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All motorists know when they’re taking risks. City driving, in particular, has become aggressive and competitive. Here are some tips on self-defence for motorists. Going on holiday? Don’t let your brain take a holiday too!

On the move

Many people are constantly on the move, so this chapter deals with common situations that arise when you are away from home—on your way from A to B. Whether you’re driving, cycling, riding public transport, or catching an aeroplane to another continent, a little forethought can make your journey safer. Accidents happen, even on foot. In fact, the chance of you being injured or killed when out walking is around 1 in 900. Motoring accidents, however, account for around 6000 deaths per year, in Britain alone.


If it is true that you drive as you would like to live, there are an awful lot of frustrated jet-setters on our roads. However careful a driver YOU might be, there’s a maniac round every corner looking for an accident. Traffic accidents can be due to many factors, but these narrow down to three overall headings: the driver, the car and the road.

A responsible and careful driver of a well-maintained car on a road where visibility is good should be relatively safe. You owe it to yourself, your passengers, to pedestrians and other road users to do everything in your power to minimize the risks of motoring. But it’s essential to know what to do when the worst comes to the worst.

Defensive driving

In a nutshell, this means being alert to possible dangers BEFORE they become dangerous. It doesn’t mean crawling along at a snail’s pace with your eyes glued to the rear-view mirror, but simply adopting a kind of sensible road safety which should become second nature to every driver.

Normal conditions: town

Around 95 per cent of pedestrian accidents occur on roads in built-up areas. If you don’t want to contribute to this depressing statistic, you should increase your awareness of the hazards on every high street—try to anticipate what is likely to happen and be ready to react. In general, be alert, observant, and USE YOUR COMMON SENSE.

  • If there’s a bus ahead, watch out for passengers running to catch it or jumping off, even between stops.
  • Taxis are a law unto themselves, especially in large cities. Be ready for them to slow down or swerve with little warning and watch out for people hailing one from the kerb.
  • If you hear a siren, slow down and be ready to move to the side. DON’T stop, swerve or accelerate suddenly.
  • The people in the car in front are gazing at the shops, pointing or gesticulating. They may be looking for a parking space or a street number—or having a row—but they’re not aware you’re on their tail. KEEP BACK, or bip the horn.
  • Approaching a parked car: is there someone inside? Is the indicator flashing? Is there smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe? It could be about to pull out.
  • Check for signs of movement behind or between parked cars, and especially around ice cream vans—a child could run out suddenly.
  • In moving traffic, if brake lights go on on the car in front, touch your own brakes to warn the car behind.
  • Use reflections in shop windows at junctions and on blind bends to help you ‘see round corners’.

Normal conditions: town/country

  • Don’t assume the car in front is about to turn right because its indicator is signalling right—the driver may have forgotten to cancel it, or may change his/her mind.
  • Give cyclists as much room as you would a car. They may swerve to avoid a pothole. They may want to pull out.
  • Turning right at a junction? Make your intention obvious-signal, take up a dominating position on the road, pull out onto the crown to allow traffic to pass inside.
  • Be patient with learners-remember you were one once. They are unpredictable. If stopped behind one on a hill, beware of them rolling back before moving off.
  • Animals are also unpredictable (especially cats, which ALWAYS run the wrong way). Brake hard and keep in a straight line if one should run in front of you—swerving could cause a worse accident.
  • Headlight flashing should only be used to alert the other driver to your presence or as a danger warning. Never assume it means ‘please go ahead’.
  • Garage and pub forecourts are invitations to careless drivers. Watch out for cars braking and pulling in with little or no warning.

Normal conditions: out of town

  • Drive EXTRA carefully if there’s mud on the road, especially in the rain.
  • Drive VERY slowly past horses and avoid any sudden noise.
  • It’s best to wait for a flock of sheep or herd of cattle to pass.
  • Hay and mud can warn of a slow moving tractor ahead; droppings can warn of animals.
  • Farm produce shops and roadside stalls mean the car in front may brake or turn off suddenly. Be prepared for carelessly parked cars on the verges ahead.


  • Ensure your windscreen is spotless—reflected lights at night can reduce your vision dramatically.
  • If a car approaches with headlamps on full beam, DON’T look directly at them, but follow the nearside kerb until it passes. Retaliating by switching your own lights to full beam is offensive driving—in other words, likely to cause an accident.
  • In the country, be prepared for changes in street lighting and road surfaces at county boundaries.

Adverse conditions: fog

Fog is one of the most hazardous of all driving conditions. Not only is visibility severely reduced, but sound is muffled, the road becomes more slippery than during rain and it’s very difficult to judge distance or speed. Here’s what to do when you run into fog.

  • Day or night, drive with dipped headlights. Ensure the lenses are clean, since dust and dirt can reduce beam intensity by half.
  • Use fog lamps if you have them—they are low mounted and give a wide arc of light. If you have a single fog lamp, switch on headlights too to avoid being mistaken for a motorbike.
  • Drive SLOWLY. Since you should be able to stop within your range of vision, you might have to limit your speed to as little as 8kph (5mph).
  • Stay back from the car in front. Braking distance is some 20m (about 70 feet) more than in normal, dry conditions, and restricted vision slows reaction time.
  • Beware of driving in the middle of the road and following the Catseyes-you don’t want to meet someone doing the same in the other direction.
  • Following the tail lights of the car in front could mean following an idiot into a ditch or a head-on crash. Keep to the side of the road and follow the kerb instead.
  • Keep your window open. The unnatural silence is disorientating and you might pick up aural clues to the whereabouts of invisible things.
  • Use windscreen wipers and keep the inside demister on to clear the windscreen.
  • If you have to turn right, first stick your head out of the window and listen especially hard.
  • NEVER NEVER overtake—unless somebody is about to give birth on the back seat.
  • Leaning forward to peer through the screen makes you tense and tired. You’ll see-and drive-better if you try sitting normally.
  • Try not to park on the road. If you must, switch on hazard lights and set up a warning triangle 90m (about 100yds) behind-135m (about 150yds) on a motorway.

Adverse conditions: snow/ice

  • Service your vehicle so it doesn’t let you down.
  • Stock up with anti-freeze, windscreen wash, de-icer and scraper BEFORE cold weather sets in!
  • Carry a small emergency kit including food, flashlight, matches and first-aid kit.
  • Emergency triangles will alert other motorists if you get into difficulty.
  • Two candles can create sufficient heat to warm a car interior and save running the engine.
  • A shovel and a bag of sand (or even cat litter, which doesn’t freeze) could help get you out of deep snow.
  • In sub-zero temperatures, metal parts of the car may ‘burn’ the skin of your hands.
  • Heavy items in the boot will increase traction in a front-wheel drive car.
  • Check tyre pressures—if they’re low, grip is reduced. Inflate wide-grooved radial tyres slightly more than normal.
  • Pump the brakes to avoid wheel lock (this also warns the car behind) and don’t steer at the same time. Brake GENTLY.
  • DON’T drive peering through a small clear patch on a misty screen. Liquid soap or washing-up liquid rubbed on the glass will help prevent misting up.
  • Drive at low speed in as high a gear as possible. Stopping distance in ice can be ten times greater than normal and a high gear reduces the chance of wheel spin.
  • Uphill: try to ascend without stopping or changing gear. Wait at the bottom until you have an uninterrupted climb.
  • Downhill: descend very slowly in a very low gear and try not to brake.
  • Travel by daylight and use major highways.
  • Tell someone where you’re going—if something happens, you’ll be easier to find.

To get out of this slippery situation:

  • DON’T accelerate hard. This will compact the snow and probably force it into the tyre treads, too
  • Straighten the wheels and start in second gear
  • Place something under the driving wheels (is your car front-, rear- or fourwheel drive?) to provide traction. Sacking, cardboard, sand, grit, twigs, a rug, blanket or clothing will do. Dig/scrape the snow away as much as possible first
  • Get a push from your passengers, but...
  • DON’T let them stand behind the car-it could roll or slide back
  • DON’T stop for them until you’re on firmer ground


  • Try ‘rocking’. Drive forward as far as possible (in first gear, gentle revs), then quickly engage reverse and go back slowly a few inches. Repeat until you’ve built up a track
  • If that fails, dig the snow from around all four wheels and proceed with above techniques


If you find yourself trapped in a blizzard or snowdrift, you must above all KEEP WARM and KEEP AWAKE. DON’T try to go for help—there are plenty of cases of people dying of exposure a few yards from civilization.

Take your survival pack from the boot, CLEAR an area around the exhaust pipe so you can run the engine and heater without risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and stay in the car. DON’T run the engine constantly-too much heat makes you drowsy, you’ll create too much exhaust and you could run out of fuel-ten minutes an hour is sufficient.

