With sandy beaches and sunshine for all, Florida sees more than 100 million visitors a year according to Visit Florida, the state’s official resource for travel planning.
While it is certainly one of the most intriguing places in the world, some of the hazards you could confront while visiting our SunshineState include:
- Theft, which is a common problem in any tourist area.
- Violence, which is less common but can still happen any time and anywhere.
- Beaches, where tourists might encounter serious sunburns and swimming hazards from wildlife and strong currents.
- Weather hazards, including hurricanes and violent thunderstorms.
- Dangerous wildlife, including sharks, stingrays, alligators, and venomous snakes.
Do Your Research
Spontaneity is fun. But being spontaneous in a place you are unfamiliar with places you at risk. Florida has areas that are not safe for those who are unaware of the dangers that exist here. Research the city you are traveling to. Talk to friends or family members who have visited that area before. Research the attractions that you want to see. Read online reviews from people who have traveled there. Often, those people will offer tips or advice.
Research the hotel or vacation home rental where you are planning to stay. Look for what reviewers say about the security of the neighborhood. Consider how you will be traveling. Are you taking your own car? Are you renting one? Are you relying on transportation? Make sure you know what the traffic is like in that area, as well as how to find the closest public transportation hubs.
Make a List of Emergency Contacts
Emergencies are frightening, and can be even more so if you need help and you do not know who to call. Before you travel, look up the numbers for emergency services in the town you are traveling to. You should also be sure you have the numbers for your doctor, your insurance carrier, and other people and businesses you might need information from in an emergency. Use a notes app on your phone to store these numbers and also write them down on a note card that can be laminated and kept in your wallet in case your phone becomes lost, broken, or the battery is dead when disaster strikes.
Along the same vein of preparing for emergencies, make an emergency plan to follow if something happens. The plan can help you prepare for the possibility of an injury, a fire, or theft. While thinking about worst case scenarios is not necessarily the most fun part of planning your vacation, it is important to be prepared.
Let Your Bank Know
With the prevalence of credit card theft, banks often question purchases that take place in places far from where you normally live and work. Most banks have the option through their app or website for you to inform them that you are planning to travel, the dates of your travel, and where you are traveling to. While it may seem strange to inform your bank of your plans, it can save you a lot of time, trouble, and disappointment to avoid a Florida purchase causing a potential fraud alert on your debit card and the bank placing a hold on the card while they investigate.
Leave Your Itinerary at Home (and Check in Often)
If you are traveling alone or with friends, make sure your loved ones at home know where you are headed. You do not have to provide a detailed accounting of where or how you plan to spend every day of your Florida vacation, but you do need to give a trusted friend or family member a way to find you if they need to. If possible, include the phone number of the hotel where you are staying, or contact information for the vacation rental. Even the address of the rental is useful. Other numbers to leave include contact information for the local police department in the place you are traveling to, as well as flight information if you are traveling to your destination by air.
Check in often with your trusted friend or family member, not only as a way to share how much fun you are having but also to let them know your daily plans or if your location or your accommodations change. These little details become a big help if the vacation does not go as you intended.
Keep Your Valuables Close or Locked Away
Tourist attractions attract thieves because tourists often carry a lot more cash and valuables on them than locals. They are also more prone to getting caught up in the sights and sounds of a new place and forget to keep a close watch on their belongings.
Some tips for safeguarding your valuables include:
- Ask your hotel about safe spaces for your valuables, such as a room safe, a locker, or a locked storage area. Keep your valuables locked away while you are out and about, carrying only the cash you need for the day’s activities, your ID, phone, and emergency contact information.
- When you are at the beach, ask yourself before dumping your belongings on the sand and heading for the water if the things you are leaving out in a public place are things that you can afford to replace. Never leave a purse or wallet on the beach.
- If you must carry your valuables with you, use a travel backpack with zippers. Make sure you always keep the bag where you will see or feel someone attempting to get into it. For example, if you are riding on public transportation, keep your backpack on your lap or use it as a pillow. Front style packs are convenient as they keep your belongings close to your body and in your sight.
- Be discreet when retrieving cash from your wallet. Do not pull out a stack of bills in plain sight of everyone in the store, as this merely alerts those with bad intentions that you have money.
