Just Me Travel

Just Me Travel

Solo Travel Blogger

Category: Travel Tips, Info and Resources

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SAFETY WHEN TRAVELLING

Does your jewellery put your safety at risk when travelling? And what about that expensive equipment you carry around? Are you an easy target for scammers, muggers and thieves? How…

Does your jewellery put your safety at risk when travelling? And what about that expensive equipment you carry around? Are you an easy target for scammers, muggers and thieves? How can you improve your safety when travelling?

Read on if you want to avoid making yourself a target while travelling; if you want to avoid theft, kidnapping and physical harm when travelling in foreign countries.

There is a plethora of blog posts out there about safety when travelling; about the precautions you should be taking to protect yourself and your belongings. For example: 

  • don’t walk around on your own at night;
  • hide your money;
  • put a wedge under your hotel door;
  • never leave your drink unattended;
  • research common scams in your destination;
  • avoid public demonstrations;
  • use a luggage cable to secure your bags on buses and trains;
  • only use ATMs inside banks or buildings and only during the daytime;
  • carry your backpack or purse on your front;
  • research what is appropriate to wear.

And so the list goes on.

Much of this you would think is common sense. Having said that, I would never have thought to not only lock my hotel room door but to put a wedge under the door as well. It is easy to forget that hotel staff have a Master Key.

What I haven’t seen in blog posts on safety tips when travelling (and that doesn’t mean it’s not out there), is specific mention of jewellery and expensive equipment, such as cameras, tablets, mobile phones. How these might put your personal safety at risk and what you might do about this.

Do you wear jewellery when travelling?

Is it that gold chain that you never take off? Is it those diamond earrings you got from a loved one and don’t want to leave behind? Is it that watch you have to wear because you feel naked without it (that’s me)? Have you ever thought about the impact of that jewellery on your safety when travelling?

When travelling to many countries, particularly developing countries, the mere fact that you are in their country makes you a rich person. They don’t see the budget you’re travelling on, and they wouldn’t believe you anyway. You can afford to travel and that is all they know or understand. Your limited budget could well be their income for the year (or more).

The jewellery you wear can make you a target. Your jewellery can put your physical safety at risk when thieves try to take it; to rip that necklace off from around your neck. You can be vulnerable to muggings – to see what other valuables you may be carrying. Your jewellery may also place you in danger of kidnapping because you are seen to be rich and, therefore, a loved one will pay a lot of money for your release. This latter is extreme, I know, but should not be dismissed. It makes no difference whether it be valuable jewellery or costume jewellery. Especially as it is often hard to tell the difference between precious gems and glass in jewellery. I would not be able to tell the difference.

Don’t tempt fate!

I love jewellery and get a lot of enjoyment out of wearing it. I always buy pieces (earrings, necklaces, bracelets, brooches) from wherever I travel. My family and friends would tell you I have heaps. Well, more than heaps.

I would like to say I wear no jewellery when I travel. But I can’t. Remember, I’m the person above who has to wear a watch because I feel naked without it. I also have pierced ears. Because I travel for weeks at a time, I don’t want the holes to close over. So, I do wear earrings. I wear small silver sleepers (not gold as that yells, “expensive”) and don’t take any other earrings with me. The watch and the sleepers are the limit of my jewellery while travelling.

On the flip side … I am not married, so don’t wear a wedding ring. However, to minimise being harassed as a female traveller and to add to my sense of security, I wear a wedding band when I travel in the middle east.

And what about that camera you lug around? 

Your camera not only labels you as a tourist (a risk in itself) but potentially puts you at risk of being mugged to relieve you of that camera.

I do use one of those expensive DSLR cameras because I love my photography. I use my photographs on my travel blog and would, one day, love to sell my photos. However, I take what precautions I can to remove the ‘rich person’ target on my back and its possible consequences, and to prevent it being stolen:

  • I keep the camera out of sight in my backpack when I am not shooting. If your camera is small enough, keep it in your pocket.
  • I do not walk around with my camera slung around my neck or over my shoulder.
  • When I do have my camera out to take photos, I wear the strap around my neck or twisted around my wrist. I don’t carry the camera on my shoulder as it would be too easy for someone to remove.
  • My camera strap is non-descript in that it does not have the camera brand name blazoned all over it.