DON’T keep the radio on-you’ll flatten the battery. Wrap up in clothing, blankets, car carpets, newspapers-whatever is to hand-and move limbs, fingers and toes from time to time so that you keep blood circulating.

Falling asleep is dangerous because your body temperature lowers and you could succumb to hypothermia. You could also suffocate, if the car gets buried.

DON’T drink alcohol as this also lowers the body temperature, as well as clouding judgement and encouraging drowsiness. Open a window (away from drifting snow) occasionally and, if the car is getting buried, poke a wheel jack or umbrella up through the snow to make an air channel.

If you’ re stranded with others, huddling together in one vehicle creates warmth and boosts morale. Take it in turns to nap. If another vehicle comes into range, possibly a rescue service, flash your lights and bip your horn. They may not be able to see your car, or may not realize there is anyone inside.


To be prepared for the worst, always carry the following: A shovel, sacking or grit, blankets, extra clothing, sleeping bag, wellington boots, a flashlight and spare batteries.

For longer journeys, especially out of town, add: Food, a flask of hot drink, a book or a battery-operated radio/tape player.

Adverse conditions: hot sun

What’s adverse about that? Apart from the problems of visibility due to glare, sunny skies tend to make for lapses in concentration—two thirds of all road accidents happen in good weather. Heat also flays tempers, and accidents are accompanied by unnecessary extra injuries when angry drivers come to blows. If your car overheats, stop to allow the engine to cool. If you are driving in unfamiliar territory and stopping is out of the question, switch on the heater. This will give greater volume to the cooling water and, although the inside of the car will get even hotter, the engine will cool.

When convenient stop and open up the bonnet. Do not undo the radiator cap until the temperature drops. Check the radiator and all hoses for leaks. If the radiator is leaking, adding the white of an egg will seal small holes.

If there is a large hole, squeeze that section of the copper piping flat to seal it off. It will reduce the size of the cooling area but, if you drive very steadily, you will be able to keep going.

Metal gets HOT. Be careful! All metal parts of a car can become hot enough to cause blisters.

When adding fuel in sandy conditions, sand and dust can get into the tank. Rig a filter over or just inside the inlet to the tank to prevent contamination.

If you’re involved in an accident, keep your cool. If necessary, stay in the car until the police arrive. Certain road surfaces soften in hot sun-check tyre treads since they can collect sticky grit this way.


NEVER leave children or animals in the car in hot weather unless you definitely know it will only be for a couple of minutes. If you must, open the window as far as you safely can and return soon. Invest in shades for front and back windscreens to guard against overheating the interior, when you can’t park in the shade. Perforated metal roll-down blinds are available to stick on side windows too.

Adverse conditions: flood

  • Try to assess the depth of a ‘sheet’ of water before entering, using other cars, trees, lampposts or depth marker posts as gauges or by throwing in a heavy rock.
  • NEVER drive fast through water. You could send a wave over the engine and stall it, you will obscure your vision and may skid.
  • Wait for other cars to go through first.
  • Drive on the crown of the road where the water is at its most shallow.
  • Drive slowly in first or second gear, keeping the revs high, and slip the clutch.
  • NEVER change gear in water and try not to stall. This can suck water through the exhaust and into the cylinders, damaging pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft.
  • Water higher than the fan blades-not even knee deep-will make them send a spray over the engine and can do a lot of damage.
  • Once through the water, TEST YOUR BRAKES-they’re probably soaked and useless. To dry them out, drive slowly with light pressure on the brake pedal, then pump them gently. Don’t speed up until they’re OK.

Skid control

When the tyres lose their grip and slide along the road surface, you’re in a skid. It happens principally when the car is being driven too fast for the road conditions. DON’T PANIC! You must first identify which wheels are skidding and then act swiftly and calmly.

FRONT-WHEEL SKID: You’ve turned the steering wheel, but the car keeps going straight. Usual cause: accelerating too hard into a bend.

In a rear-wheel-drive car, take feet off ALL pedals and gradually turn the wheel in the direction the car is moving. When the front wheels grip, accelerate gently and steer out. In a front-wheel-drive car, ease off the accelerator, retaining contact, and continue steering smoothly in the direction you want to go. When you’re back on course, straighten the wheels and accelerate gently.

REAR-WHEEL SKID: The back of the car swings round. Usual cause: taking corner too fast in a front-wheel-drive car.

Take feet off ALL pedals and gradually turn the wheel in the same direction the back of the car is sliding. When all wheels are aligned, accelerate gently.

FOUR-WHEEL SKID: The wheels lock and the car carries on travelling forward without losing speed. Usual cause: hard braking. Ease off the brake until the wheels start to turn. Once you can steer, straighten the wheels and pump the brakes to avoid locking again.


NEVER slam on the brakes as you start to skid. This ‘natural reaction is the worst thing you can do.


Not only inconvenient, but dangerous if you’re alone in a quiet area (see SELF-DEFENCE) or you’ve driven out of town in severe weather. If you carry a spare parts kit at all times, AND learn how to use it, you’ll be prepared for most situations.

Basic car maintenance

To minimize the likelihood of breakdown or accident (and reduce garage bills!), do these simple checks on your car once a week:

  • Keep the oil (the lifeblood of the engine) topped up (and don’t fail to replace it along with the filter at the recommended mileage).
  • Check for leaks (of ANY fluids).
  • Tighten loose spark plugs—check their leads are secure and look at the distributor to check the points.
  • Check/top up levels of brake and battery fluid, washer bottle and radiator.
  • Add anti-freeze to the radiator in winter.
  • Tighten exhaust manifold bolts.
  • Check alternator drive/fan belt.
  • Clean and grease battery terminals.


Despite All preparations and all your good intentions, something WILL go wrong. These temporary measures will help you to get to the garage or a callbox:

    SYMPTOM: Ignition light comes on whilst driving

DON’T use tights or string for a temporary belt, unless your car is an old model. Modern fan belts work under very high tension and most improvised belts won’t last a minute. Many modern engines are cooled by motor, but the ignition light might indicate a malfunctioning or broken alternator.

Carry a replacement belt. Failing this, let the engine cool (for about 30 minutes) and pick out broken bits of belt. Turn off unnecessary electrics (the battery won’t be getting topped up), then drive slowly in high gear for no more than 5km (about 3 miles).

    SYMPTOM: One part of electrical system fails

There should be spare fuses in the fuse box. If not, borrow one of equal rating from a less essential circuit, for example, the rear screen heater. NEVER use silver foil, ordinary wire or a paper clip to bridge a fuse-it could start a fire. 13-amp household fuse wire is OK.

    SYMPTOM: Obvious! You can’t insert or turn the key

Heat the key with a match and insert key until it turns. NEVER breathe on the lock—your mouth could stick to it and condensed moisture will make the problem worse.

    SYMPTOM: Engine won’t fire after too much choke Push manual choke in, slowly depress accelerator fully, hold down and turn starter for a few seconds. This should blast plug dry.

    SYMPTOM: Engine misfires or won’t start Lift off cap, scrape burnt plastic with nailfile/screwdriver and seal crack with nail varnish or drop of oil from dipstick.

    SYMPTOM: Pedal won’t rise, revs stay high

Hook your foot under the pedal to bring it up, signal left, look for safe place to stop. Braking will be hard if revs are still high. Make temporary spring of strong rubber bands with a wire hook. Drive no faster than 50kph (about 30mph) to garage and DON’T jab accelerator.

    SYMPTOM: Obvious! Toughened glass ‘crazes’, obscuring vision

DON’T punch a hole as you drive-you’ll cut yourself badly and could get glass splinters in your eyes. Lean forward to see, slow down and STOP as soon as possible. Cover heating vents, spread newspaper over bonnet and front seats, wear gloves or wrap hand, push ALL the glass out onto paper and wrap it up.

Fix tape around edge of screen or remove rubber flange and fit temporary screen if you have one. Otherwise, drive slowly to garage, wearing glasses or sunglasses to protect your eyes.


When driving on a road with loose chippings, place your hand on the inside of the screen. This helps dissipate the shock if a stone hits and may prevent shattering.