- While you probably already know this, it bears repeating: never ask a stranger to watch your bag for you while you go to the restroom or grab something from a restaurant in the airport. There is a high risk that the stranger—and your stuff—will be gone when you return.
Be Careful Using Public WiFi
Internet connections are available all over the state. However, you should use caution regarding public WiFi as hackers are waiting for you to enter sensitive information such as passwords or credit card numbers. If you must rely on a public connection, be sure to set up a virtual private network that will allow you to access the internet securely while you are traveling.
Consider Travel Insurance
While travel insurance does not replace situational awareness and careful safeguarding of your belongings, it does give you the peace of mind that—if something were to happen to that high-priced camera you brought with you—it will be replaced. Be aware, however, that travel insurance policies often come with per item limits of $500 and may not cover the whole cost of your camera, computer, or other expensive items.
While you are thinking about insurance, it is a good time to check your other insurance policies. Will your health insurance policy cover you if you are injured while traveling? If you are taking your own vehicle, is your auto insurance policy up to date?
Practice Beach Safety
It seems simple enough: the beach is nice and you should go there. However, Visit Florida notes that you should take caution when enjoying one of Florida’s legendary beaches.
Some of those things include:
- Protect yourself from the sun. Sunburns happen quickly at the beach. Wear sunscreen and remember to reapply it often, particularly if you go swimming. Bring protective clothing and an umbrella. Wear UV certified sunglasses and stay hydrated with plenty of non-alcoholic beverages.
- Understand the meanings behind beach safety flags. A double red flag means that there is a danger and the water is closed to the public. A single red flag means hazardous surfing and current conditions. Yellow means moderate surf and current conditions, use caution. Green flags indicate low hazard, calm conditions. Purple means dangerous wildlife, generally jellyfish. Just because you do not see a flag does not mean you can automatically assume that no hazards exist. Hazards always exist at the beach, so stay alert and sober while you are there.
- Exercise situational awareness. When swimming or surfing, it is not unusual to find yourself blocks away from where you started. To find your belongings, group, or the area where you parked, be sure to take mental note of a landmark near your starting point. Look for that landmark if you become lost.
- If you find yourself being carried too far from the shore due to the current, try to remain calm and conserve your energy. Think of the current as a treadmill that you cannot turn off. You just have to step off of it. If you can’t get out of the current, tread water until it passes.
- If you hear thunder, it means that a storm is approaching. Avoid becoming the victim of a lightning strike by getting out of the water and off the beach.
Speaking of Weather…
The hurricane season in Florida lasts from June until November, with most hurricanes occurring between August and October. Because hurricanes are prevalent in this part of the world, you often can find reduced rates on travel and lodging during hurricane season. If you are planning a trip during that time, be aware that hurricanes can produce extremely dangerous conditions that make it impossible to get into the area for some time afterward and very difficult to get out of the area just before or just after the storm occurs. Even if the hurricane misses the Florida coast, the entire state can experience torrential rain and flooding.
Leave the Wildlife Alone
Florida is filled with wildlife. We have gators and snakes, birds of all colors, sharks and dolphins, black bears, panthers, and more bugs than you can count. Look and take photos if you would like, but do not touch. And whatever you do, do not feed the animals. Doing so is not only unhealthy for the animals, but it could result in a trip to the emergency room for you. This is particularly true in waterways, alligators, jellyfish, stingrays, and other animals can cause serious injury or even death.
There are two types of venomous snakes in Florida: eastern coral snakes and pit vipers. The former prefers wooded areas while the latter is generally found near freshwater sources. Two kinds of venomous spiders also live here (the black widow, which can be found anywhere in the state, and the brown recluse) as do a few poisonous frogs and toads.
Trust Your Gut
Gut instincts are more than just a saying. They are the feeling that something is not right. Maybe it is the stranger who is discreetly watching you on the bus. Maybe it is the feeling that the neighborhood where your vacation rental is located is dangerous, or the hotel where you are staying is lacking a lot in security. Whatever the situation that is making you uncomfortable, remember that if it feels like something is not right, it probably isn’t. Your safety is more important than a few days of vacation. If you are in danger, get to a safer place if possible and call for help.
We hope the steps above help you make the most of your next trip across borders or overseas. If you have sustained injuries on an international trip, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today.