Do you use a mobile phone or tablet to take photos?

On my last visit to Vietnam, the tour guide advised us to stand well back from the road when taking photos with a mobile phone. We were informed that motor cyclists drive past tourists and grab their mobile phones.

I’m sure Vietnam is not the only country where this occurs. Besides, it’s good advice wherever you travel. In fact, to improve your safety when travelling, it is best not to use your mobile phone while walking around. If you need to make a phone call or check a map on your phone, sit in a café to do so. Thieves are pretty cluey as to the worth of mobile phones and you don’t want to risk your safety.

In parting, I offer some further advice provided by my Vietnamese guide:

  • There are fake taxis whose metres spin faster the the guide could spin his arm in a circle. He described which to catch and which are fake.
  • Don’t stop when crossing the road. A slow and steady pace is required so traffic can avoid you.
  • It’s safe to walk around at night but don’t display valuables.
  • Remove diamond rings.
  • Men should carry their wallet in the side pocket of their pants rather than the back pocket to deter pick pockets.

Taking steps to improve your safety when travelling can only enhance your travel experience. Hopefully, the vulnerabilities and tips I have identified in this post will go a long way towards that happy ending.

Keep safe. Take care. Happy travels.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

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ETHIOPIA’S UNIQUE COFFEE CEREMONY

I love coffee. I have drunk coffee in many, many countries with varying degrees of appreciation. Well now I have found coffee heaven. It’s in Ethiopia and there is a…

I love coffee. I have drunk coffee in many, many countries with varying degrees of appreciation. Well now I have found coffee heaven. It’s in Ethiopia and there is a whole ceremony wrapped around the making and drinking of it.

Ethiopia is the home of coffee. The coffee plant originated in Ethiopia and the beans were first brewed in the 11thcentury. So, they have had a lot of practice doing stuff with coffee. The coffee ceremony is an integral part of Ethiopian culture and hospitality. It is an important social occasion.

Ethiopians have a delightful story around the discovery of the benefits of coffee. A goat herder noticed his goats acting excitedly and ‘dancing’ on the hind legs after eating bright red berries. When he tried the berries himself, he felt energised. He grabbed some berries and rushed home to tell his wife who told him he must share these “heaven sent” berries with the monks in the nearby monastery. The monks did not share the goat herder’s elation, believing the berries to be sinful; to be the work of the Devil. They tossed the coffee berries in the fire. However, the smell of the roasting coffee beans had the monks rethinking their view of this sinful drug and removed the coffee beans from the fire. They crushed the coffee beans to put out the glowing embers and covered them with hot water to preserve them. The aroma of the coffee had all the monks wanting to try it. After which, they vowed to drink coffee every day because they found the uplifting effects of the coffee helped to keep them awake during their holy devotions. And so, history was made.

I loved the ceremony as much as the coffee itself. Unlike Italy where coffee is drunk quickly whilst standing, making and drinking coffee in Ethiopia is not to be rushed as no step is to be missed.

Wherever I travelled in Ethiopia, the coffee ceremony was always the same. There was something reassuring in this familiarity and about the smell of fresh grasses that were invariably laid on the ground.

First, the raw coffee beans are rubbed together in water in a pan to remove the skins on the beans. Then they are roasted over a charcoal brazier. This releases the aromatic oils out of the beans. The hostess – I never saw this ceremony conducted by a man – brings the pan of smoking, roasted beans around for you to waft the smoke towards you; to draw in the aroma of the roasted beans.

Once roasted, the beans are ground with a mortar and pestle. Traditionally, the mortar and pestle are made of wood.

Jebena (coffee pot)

The jebena I bought in a local market in Bahir Dar

While this is happening, water is being boiled in a “jebena” – a traditional Ethiopian clay coffee pot with a bulbous, round bottom; a long narrow neck topped with a wooden or straw stopper; and a handle.