  • Spare wheel, wheel brace and jack (check the tyre pressure regularly)
  • Fan belt, emergency windscreen, headlamp bulbs
  • Fuses (at least one of each type for your car)
  • Length of HT lead (between coil, distributor and spark plugs)
  • Can of fuel (replaced every few months, as it deteriorates)
  • Can of water (replaced frequently), can of oil
  • Spark plug (only one necessary—they rarely all fail at once)
  • Strong elastic bands, rolls of insulating/plumbers’ tape
  • Spare keys in a concealed box outside the car
  • Screwdrivers (slot and crosshead types)
  • Spanners (including one for spark plugs)
  • Jump leads
  • Boiling wire (for temporary repairs to, say, exhaust pipe)

As well as the spare parts kit, cars should ALWAYS carry the following:

  • Warning triangle
  • Fire extinguisher-BCF or dry powder
  • First-aid kit
  • Powerful flashlight with red filter and ‘flashing’ mode
  • Maps


More than 20 times as many accidents happen in built-up areas as on motorways, and most are avoidable. Often they’re caused by sheer carelessness, as is proven by the most ‘popular’ times that they occur:

  • In summer and autumn
  • In good weather
  • On Sunday afternoons
  • Late in the evening
  • Closing time for public houses and nightclubs
  • After work

Fatigue creeps up slowly, especially on a monotonous ring road. Do you have full recollection of the last few miles? Are you yawning frequently? Are you imagining shadows are obstacles? You’re dangerously tired. Open a window, listen to a talk show (but only if you’re interested, otherwise it’s a soporific drone), chew a sweet, lick a linger and dampen the inner corners of your eyes. Stop for a hot drink.


Obvious as it may seem, ALWAYS try to avoid any head-on collision with another vehicle or a fixed object such as a wall or tree—these are the most dangerous accidents of all. Aim to scrape along a wall. Go for dense bushes, not a solid tree. If a car is heading straight for you, brake (not violently, or you’ll skid) and scan the road for an escape. Remember the other driver might try to pull over in the same place as you, so only turn when you see which way he’s swerving. Turn away from him, even if you have to side-scrape an ‘innocent’ car.


Statistics tell us everything we need to know about our driving ‘mistakes’. Unfortunately, the resultant death toll is enormous—and increasing. If you are honest with yourself, you KNOW if you are taking unnecessary risks when driving. Look through this list and see if you can make using the roads safer. Starting with the most common cause of accidents:

  • Careless, dangerous or drunk-driving on a straight road or ignoring/ misjudging traffic signals
  • Misjudging a right turn or crashing into someone turning
  • Overtaking dangerously
  • Bad parking or getting out of a parked car
  • Impatient driving—for example, overtaking on the inside or U-turns
  • Turning left and swinging out too wide
  • Stopping suddenly or unexpectedly
  • Pulling out carelessly or bumping the car in front in a slow queue
  • Reversing into something or someone

After an accident

If you are involved in any accident—major OR minor-the law requires you to take specific steps. Your insurance firm will need to know certain details. You may be injured or in shock—you will definitely be shaken up-but it’s in everyone’s interests to KEEP A COOL HEAD.


If there is serious injury, the first priority MUST be to apply first aid and call an ambulance. If fuel is leaking, and there is ANY danger of fire or explosion, DON’T smoke. Move everyone back to a safe distance.

  1. STOP! Even if your own vehicle is OK (for example, if someone else swerved to avoid you and crashed).

  2. If you’ve caused an obstruction, ensure there are no further accidents by getting someone to stop or direct oncoming traffic.

  3. DON’T argue about what happened, and don’t admit liability.

  4. If anyone saw the accident, take their name and address so they can make a statement to your insurance company.

  5. Call the police (and an ambulance) if there is serious injury, traffic obstruction or damage to vehicles or property. Inform them later if you damaged an unoccupied car—it’s an offence not to.

6.Make a sketch of the scene before anything is moved: road names, position of trees and lampposts, road markings, position of vehicles in relation to each other, length and position of skid marks.

7.Make a note of damage sustained by ALL vehicles involved. If you’ve got a camera with you, even better—you need as accurate a record of the damage as possible.

8.Collect names, addresses and registration numbers and give your own. If anyone refuses, note their car registration number—it can be traced.

9.If someone is injured, you MUST produce your insurance certificate there and then, or report to the police within 24 hours.

  1. Contact your insurance company within 24 hours and ask for accident report and claim forms. Supply them with full, accurate details and a written estimate of repair costs from a garage, any letters or bills from the other driver(s), plus any police ‘Notice of Intended Prosecution’.


Car fires are usually started by faulty wiring and/or leaking petrol. A fire may start as a result of a collision or a dropped cigarette on a garage forecourt or similar.

  • You must act quickly, to put out the fire
    Petrol is extremely volatile—if the vapour ignites, it’s likely that the tank may explode

  • Switch off the ignition
    In most cases, this will stop the fuel pump

Fire on the move

Coast to the side of the road, STOP and get everyone out of the car

Fire under bonnet

DON’T raise bonnet—you’ll fan the flames higher. Open it just enough to insert fire extinguisher nozzle. Direct at base of flames, from edge to middle, side to side-leave no patch unsmothered

If you have no extinguisher

Smother flames with any thick material to hand—car rug (wool, NOT man-made fibre), wool coat. Call fire brigade. Get all passengers back to a safe distance

Fire not under bonnet

Disconnect battery. Use fire extinguisher, if site of fire is accessible. Back off and call fire brigade


You MUST carry a fire extinguisher in your car. Keep it mounted on the dashboard or by your feet—NOT in the boot!


People may be expecting you to arrive. Telephone ahead to say that you are going to be late.


Why does mother despair when Johnny gets his first motorbike? Because a motorcyclist is eight times more likely to crash than a car driver. Why does Johnny want a motorbike? Because it combines the speed of a car with the freedom of a bike—and enhances his ‘image’. These also being the reasons for the worrying statistics.

The commonest cause of motorbike accidents is a driver failing to see a rider at a junction, and injuries are often far more serious than they need to be because of insufficient body protection. The manoeuvrability of a motorbike encourages recklessness, especially in experienced, (over)confident riders. Keeping out of danger on a ‘mean machine’ entails being VISIBLE, being PROTECTED and riding SAFELY.


ALWAYS keep your headlight on, even in daylight. Remember that the lamp-especially on machines under 250cc-may NOT be powerful enough to make you visible on its own. ALWAYS wear something bright coloured or fluorescent, especially at night and in poor weather. ALWAYS flash your headlight before overtaking and be aware of the driver’s blind spot. NEVER overtake on the inside.


ALWAYS wear a safety helmet (required by law in Britain) and replace it if the finish becomes crazed or cracked or once it’s saved you in a fall. It may look undamaged, but DON’T trust it. ALWAYS wear goggles or a visor to protect your eyes-against grit, wind and insects, as well as injury.

ALWAYS cover your body when riding, since even a minor fall easily results in nasty cuts and grazes. Leathers with reinforced knee and elbow patches give the best protection against abrasions (looks ‘cool’ too). Add a one-piece storm suit for cold or wet weather. NEVER leave off the gloves-your hands are very vulnerable. NEVER ride in any footwear other than sturdy boots with thick soles.


ALWAYS be aware of the vehicle in front. In dry weather, the safe braking distance is 1m (about 3ft) for every 1.5kph (about 1mph). Try this test using a road marker. It takes two seconds to say ‘only a fool forgets the two-second rule’ (test yourself with a watch to get the timing right). If you can fit it in between the car in front and yourself passing the marker, you’re at a safe distance behind. Pull back a little, to be sure. Remember to DOUBLE the braking distance on wet roads.

  • Pull more firmly on the front than the rear brake when riding upright on a dry road.
  • Use even pressure on both brakes on wet roads.
  • DON’T use the front brake when you’re leaning, turning or riding on a surface with loose grit.
  • DON’T line up or form a pack when you’re riding with others. Make a ‘V’ formation for maximum visibility.


Cyclists in the city are vulnerable-roughly 90 per cent of accidents involving bicycles occur in built-up areas. Around a third of these casualties are teenagers. Since no licence is needed to ride a bike, many cyclists lack proficiency or disobey (or are ignorant of) road signs and markings. But bikes ARE traffic and should no more ignore a red light, for instance, than should a car.

As with motorbikes, many accidents happen due to the cyclist not being seen, and—as with motorbikes—visibility, in conjunction with adequate body protection, good road sense and proficiency, makes cycling safer.


ALWAYS use front and rear lamps at night. In Britain, lamps and rear reflectors are required by law. A bike must not be sold without rear, front, pedal and wheel reflectors. Wear something made of retro-reflective material at night. Arm and ankle bands or Sam Browne belts are lightweight and effective. Wear bright clothing in the day and/or a reflective belt.


Wear a lightweight cycle helmet and consider using a filter mask to protect against exhaust fumes. It may not look ‘cool’, but surely everyone understands these days about the dangers of cycling (and breathing hard) on a regular basis in heavy traffic. Your long-term health is at risk. Investigate masks thoroughly. Some offer no real protection at all.


ALWAYS slow down as you approach a junction and keep a sharp eye out for cars turning out or crossing your path unexpectedly. ALWAYS use the correct arm signals.

DON’T hug the kerb-you need room to pull in if a car scrapes by. DON’T pass too close to parked cars-a door might open. DON’T help give cyclists a bad name. Drivers tend to think of bicycles as the mosquitoes of the road, so make sure YOU signal clearly, don’t wobble and don’t crawl along in the middle of the lane.


