkeeper may not do anything, but often the stalker is so embarrassed that they will flee the scene. You may want to ask someone to walk with you until you are sure that the stalker is no longer around.
7. Be careful who you trust: I used to believe that I had a sixth sense about the goodness of people, and trust people very quickly based on this sense. I have since learned that strengths can become the basis of overconfidence, which can be the Achilles’ heel which brings you down. I am not saying to not trust anyone, but take steps to mitigate the potential damage of being wrong about someone’s character. For instance, meet where there are others around or bring someone with you.
By using these strategies, you are more prepared to safety do business in some of the most dynamic markets in the world. You can experience the world and reap the benefits, or stay home in fear and miss out. In either case you have no guarantees. You may as well live an exciting life and have a prosperous business.
Disclaimer: Follow any of these strategies at your own risk and discretion. Health tips should not be followed without guidance from a medical professional.