Once the coffee beans are ground, they are added to the boiling water. The combined water and beans are boiled for a couple of minutes and then rested to allow the coffee powder to sink to the bottom of the pot.

By this stage, if you are a coffee lover like me, the smell of fresh brewed coffee will have your mouth watering in anticipation of what is to come.

Finally, the coffee is poured into small, handleless china cups (very much like Turkish coffee cups). The pouring is done from as high as possible above the cups – from about a foot above the cups. The coffee is usually served with popcorn or peanuts.

Ethiopian coffee is drunk sweet and black. In fact, very sweet – 2 to 3 teaspoons of sugar. Mind you, the teaspoons are minuscule. I learnt to enjoy black coffee. However, by the time I left Ethiopia, I was drinking the coffee with a bit less sugar.

When partaking of coffee in Ethiopia, etiquette requires you to have three cups of coffee. The first cup is to welcome you, the second cup is about friendship and the third cup is to say goodbye. Remember, these are very small cups, so having three is less in quantity than a mug of coffee.

Ethiopian coffee is the best I have ever tasted. The two women I was travelling with told me I said, “Oh, that’s good coffee” every time I have a cup of coffee. This must have driven them mad because we had lots (and I mean lots) of cups of coffee. Finally, one of my travel companions told our diver/guide that Ethiopia needs to change its tourism slogan from ’13 months of sunshine’ to ‘Oh, that’s good coffee’. He just laughed.

For more posts on Ethiopia: Lost in Translation – Is that the heating?

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HOW TO PREVENT CULTURAL ERRORS IN MONGOLIA

Cultural insensitivity is, in my opinion, a sign of deep disrespect. I leant this the hard way in Varanasi (India) when I “innocently” took a photo of the cremation pyres…

Cultural insensitivity is, in my opinion, a sign of deep disrespect. I leant this the hard way in Varanasi (India) when I “innocently” took a photo of the cremation pyres on the banks of the Ganges River. It took my guide a lot of talking, much apologising and a payment of money to appease the men who supply wood for the pyres. In my defence (but no excuse), I had not been informed not to take photos of the cremations.

I was mortified by my wrongdoing. Even though this occurred a number of years ago, I still beat myself up about it. I was not new to international travel and would have described myself as culturally sensitive. To this day, I cannot explain what made me think it was okay to take such a photo.

So, when our guide in Mongolia advised us on local customs before our 2-night stay with a nomadic family, I felt a deep sense of appreciation. And that of relief; that I was not going to commit any social or cultural faux pas through ignorance. I have a strong belief that knowledge is power, and I was about to meet this family in a “powerful” (culturally knowledgeable) position.

So, what lessons did I learn from my Mongolian guide?

First up, our guide requested we not immediately take photos of the family but to get to know them a little first. This, I felt, was a more than reasonable request and one I knew I would have no trouble complying with because I often feel uncomfortable photographing people. However, given this was a photography tour I was on, the family expected photos to be taken of them as they knew this was a part of our learning.

We were then informed that we can ask any questions we want, with the guide translating for us as the family doesn’t speak any English. I suspect this also gave the guide the inadvertent opportunity to ‘censor’ any inappropriate questions – a good filtering system.

And…

  • When you enter a ger, you must always go to the left. Don’t circle the interior of the ger. If you need to go to the right once inside the ger, go back to the door and then go to the right.
  • Do not touch a person’s head or shoulder as to do so is taking that person’s luck away.
  • Touching a person’s feet (with your feet) signifies you want to challenge that person to a fight. If you do touch a person’s feet unintentionally, shake hands with that person or touch their arm. By doing this you are saying, “I didn’t mean that” (to challenge to a fight); it removes the challenge.
  • Do not throw tissues in the fire. The fire is a holy thing and throwing a tissue in the fire is contaminating the fire. This was important to know as one by one we were coming down with colds.
  • Whatever is offered (that is, food or drink) must be accepted and you must taste whatever is offered or, at least pretend to taste it by putting the food or drink to your lips. There is another alternative if offered a glass of vodka. You can put your ring finger in the vodka, remove your finger from the vodka and flick your ring finger into the air. Thereby, flicking drops of vodka in the air.
  • Don’t step on the threshold of the ger. You must always step over it.
  • When offered something, before taking it, touch it with your right hand while supporting the elbow with the left hand. This is also followed when giving something. The exception to this is when offered or giving a meal.
  • When exiting religious buildings, eg temples, step out backwards so that you do not show your back to the interior. To show your back is to show disrespect to the gods.