Though you’ll want to keep down the weight you carry, it’s advisable to take the following on EVERY trip:

  • Puncture repair kit
  • Pump
  • Spare valve
  • Adjustable or barbell spanner
  • Screwdriver

Public transport

The generally more-or-less efficient, more-or-less up-to-date networks of buses, railways, underground trains, coaches and—in some countries—trams and boats, are the principal means of transport for millions of city dwellers, and many thousands rely on them entirely for mobility. Most of us assume we’ll be safe on public transport, but sadly this is no longer necessarily the case.

Muggers and bag snatchers, pickpockets and rapists DO operate on public transport, and fire, crashes and breakdowns are ever-present threats. Wherever you’re heading, and especially if you’re going into unfamiliar territory, research the route beforehand. Not only will you find your way more quickly, you’ll avoid appearing lost and vulnerable by stopping to peer at maps and signs.

In many cities, you can ring a 24-hour information service for help with the route and an information line for details of how the services are running.


If you possibly can, tell someone WHERE you’re going and HOW and WHEN you intend to get there. That way, you’ll have raised the alarm in advance should something happen to you.

Underground train

London’s tube-along with other cities’ underground train networks-is not getting safer. Trains, escalators and lifts are deteriorating faster than the modernization programme can cope with. An ever-increasing volume of passengers puts extra stress on an already-overloaded system.


Avoiding danger every time you travel underground is largely a matter of common sense. If you’re travelling late at night, get in a compartment with other people—or preferably find another means of transport. If a rowdy or drunken group of ‘hooligans’ gets on, avoid eye-to-eye contact until the next station, then change compartments.

Especially if you’re a woman, don’t be shy of allying yourself with a fellow, trustworthy passenger if there’s somebody frightening in the carriage—chatting will normalise the situation and reduce your sense of fear. Also, two people are less likely to attract an attacker than a lone passenger.

Follow the New Yorker’s example and always read (or pretend!) on the tube so you avoid eye contact that could be interpreted as provocative. DON’T get deeply involved in what you’re reading, though. Keep alert and concentrate on what’s happening around you.

Keep valuables in a secure inside pocket or in a zipped compartment on the inside of your bag to foil pickpockets—especially during rush hours and at stations in the city.

In general, make yourself inconspicuous and remain aware of your situation. To prepare for the worst (and you MUST), see SELF-DEFENCE for advice on avoiding danger and dealing with attack.

The terrible and tragic fire at King’s Cross in 1987 provided proof—if proof were needed—that disaster can strike even in the most mundane of situations. Since that catastrophe, of course, smoking has been banned on most public transport, in London at least. This has gone some way towards reducing the risk of fire.

Recorded sex crimes on the tubes (from ‘flashing’ to rape), on the other hand, increased by 40 per cent in 1989, and the incidence and seriousness of random violence is on the increase. Controversy surrounded the London debut of the Guardian Angels—New Yorker Curtis Sliwa’s voluntary, uniformed crime-fighting organization-since some people felt, at first, that the Angels were more likely to incite violence than avert it (see SELF-DEFENCE: Guardian Angels). The signs are, however, that London’s tube network is beginning to catch up with New York’s beleaguered subway system—and EVERY passenger should be alert to danger.


Apply the same degree of common sense to bus, coach and tram journeys, especially at night. If you’re a woman on your own, sit near to the driver or ask the conductor to keep an eye out, and take care at bus stops in deserted or ill-lit streets.

Again, research the journey-look at a street map of the route you’re taking so you always have a rough idea of where you are. Make sure you’re familiar with the area around your destination (see SELF-DEFENCE) .


Again, common sense should keep you out of trouble on a train journey—many of the same rules apply. The ‘it is dangerous to lean out’ signs are NOT a joke. Trains may pass each other a few centimetres apart and poles, signs and other obstacles are often close to the tracks. You can imagine the consequences and, yes, people have been beheaded! Also, if the train jolts, you could be thrown out. NEVER try to close an open door on a moving train—move away from it and call the guard instead.

Although there is (statistically) far less chance of your being involved in a train crash than in a car accident, it’s a common fear—possibly because you have no control over what happens. If the train you’re on crashes:

  • You won’t have much time to think, but if you feel the emergency brakes come on, throw yourself onto the floor (clear of windows and doors), brace yourself against something fixed and pull your chin down to your chest to protect against whiplash. You MUST be supported when the impact comes.
  • NEVER try to throw yourself out of a moving train—your body would receive the full impact, instead of being partially protected by the carriage. There might be live tracks or pools of battery acid to fall into.

Water transport

You might think twice before stepping onto a riverboat, since the horrific night in August 1989 when 51 people perished in the middle of London’s Thames. Nobody could have predicted the Marchioness disaster-it was a freak accident, which is highly unlikely to be repeated. However, it is as well to be prepared when you’re travelling over water, even in the middle of a city.

Many aspects of water safety are taken out of your hands on a ferry, waterbus or pleasure cruiser. The crew MUST be responsible for passenger welfare—and trained to cope in any emergency. Certain situations, however, may call for an instant reaction.

Man overboard!

Your priority as a passenger is, of course, to alert the crew-IMMEDIATELY. The greater part of the following procedure will be their responsibility:

  • Start turning the boat to approach him/her from downwind and shout ‘man overboard’ to alert all crew to the situation. Throw life belts (BESIDE the person) and KEEP WATCHING. As you approach, stop the engine before hoisting them in (over the stern, in calm water). If the person appears in difficulty or is losing consciousness, someone (who MUST be wearing a life jacket) must jump in and help them.

You overboard!

How you cope depends on whether the water is cold or warm. In either case, your first action is to SHOUT and inflate your life jacket, if you have one.

COLD WATER: If you have a life jacket, curl up in the foetal ‘HELP’ (heat-escape-lessening) position to keep warm. If you have no life jacket, remove heavy footwear, but keep all your clothes on—even when soaked, they help you conserve heat. Try to float on your back, moving as little as possible and breathing slowly.

WARM WATER: If you have no life jacket, you can make a float from a pair of trousers by knotting each ankle, holding the waistband open behind you and whipping them over your head, trapping air in the legs. Failing life jacket and trousers, adopt the ‘drownproofing’ position—lying relaxed face downwards in the water, with arms forward. DON’T try to swim to shore when at sea or in a wide river, nor after the boat—you’ll exhaust yourself quickly swimming in clothes.


Fire on board a boat can spread rapidly, especially if the boat is constructed from wood/fibreglass. It is doubly dangerous, because of the proximity of fuel tanks. Again, the crew should deal with any fire, but if you discover it first:

  • SHOUT! Turn off the engine. Throw any burning equipment or fittings overboard. Get everyone out if the fire is below deck, close doors and hatches and fight the fire from above, so that you’re able to retreat to safety if necessary.
  • NEVER throw water on blazing petrol or gas. Use an appropriate extinguisher (see FIRE!).

Lifts / escalators

In many buildings there is little option but to use a lift to reach upper floors. Few people have the stamina to climb regularly to higher than four floors let alone the average 14 or 15 in a large block of flats! Many people may not be able to manage that sort of climb if, for instance, they are elderly, carrying heavy loads or have a heart or breathing problem. Lifts have been a part of life for over a hundred years. In principle, most are quite simple, but they can still suffer from frequent operating problems.

Types of lift

There are two main types of lift: hydraulic and traction. Almost all lifts operate electrically and are obviously to be avoided during known periods of power failures.

Hydraulic lifts, mainly in low-rise buildings, are driven by a pump that raises and lowers a ram (piston) and—with lots of variations—usually conform to one of the following principles. The ram may be situated directly beneath the car, pushing it up and down the shaft on guide rails OR the ram may be situated to one side of the shaft and use steel suspension ropes to pull the car up and down the shaft on the guide rails.

Traction lifts employ a motor, gearbox and brake to raise and lower the car on guide rails by a system of pulleys, steel suspension ropes and counterweights. High-speed lifts usually do not have a gearbox—they are driven directly by the motor.


In Britain, at least, it is a safety requirement that the steel suspension ropes in a lift are capable of taking twelve times the load imposed on them—so they are extremely unlikely to break. There is a minimum of two ropes (usually four or five), any ONE of which would support the weight of a full lift car.


Lifts used to have hatches in the ceiling, towards the back of the car, for engineers’ access. They were designed for engineers to be able to climb INTO the car—NOT for passengers to climb out. Most are locked outside the car. In Britain, hatches are being phased out. There have been very serious accidents when vandals or show-offs have used these hatches-probably because they saw someone do so in a movie.

