The ominous Nine Days, that culminate in the somber day of mournful remembrance called Tisha B’av, will soon begin. Most people in our community have, since childhood, been warned and exhorted to be extra careful and cautious during this period of time. We are taught that these particular days have a history of being especially tragic for Klal Yisrael, with many great misfortunes having taken place over the centuries during this time of year. To that end, for example, despite the oppressive summer heat, we are not allowed to go swimming, since the potential for injury or even death is increased. Traveling is also greatly discouraged, as is any activity that has an element of risk.
However, after Tisha B’av, with weeks of summer still ahead, many individuals and families go on vacation, often traveling abroad or staying domestic, renting a cottage by a lake or woods or camping and hiking in national parks. These activities provide much welcome fun and adventure; however, some people, because the Nine Days are over develop a false sense of invincibility, as if the bad times are over and they foolishly throw caution to the wind.
Sadly, being over-confident and thinking that “bad stuff” only happens to “losers” is a recipe for disaster. Before you go anywhere, do research and educate yourself as to local customs, languages spoken, weather, political climate, terrain, crime rate etc. You can’t be nonchalant or careless or act as if nothing bad can happen to you – because it can, and sadly, for some it does.
Vacations that entail travel require extra vigilance, especially if you are going to be in an unfamiliar area. First thing you need to do before you walk out the door, is make sure you have what I call the three P’s – Passport (if you are traveling out of the country) Pills (if you are on any medications) and a Phone (preferably a cell phone or similar communicating device that works overseas).
If you are going somewhere that requires a passport to get into, then look up where the closest consulate or embassy is located and memorize or write down the phone number. In case of an emergency, you can seek immediate help.
In terms of your pills: If you are on medications that keep you alive, you should take a couple of months worth with you – even if you are going away for just a week or two. Although It is very unlikely that you will find yourself stuck somewhere with your departure indefinitely delayed, it still CAN happen due to an unexpected natural disaster, like a hurricane or earthquake, or a man-made one like a military coup or labor strike – so you want to have at least a month’s supply of your pills.
You should also divide them in two containers; one you carry with you at all times, the other you leave in a safe place in your hotel or wherever you are based. Thus, if you are out and about touring or shopping, and misplace your purse, it is snatched away by a thief or if the bottle with your meds simply falls out unnoticed, you will have a backup container and avoid going through the inevitable panic, inconvenience and expense of replacing your doctor-prescribed, life-enabling pills.
I personally, am a huge fan of cell phones. If they were around when my boys were backpacking through Europe years ago, I would be looking 10 years younger – if not 20. I had visions of them exploring old medieval castles and accidently locking themselves in the dungeon, or hiking through some Nordic fiord and being trapped on an ice floe. Part of the price of being a writer is having an overactive imagination).
However, realistically speaking, if you, for example, are hiking in a forest and you get lost or your car breaks down in the desert, you can call for help. Sometimes you can be located by the transmission signal your phone gives off, if you are unable to describe where you are.
While on the subject of being able to communicate in case of trouble, I recommend travelers set up a “buddy” system, in which you email, text or call someone at a designated time, preferably in the evening after you return from whatever activity you did. Let’s suppose that you – alone or with companions- go exploring deep in a cave and by accident (or on purpose) go off the “beaten path.” Hours later you are hopelessly lost – and thirsty – since you figured you would only be there for a couple of hours and did not bother to bring water. However, when your brother back home who was expecting a call from you sometime between 8:00-10:00 PM does not hear from you, he alerts the authorities and they go looking for you.
And they know you are in that particular cave, because you were smart enough to let your brother know what your plan was for the day.
Or did you? I cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is to let someone know what your daily itinerary is, especially if you are on a road trip by car or traveling in a foreign country where anything can happen – accidents, crime or even being arrested or detained for something as simple as taking a photo. If you fall “off the radar” so to speak, it will be extremely helpful for those frantically looking for you to have an idea as to where to begin looking.
To that end, it may be a good idea to use a credit card for most of your purchases, as you create a “paper trail.”
Truthfully, the vast majority of vacationers and travelers return home intact, with amazing stories of adventure, fun, and at worst, a litany of minor mishaps – like lost luggage or missing a connection.
However, there IS a reason Jews say “Tefillat Haderech”, the traveler’s prayer. Because bad things can happen. We owe it to ourselves, and to those who care for us, to be well-informed, well-prepared and take the precautions needed to avoid or at the very least minimize the possibility of a much anticipated vacation going terribly, horrifically wrong. To think you are untouchable is arrogance of the worst kind and can lead to an unfortunate series of events that you may deeply rue one day.