The children in Mongolia don’t get their hair cut until between 2 and 5 years of age. For girls, this is usually between the ages of 2 and 4 years. Whereas boys will have their first hair cut at 3 to 5 years of age. The reason for leaving the first cutting of children’s hair until this age is because it is believed they are born with their mother’s hair. The cutting (more like shaving) of the hair signifies the child becoming their own person and is celebrated with a hair cutting ceremony.

The khadag is a long piece of silk cloth (like a scarf). It comes in 5 different colours – blue, white, yellow, green and red – with each colour having its own unique significance:

  • Blue is the most sacred colour in Mongolian culture; representing Mongolia’s eternal blue sky. The blue khadag is the most common and can be given to anyone, regardless of age, to show respect.
  • White represents milk and is the symbol of purity. It is often given to mothers.
  • Yellow represents the sun and is the symbol of wisdom. It is given when you greet monks.
  • Green represents earth; being in tune with nature. It is the colour of inner peace and is only used in religious rituals.
  • Red represents fire and blood (as in circulation). It is the colour of life; of prosperity. As with the green khadag, it is not used to greet people but is only used in religious ceremonies.

To give or offer a khadag to someone or something is to show respect; the ultimate offering. To give a blue khadag to a person or animal is the highest form of respect. Driving through Mongolia, I would often see sheep and horses with a blue khadag tied around their neck. Our guide explained this is showing respect for the animal and it can’t be killed/eaten.

 

Mongolian cairn with blue khadags

The cairns (shrines) throughout Mongolia are mounds of rocks and stones for offerings.
Photograph by Speak Photography

 

The cairns (stone shrines known as ovoos) that dot Mongolia are festooned with khadags, primarily blue ones. Most Mongolians are Buddhist, but Shamanism still remains an integral part of Mongolian life. The cairns are erected by locals and travellers as a means of providing offerings to the local spirits; thus, showing their respect and honouring the spirits of the surrounding land. When you come across a cairn, you should always stop and show your respect by making an offering. The ritual entails walking around the cairn three times in a clockwise direction. As you do so, you make an offering while making a prayer or wish. This might be for a safe journey, good health, good fortune or for much needed rain. The offering can be a khadag, food, money, vodka, etc or a small stone. If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to stop at a cairn, the driver will honk the horn three times. At one cairn, our driver offered a blue khadag. We settled for a small stone each time we stopped at a cairn – and there were many.

My conclusion? Don’t forget to know before you go.

 

For more about Mongolia:

Unique Horsemanship Skills on Show at a Mongolian Horse Festival

Fossil Hunting at the Flaming Cliffs in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert

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WORLD WEATHER – anytime and mostly anywhere

World Weather Information Service Are you planning a trip but unsure what to pack because you don’t know what the weather will be? OR Do you ask yourself which month…

World Weather Information Service

Are you planning a trip but unsure what to pack because you don’t know what the weather will be?

OR

Do you ask yourself which month is the best time to visit a specific place for warm weather?

OR

Do you want to go to Asia, missing the monsoon season, but don’t know which months have the highest rainfall?

 

My go-to resource to answer these and similar questions is the World Meteorological Organisation’s World Weather Information Service.

 

Here you can access reliable weather forecasts and conditions for most world cities. Specifically, you will find:

  • current temperature;
  • 5/6-day weather forecast;
  • time of sunrise and sunset;
  • average minimum and maximum temperature per month; and
  • average rainfall and rain days per month.

Note: The averages are based on information gathered over a 30-year period.

 

The “MyWorldWeather” is the mobile application of the World Weather Information Service and is available from the App Store and Google Play.

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