Safety devices

The worst thing that could go wrong with a direct hydraulic lift (where the ram is situated directly below the car) is that—for one reason or another—there may be a sudden loss of hydraulic pressure. The car would sink to the bottom of the shaft, but would do so slowly.

If the steel suspension ropes were to break (in some hydraulic and all traction lifts) there is a non-electrical speed monitoring device. This recognizes that the car has begun to descend too rapidly—a ten per cent increase in speed will trigger it-and immediately engages wedges beneath the car to arrest the downward movement.

At the bottom of the lift shaft there are buffers which will absorb the impact of a falling lift car.

Lift doors must be closed before a lift will operate. If it is possible to operate the lift with ANY door open, do NOT use the lift. It must be serviced.

Some lifts (especially modern ones) recognize when the load capacity has been exceeded, and will not operate until someone steps out and lightens the load.

Automatic doors should always reopen if a person or object prevents them from closing. The car should not be able to move if the doors are not fully closed—someone could be caught in the doors. This is obviously a VITAL safety precaution.

Using lifts

When entering or leaving the lift car, check that the lift has stopped exactly level with the floor. This is a surprisingly common problem and causes many accidents, as people trip up or down the uneven levels.

The maximum number of persons the lift can carry will be clearly displayed within the car. Do NOT exceed it—some modern lifts won’t allow you to—although the greatest risk is that the motor will be electrically overloaded and break down. It is also possible that the lift will descend more rapidly than usual and trigger the speed-monitoring device—stopping the car anywhere in the shaft.

Lattice-gate (cage) lifts should ALWAYS incorporate a ‘stop’ button—in case someone or something gets caught in the lattice. Solid-door lifts may also have ‘stop’ buttons.

All lifts MUST have alarm buttons or emergency telephones. Alarm buttons simply sound a bell or buzzer to draw attention to the fact that there is a problem with the lift. If you can’t hear the alarm from the car, it may be sounding in a security office, the caretaker’s room—even in the street. Press the bell even if you cannot hear the alarm—in a power failure, a back-up battery will operate it.

Some emergency telephones are ‘hot lines’ to a rescue service. Some require you to dial an emergency number. If that doesn’t ring or no one answers, dial the fire brigade.


Do NOT hold automatic doors open by holding back the doors. Most have an override function-after several attempts to close, the doors will attempt to push any obstruction out of the way so that the car can move. A warning buzzer may sound at the same time. Use the ‘door open’ button instead.


Whoever owns the lift is responsible for any damage or injury caused by it. Whoever manages the lift MUST keep a record of reported operating problems and MUST ensure that regular maintenance is carried out. Every day someone must check:

  • The alarm button
  • The telephone
  • The ‘door open’ button
  • The ‘stop’ button
  • The lights
  • The floor indicators

It is also vital to report the failure of the car to stop exactly level with each set of doors. There should be no step up or down into the car.

Trapped in a lift

Stay calm. Keep others calm. Most people have seen ‘disaster’ movies and many will immediately assume that the car will plummet to the bottom of the shaft. Some will be angry as well as anxious, if they have an appointment that they will miss. Take charge. Understanding how lifts work will help you reassure others. Discourage anyone who starts to tell ‘lift disaster’ stories.



  1. Press the lowest and highest floor buttons, NOT all the buttons. If the lift car does not start moving again...

  2. Press the ‘door open’ button. You might be at a floor. It’s quite common for the doors to close, but for the car to stay put.

  3. Press the alarm button. You may not be able to hear it sounding. Hold your finger on it for as long as you like.

  4. There may be a phone. Some contact emergency services directly, whereas others work as ‘outside lines’. Call the number indicated on the lift instructions or call the fire brigade. If there is an outside line, don’t let anyone use it for personal calls until rescue has been arranged.

  5. If there is no alarm/phone, bang loudly and rhythmically on the doors. Several people should bang in unison using keys, shoes or coins to make as much noise as possible. Pause every few beats to see if you can hear anyone coming to help.

  6. If you have made contact with the outside, try to wait as calmly as possible.

  1. Q. Will the lift plummet down the shaft?
    A. Extremely unlikely. Even when power is cut to the lift, fail-safe brakes prevent the car from moving.

  2. Q. Could someone climb out of the hatch?
    A. Climbing out is possibly the WORST thing you could do. If you could get on top of a lift car, you would find it very greasy, dirty and slippery. A fall could easily prove fatal. Once out there, it is very unlikely that you could reach or open the door to the floor above. The hatch may fall shut and the lift may start moving. Opening the hatch breaks a circuit and immobilizes the lift car. DON’T TRY IT.

  3. Q. What if there is no engineer available?
    A. Rescues may be handled by the fire brigade, who are trained for lift emergencies.

  4. Q. What happens if there is no power?
    A. The lift can be winched up and down the shaft. Back-up batteries ensure that lights and alarms still function.

  5. Q. Is it possible to force the lift doors open?
    A. Sometimes—but you would probably not be able to reach or open the doors onto any of the floors. You might be between floors. When the car is halfway above a floor, the gap beneath the car would be extremely dangerous.

  6. Q. Is it possible to suffocate from lack of air?
    A. The car may become stuffy, but all lift cars have vents which will allow a flow of air. Some are concealed above ceilings or in gaps around the doors.

  7. Q. What if there is no response from the outside?
    A. This usually only happens in office buildings which are closed for the night or the weekend. In multi-occupied domestic buildings, there is a much better chance of attracting rescue, day or night. Even in office buildings there is usually a caretaker, janitor, security officer—or cleaners in the evening or early morning.

  8. Q. What if the lights go out?
    A. The back-up battery will give at least an hour’s light once power has failed.

  9. Q. What if it’s an office building and it’s the weekend?
    A. The worst that can happen is that you will have to wait until the building opens after the weekend.

Escalators / walkways

  • ALWAYS hold the handrail. If there was a power failure or someone pressed the emergency stop button, you and everyone else may fall. This is particularly dangerous on escalators. See Reading the signs.
  • DON’T stand so that your feet rub against the sides. The heat generated by the friction could soften rubber and plastic soles and drag them into the machinery.
  • STEP off the escalator—DON’T drag your feet over the comb. If edges are worn you risk a nasty accident.
  • GET CLEAR of the escalator/walkway as soon as you reach the end. If there are people behind you, they may have no choice but to shove you out of the way to prevent a ‘log jam’.
  • DON’T allow children to play on escalators/walkways.
  • ALWAYS carry pets, small children, pushchairs and prams, soft luggage or shopping. It may get caught as the steps ‘open’ and ‘close’ on escalators—or at the sides of escalators/walkways.
  • ALWAYS stand on and keep luggage to one side of the escalator to allow people to walk up or down.
  • When escalators are stationary, walk up and down with extreme care. The irregular depth of the steps could easily cause you to trip and fall.

Travelling abroad

The world is getting smaller! Once mysterious and inaccessible foreign lands are now equipped with airports, hotels and at least one branch of a wellknown hamburger restaurant. Tourism is BIG business; business is international. Whether it’s for a holiday or to strike a deal, most of us now leave hearth and home at least once a year, taking journeys across continents, time zones, cultural and language barriers—often quite unprepared.

The pitfalls of a foreign trip are legion. There are any amount of disasters that can—and do—befall even the most seasoned traveller. As we travel further afield, there are more local customs and laws to take into account.

This section addresses all aspects of our behaviour abroad—from practical considerations (such as staying healthy and safe) to matters of courtesy and fitting in with the local customs and culture.

Research your destination

You may think, if you’re only nipping a few hundred miles across a continent to lie on a beach for a fortnight, there’s nothing you need to know (and to some extent the travel industry has encouraged you to think that). But even in a place you THINK you know well, there’s ALWAYS plenty to learn-you’ve probably even been startled by an unfamiliar street in your own home town.

As soon as you enter a foreign country, you face many differences—language, diet, climate, dress, religion, customs and laws which may vary widely from those you take for granted, but aren’t necessarily obvious straight away.

It is a matter of courtesy and common sense to know what to expect in any situation. Even if you intend to do nothing but sunbathe, you might want to visit the local church or hire a car—do you need to cover your head/shoulders/legs? Is today a local holy day? Do you need an international driver’s licence/ special insurance? What are the local roads like? What the hell does THAT road sign mean?

On business trips it’s especially important to know how not to offend your host/contact/potential client, how to ensure they’ll be eager to welcome you back.


No matter what the purpose of your trip, when you’re abroad, you’re a GUEST in somebody else’s home.

Before you go


Up-to-date information regarding which vaccinations are mandatory or advisable for your destination is obtainable from the airline-they have a vested interest, since they are obliged to fly you home at their expense if you don’t have the necessary jabs. Additional vaccinations are advisable for visits to the tropics and subtropics, since the natural immunity of people from a temperate climate might not be strong enough to withstand the barrage of unfamiliar diseases. Your GP should be able to advise you, and administer the innoculations. Allow plenty of time before you’re due to travel.

Be prepared

A reliable guidebook to your destination is a worthwhile investment. Choose one for its depth of information rather than its lyrical descriptions—those you can write yourself You need specific details on ALL aspects of the country, which could be condensed under the following headings:


English is the native language of 330 million people-after Mandarin Chinese (748 million speakers), the commonest language in the world. Your hosts are more likely to have learned English than any other tongue, but take the trouble to acquire a few basic phrases in their language. It’s only courteous (at least) to ATTEMPT to communicate in the vernacular, and it’s often appreciated. In remote areas, it’s entirely possible that NO English is spoken at all, making a phrase book an absolutely essential piece of equipment.


Air travel means you can be freezing in an English February one day and sweltering in the tropics the next. Obviously you will need to know whether the heat you’re heading for is humid, as in Singapore, or fierce and dry, as in desert regions such as Egypt. In other words, extreme variation is possible, even within a single country—the coast of Senegal, for instance, is humid whilst the interior is extremely hot and dry. Forewarned, you will be able to pack appropriate clothing and avoid the most extreme seasons.


You should know not only that 1 kwacha = 100 ngwee in Zambia, whereas in Papua New Guinea you get 100 toeas for your kina, but also how many toeas a cold drink costs, how many kinas-if any-you’re allowed to import. Will dollars or pounds turn out to be more useful? Are there two rates of exchange—government and black market? If so, what are the risks? Are traveller’s cheques and credit cards going to be any use to you, and if so, which? Some countries have an inadequate supply of small denomination coins in circulation, and shops might give sweets or a box of matches in place of the odd penny.


Climate and purpose of trip will be the main factors in deciding what to pack, but you should find out what the locals wear. Do the women cover up-and do visitors have to do so, too? Are you going to offend people if you wear shorts? Is topless/nude bathing tolerated/restricted/ illegal? Is a suit and tie right for meetings?


A potential can of worms for the uninformed visitor. Eating in public during Ramadan or asking for an alcoholic drink in a Muslim country, women wearing shorts in Italian churches, entering a Burmese temple without a temple sash—all these will SERIOUSLY offend. Whatever your religion or attitude, you should be respectful of others’ beliefs if only by taking the trouble to find out what they are.


You DON’T criticize the monarchy in Thailand (it’s a SERIOUS offence) or touch anyone on the head; you DON’T use soap in a Japanese bath; you DON’T show anger in Bali ... Other countries have different concepts of what constitutes good behaviour. To avoid offending someone (or risking prosecution) with your rude unclean habits, learn what you can about your destination and respect its ways.


These days, of course, you can find the same bland ‘international’ menu the world over, but you invariably eat far better at local restaurants. Knowing something about the cuisine of the land will enhance your understanding of its people, not to mention your enjoyment of their hospitality. Rudimentary menu translation ability will enable you to avoid any foods you dislike or are allergic to, and steer away from the more unusual offerings-sheeps’ eyeballs, rat, insects and live monkeys’ brains are not as common as some people would like to think.


You MUST ensure you are innoculated against endemic diseases (see Immunization), that your travel insurance is sufficient to cover ALL eventualities, and that you take an adequate supply of any prescribed medication. It’s as well to know something about the standard of health care in the area you’re visiting—on the whole, it’s wise to avoid medical or dental treatment in Third World countries. Many countries have a favoured panacea for minor ailments—as anyone who’s been advised by a Greek doctor to swab themselves with their own urine (which has antiseptic properties) to the affected part can affirm.

Red tape

Do you need a visa? What are the customs restrictions? What would you do if you lost your passport? Is hitchhiking allowed? What if you’re arrested? As with health care, it’s as well to be prepared for the worst—collect phone numbers/addresses of the consulate, embassy and travellers’ cheque/credit card ‘lost or stolen’ departments in one place and keep them with you. Ensure your travel insurance covers legal costs.

The following list of the major vaccinations, when to have them, how long they last and for which destinations they’re required or advised is a general guide. ALWAYS check your vaccinations are up to date before you travel. NEVER assume you’ll be OK without them.

  1. SMALLPOX: On 1 January 1980, the WHO (World Health Organization) declared the entire world free from this disease, and innoculation is no longer necessary.

  2. CHOLERA: An acute infection of the small intestine, cholera is spread by the Vibrio cholerae bacterium in food or water contaminated by the faeces of someone suffering from the disease. Symptoms are severe fluid loss—profuse sweating, vomiting and diarrhoea (‘ricewater stools’). Over 50 per cent mortality rate, if untreated.
    Vaccination: At least six days before travel; revaccination necessary after six months—if within that time, no waiting period is required. Some (Middle Eastern) countries may require two injections. Required: Pakistan, India, Burma (renamed Myanmar). Many Middle Eastern and Far Eastern countries and parts of African continent. Gives limited protection. Avoid local water.

  3. YELLOW FEVER: Spread mainly by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, yellow fever—or yellow jack—affects the liver and kidneys. Symptoms include chills, headache, fever, black vomit and jaundice. It can be fatal.
    Vaccination: Only given in registered centres, at least ten days before travel and not within 14 days of any other live virus vaccine (except polio). Valid ten years and 100 per cent effective. Required: Central Africa (15°N of equator to 10°S), Central America (northern border of Panama state to 15°S of equator—except Bolivia and part of eastern Brazil).

  4. TYPHOID: The digestive system is infected by the Salmonella typhi bacterium, causing weakness, high fever, chills, sweats, a red rash on chest and abdomen and—in severe cases—inflamation of spleen and bones, delirium and haemorrhageing. Salmonella paratyphi A, B or C cause the milder paratyphoid fever.
    Vaccination: A course of two monovalent typhoid injections two-six weeks apart gives protection for up to three years. If time is short, a single injection gives some protection for six-eight weeks. Advised: Worldwide except northwest Europe, Canada and the USA.

  5. TETANUS: Affects the nervous system after contamination of a wound with the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Symptoms are muscle stiffness and spasm followed by rigidity, starting in the neck and jaw (hence ‘lockjaw’), spreading to the back, chest, abdomen, limbs and possibly the whole body, causing it to arch backwards. Accompanied by high fever, convulsions and extreme pain.
    Vaccination: An initial course of three injections of the tetanus taxoid, spaced out over six-twelve months, then booster every three-five years. A patient receiving an open wound, especially if dirty, should have a booster if their last was more than a year before. Advised: Worldwide.

  6. POLIOMYELITIS: Still a problem in the Third World, polio or infantile paralysis is spread by the faeces of people who have the disease and affects the central nervous system. Paralytic poliomyelitis is the most extreme, less common form, causing muscle weakness and eventual paralysis. All forms are more severe when contracted in adulthood, and there is no cure.
    Vaccination: The preferred form is the Sabin vaccine-three drops on a sugar lump, taken three times at monthly intervals. Pregnant women are given the Salk vaccine by injection. Booster every five years. Advised: Worldwide.

  7. MALARIA: Spread by the Anopheles mosquito, malaria is thought to have killed Oliver Cromwell, who refused quinine-then known as Jesuit’s Bark—on religious grounds. Nowadays the disease has left Europe (though it can theoretically be present anywhere warm where there is water). There are four varieties, of which Falciparum Malaria is the worst. Symptoms are high fever with alternate shivering and sweating, intense headache, nausea and vomiting.
    Prevention: There is no vaccine, but preventative measures are usually effective. Cover up and use insect repellant after dark when this type of mosquito bites (only the female bites humans). Take prophylactic Proguanil, Chloroquine, Pyrimethamine, Maloprim or Fansidar tablets, the first of which is available without prescription. ALWAYS consult your GP about malaria pills, however, as the map of resistant strains is always changing. You may have to take more than one type. Advised: Practically worldwide except Europe, Australasia, the South Pacific and North America.


From the life-threatening to the purely practical... Packing is the inescapable chore you must perform every time you travel, and it’s worth becoming an expert at it. Successful packing means you’re equipped for every eventuality, from a 14-hour delay at Charles de Gaulle Airport to sunstroke in Bombay.

The aim is to cut down the time you spend and the baggage you end up having to lug around. Most people ‘overpack’ shamelessly, which they come to regret when they can’t find a taxi at some remote stopover and are faced with a two-mile walk in the midday sun.

On a flight, for short trips, it’s worth trying to avoid using the hold for your luggage and packing everything into .your carry-on bag. That way you avoid the often-interminable wait for your luggage at the carousel. If you’re driving, the less you take, the less fuel you use.

Air travel

Other than jetlag, most people should experience no difficulties in modern civil aircraft-generally, the longer the flight the more uncomfortable, though! However, people suffering certain medical conditions should inform the airline when they make reservations.

The decreased oxygen in a pressurized cabin can cause problems for passengers with any form of heart disease or recent thrombosis, anyone suffering severe respiratory disease and elderly people with hardened arteries.

People with sinus trouble might experience sinus pain and earache owing to the slightly-rarefied atmosphere. This can also cause expansion of intestinal gases—uncomfortable for anyone with a recent gastric or intestinal lesion, operation or haemorrhage. If in doubt, ask your doctor, or even the airline- all the major ones have medical departments.

Plane crashes

Actually, there is a common problem with flying. It is FEAR. Since flying is far safer than motoring, this fear is irrational, if understandable. Doctors think it’s more about the loss of control or a mild claustrophobia than a belief that the plane will go down. REMEMBER! You are more likely to die in your armchair (from coronary diseases) than in a plane crash!

You will, of course, have listened and watched CAREFULLY during the cabin crew’s demonstration of emergency procedure-if the unthinkable happens, you will know roughly what to do. Sixty per cent of plane crashes actually happen on take-off or landing, so you may as well relax for the most part of the flight. The cabin crew are highly trained in all aspects of emergency drill and will guide you, if anything does happen. DON’T add to the horror by screaming and panicking-be the one that helps the crew. Keep up morale and comfort others.

  • Ensure each garment can be worn with several others (it used to be called ‘mix and match’?). That way you get more mileage out of fewer clothes. Favour crease-resistant fabrics.
  • Fit the sleeves of one shirt/blouse over the sleeves of the next, button it up, and continue until you’ve ‘put them all on’ the first, then roll the whole thing up. You end up with a bundle that takes up only a little more space than a single shirt, and you prevent creasing. Do the same with skirts, jackets and trousers.
  • Roll up socks, tights, underwear and stuff them into shoes.
  • Shoes are the heaviest items, so take only one spare pair.
  • If you’re going to need an overcoat and heavy jacket, wear them.
  • If you make frequent business trips, refine your packing technique until everything fits in a briefcase—it is possible!
  • DON’T be tempted to cram the suitcase full. You’re bound to need space for souvenirs/duty-free goods etc.
  • Take only as much shampoo, sunscreen, soap and the like as you can use in the time. There ARE shops in other countries?
  • Take a leaf out of the backpacker’s book—tear up your books! Buy paperbacks and discard sections as you read them. Tear out the relevant pages of guidebooks and leave the rest at home.
  • Pack essential overnight requirements in your carry-on bag, so that you can cope with long airport delays or if you lose your luggage.
  • Bring film for your camera—it invariably costs more abroad.
  • Wear a moneybelt for your valuables.

ALWAYS attach name/address labels to your cases to differentiate them from similar ones and to identify lost luggage. Mark your cases inside too.

ALWAYS attach something to your luggage to make it instantly recognizable on the carousel—a bright strap, bright tape on the strap or handle, a sticker. It is not vital for you to spot your luggage quickly, but it may be vital to stop someone with similar baggage from taking yours.

ALWAYS ensure your bags are strong and securely fastened—tie a belt round dodgy cases. Baggage handlers invariably hurl the luggage about and it’s inconvenient, not to mention embarrassing, to find your dirty laundry scattered over the conveyor.

NEVER pack cash, valuable jewellery, important papers, fragile items, liquids or vital medications.


The following must NOT be carried on board an aircraft or even checked in:

  • Compressed gases (including butane cylinders for camping, aqualungs, lighter fuel, even hairspray)
  • Corrosives (including mercury and wet-cell batteries)
  • Explosives (including flares and fireworks)
  • Flammable liquids (including lighter fuel, paint, white spirit)
  • Radioactive materials
  • Oxidizing material (including bleach and peroxides)
  • Poisons (including insecticides and weedkillers)
  • Infectious substances

The following must ONLY be carried in checked bags:

  • Firearms (you must declare that they are unloaded)
  • Toy guns
  • Knives, scissors and similar

You will probably be asked a series of questions about your luggage at checkin. Normally these are:

  • Did you pack your bags yourself?
  • Do your bags contain a wrapped gift/parcel, which YOU did not wrap?
  • Have you left your bags unattended at any time since you packed them?
  • Do they contain any electrical equipment-and any of the other items from the above list?

Sea travel

Since the Herald of Free Enterprise went down yards from Zebrugge harbour in 1987, some people might have thought twice about the risks involved in travelling by sea. That disaster created such a stir, however, partly because it was so unprecedented. Nowadays ferry operators have been obliged to check into their standards of safety. On a modern ferry, ship or cruise liner, the worst problem you’re likely to encounter is seasickness.

Just about all ships these days are fitted with stabilizers which cut down the severity of the rolling motion. Often, once you become accustomed to the motion, you find your ‘sea legs’ and can enjoy the crossing. Otherwise, travel-sickness pills are very effective. Beware of taking these on a short ferry crossing, when you intend to drive afterwards—they can cause severe drowsiness. AVOID mixing such tablets with alcohol.

As on aeroplanes, the crew is highly trained in emergency procedures, so if anything serious does go wrong, you will be advised what to do. Long cruises always begin with a muster drill, for which you will wear your life jackets. Note the positions of muster stations on shorter crossings, if you’re feeling nervous. Bon voyage!

First-aid kit

Obviously, if you’re going to Paris or New York for the weekend, items such as antimalarial tablets will be unnecessary. Know your destination! What will you be likely to need? Make your own check list.


If you are prone to a recurring condition (haemorrhoids, mouth ulcers, gingivitis, cystitis), don’t forget to include your usual medication—it might be unavailable or very expensive. If you are receiving prescribed medication, make sure you take enough to last for the trip.


If you’re travelling to a Third World country, it has been suggested you could take this kit to protect against contaminated blood or equipment should you need emergency treatment (to be administered by a doctor):

  • 2 x 5ml syringes
  • 1 x 10ml syringe
  • 4 x red needles 23g x 1¼"
  • 4 x green needles 21g x 1½"
  • 1 x scalpel handle, plus blades
  • 2 x curved needles with fixed silk sutures 26-30mm

If you’re staying a long time, consider including:

  • 2 x Macrodex saline plasma expander 500ml
  • 2 x Dextrose saline 500ml
  • 3 x intravenous infusion sets

If you have any medical condition that could affect your ability to travel safely, or your comfort abroad, seek medical advice before you leave home. You need to be aware of any special risks, how much medication to take with you and who to contact if you have a problem. It really would be worth learning some likely phrases such as: ‘I am a diabetic. My bag has been stolen. I am in desperate need of insulin.’ Among the groups who should seek advice are anaemics, asthmatics, arthritics, diabetics, epileptics, haemophiliacs and those who have recently suffered a heart attack. Pregnant women should also check before travel.

When you arrive

Apart from having all the necessary vaccinations before you leave home, there are certain precautions you can take to minimize the risk of falling ill or having an accident.

Food and drink

Funny tummy, Delhi belly, Montezuma’s revenge, Rangoon runs, Aztec two-step, Tokyo trots—whatever you call it, traveller’s diarrhoea is practically an occupational hazard of leaving home—or it is for those who don’t take care.

This holiday blight has been shown to be more prevalent among the under-30s than in older people. Possibly older people tend to have travelled more and developed immunity to foreign bugs, or they may be more careful and sensible eaters.

Still, a change of climate and diet alone can upset the system enough to make you prone to infection. Nobody seems quite certain whether traveller’s diarrhoea can be entirely avoided. Generally it lasts no more than three days.


If diarrhoea persists for a week or more, you MUST seek medical attention-it could well be a symptom of something more serious. Typhoid and the paratyphoids, cholera, amoebic or the bacillary dysenteries, giardiasis and various worm infestations all start with these symptoms.

Many cases of holiday diarrhoea are due to germs finding an ideal habitat in poorly-cooked or unhygienically-kept food or in the local water supply, from which they find another ideal habitat in your body. Don’t give them a chance! Avoid:

  • Unsterilized water
  • Unboiled milk
  • Bottled water with a broken seal on the cap
  • Ice cubes-they usually ARE local water
  • Unpeeled fruit-including tomatoes and cucumber
  • Salad, unless washed in safe water
  • Watercress
  • Tepid cooked food or food from a display
  • Shellfish, unless very hot and fresh
  • Food from street traders
  • Locally-made ice cream-stick to proprietary brands
  • Anything from a fly-infested restaurant

If you do succumb, you could take a diarrhoea remedy, but it may be better to let the infection take its course. Do what you have to do. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, preferably bottled water (not tea, coffee OR fruit juice—they’ll irritate the stomach further). Eat nothing—or a little bland food—and rest until the storm has passed.


The contraceptive pill and other medicines are likely to be expelled from your body before they’ve taken effect.


Being involved in an accident away from home can be a miserable, or even a fatal, experience. Of course, misfortune can befall you anywhere, but don’t imagine a holiday means a holiday from being sensible.

The first priority is to make sure your insurance is adequate to cover medical costs at your destination. It’s difficult to be over insured if you’re heading for the USA or Canada-go for the maximum cover. You can buy insurance from your travel agent along with the tickets, or direct from an insurance firm. It’s usually included in a travel package which covers cancellation and lost or stolen property too.

Take the original cover note with you, and make a copy to leave at home. Check whether you need to inform the insurance company straight away if you make a claim, and get a receipt if you need to pay upfront for any treatment.

As always, keeping safe is a matter of common sense-a virtue that sometimes deserts otherwise quite sane people in the excitement of being on holiday. Driving abroad-though you may be on the ‘wrong’ side of the road-is just the same as driving at home. That’s to say, even if the police aren’t so vigilant, you NEVER drink and drive. If everyone else seems to drive like a maniac, YOU must observe all the safe practices of defensive driving you use at home.

Assess the risks

Be careful with mopeds and motorbikes in holiday resorts. They’re often very old and badly maintained. If you’re not used to riding one, it might be better not to learn on a pitted road with loose stones, a sheer drop on either side, hairpin bends and local drivers driving towards you at enormous speeds.

In fact, if you try any activity for the first time-windsurfing, parascending, skiing, waterskiing—make sure you get some lessons, and that your teacher is competent/ qualified. If you don’t speak the local language, look for a teacher who speaks enough English for you to be able to understand the instructions.

If you do hire a car, try to patronize a reliable firm. If you’re unsure of the quality of the vehicles, don’t be shy—use the following check list to vet the car:


Before you drive:

  • Does the ENGINE start easily first time?
  • Check TYRE treads and pressures. Is there a jack and tools for changing the wheel? Check the SPARE TYRE too
  • Is the tank full of FUEL? Is OIL at the correct level?
  • Is there enough WATER in the cooling system? Washer bottle?
  • Do SEATBELTS fasten, unfasten and retract?
  • Do all ELECTRICS, especially lights and wipers, work?
  • Do all DOORS open and close? Do the KEYS work?

Now check you have all the necessary documentation, and preferably a handbook too. Note any dents, scratches and chips in case you’re charged for them. Drive round the block before accepting the car

  • Is the CLUTCH smooth?
  • Are the GEARS easy to find? Do they crunch?
  • Are the BRAKES smooth? Are they even? Do they screech?
  • Do all the INSTRUMENTS work?

DON’T walk alone in unfamiliar territory—especially in extreme cold or heat. If you must, then tell someone where you are heading and when you expect to be back. All sorts of unforeseen hazards await the unwary rambler—from sudden mist and storms, wild animals, falls, all forms of attack to simply getting hopelessly lost.


When you transfer yourself suddenly from a temperate climate to tropical heat, your body does not rise in temperature. Conversely, your temperature doesn’t fall in extreme cold. Instead, the ‘heat regulator’—the hypothalamus—situated in the brain, springs into action to acclimatize your body. It is thought to take up to six weeks for full acclimatization to be complete, but most of the changes occur within the first two weeks.

What are the changes? The resting temperature of your body actually falls, encouraging your glands to sweat more copiously for longer periods, starting at a lower temperature. It is the evaporation of the sweat which increases the heat lost by the body.

Heat is also transferred from inside the body to the surface at a higher rate, in order that heat can be further lost via convection. That happens through an increased flow of blood to the skin, and dilation of surface blood vessels starting at a lower temperature.

Factors that slow the rate of acclimatization are age, fatigue and obesity—and a low testosterone level (the male hormone that stimulates sweat). In other words, an overweight female pensioner, tired from a long journey, is going to feel uncomfortable! Here’s how to help YOUR body adjust:


The MOST important step is to increase your intake of fluid. It is essential that your body sweats sufficiently—you MUST constantly replenish the water (and salt) lost in this way. Drink two litres, plus one, per 10°C (one pint of water per 10°F) EVERY 24 HOURS. Yellow-coloured urine is a sign you are not drinking enough.

It isn’t often that you’re advised to eat more salt, but your body requires around double the normal amount in tropical heat. NEVER raise your salt intake without increasing your fluid intake accordingly. NEVER rely on any alcoholic drink to replenish your fluid levels.


Nylon and other man-made fibres are the WORST things to wear. They barely absorb moisture, and you can end up with the extremely uncomfortable skin rash, prickly heat, because you’re living in a pool of sweat.

Since it is necessary for the sweat to evaporate to keep the body cool, what you Wear is important. Loose (to trap a layer of air) light clothing made of absorbent fabric is the rule-White cotton is by far the best choice. Cotton absorbs 50 per cent of its Weight in Water. White clothing reflects the light, reducing the solar heat load by up to a half.


These days, much publicity is given to the dangers of excessive sunbathing-to the extent that one is less likely to feel envy for a White-skinned person burnt to that once-fashionable nut- brown colour. The link between sun exposure and skin cancer has now been proven, and the incidence of malignant melanomas in temperate countries has been rising at a rate roughly equivalent to the spread of mass tourism.


If you WANT skin cancer, statistics indicate that all you need to do is work in an office for 50 weeks a year, then lie on a beach for the other two-preferably using tanning oil that offers insufficient protection and acquiring a nasty case of sunburn in the first few days. Anyone with red or blonde hair and/or a freckled skin will be particularly susceptible.

Sensible tanning

  • Use a high SPF (sun protection factor) cream or lotion on ALL exposed parts for the first few days, changing to a lower SPF only once your skin has darkened.
  • REMEMBER! The SPF levels of sun preparations are not standardized. One company’s factor 15 might be the same as another’s factor 32.
  • Especially if you’re fair skinned or unused to the sun, consider a total sunblock for vulnerable areas (bridge of nose, knees, shoulders, breasts).
  • REMEMBER! Burning rays reflect off water, snow and white sand, intensifying their effect. Always use waterproof lotion for swimming, since the rays penetrate several feet below the surface.
  • The sun can burn even through glass, clothing and in shade. A cloudy sky is not a protection against sunburn.
  • ALWAYS build up your sun exposure time gradually. 15 minutes is quite sufficient for the first day, especially if it’s winter back home. In general, you can double your exposure time daily, but use your common sense! YOU know how your skin reacts to sun.
  • NEVER go out in the midday sun! In fact, avoid it between 11am and 2pm.
  • Never fall asleep in the sun. Sunburn is dangerous, especially if the skin blisters. The medical names for sunburn are acute actinic dermatitis and solar erythema—let that put you off!

SUNSTROKE/HEATSTROKE: Normally this unpleasant condition is heat syncope, or heat collapse, brought on by sudden, prolonged exposure to heat and is not serious. Symptoms of the mild form are dizziness, fatigue, nausea and fainting, possibly accompanied by blurred vision and yawning. Treatment is rest in a cool room and plenty of fluids.

Heat hyperpyrexia, or heatstroke, however, is far more serious and potentially life-threatening if untreated. The body temperature rises to 40-41°C (105-106°F) due to the failure of the heat regulation mechanisms, sweating stops and the patient loses consciousness.

The moment you suspect hyperpyrexia, SEEK URGENT MEDICAL ATTENTION. Cool the casualty, preferably by spraying with cold water in a stream of dry air, or by wrapping in a wet sheet or immersing in a cool bath. It is VITAL to take the casuaIty’s temperature (rectally) every five minutes or so and STOP the cooling procedure as soon as it drops to 39°C (102°F).

The casualty MUST drink plenty of water and take salt. This can be given intravenously if unconscious. This condition tends to be rare in the ordinary traveller-expatriate manual workers in hot climates are most at risk.


You sweat just as much in dry heat, but the sweat evaporates. In a humid climate, the atmosphere is all but saturated with moisture already and can’t absorb much extra. This means your sweat stays with you, and you may believe you’re sweating more copiously. You’re not.

A relative humidity of 40-70 per cent is generally agreed to be comfortable for humans, with an air temperature of 15.527°C (60-80°F). Mogadishu (Somalia) has a maximum relative humidity of 81 per cent; Bahrain, 89 per cent; Mauritania, 91 per cent; and Oman, 94 per cent! Top of the hell-on-earth league, though, is the United Arab Emirates, where it is possible for the air to become saturated to the maximum—100 per cent relative humidity.


Several important cities are at or higher than 1830 metres (about 6000 feet) above sea level—for instance, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Bogota and Mexico City (the most populous city in the world, incidentally, with some 19 million inhabitants). On arrival, you will undoubtedly find you are shorter of breath than usual, owing to the rarified atmosphere - there is less oxygen in the air.

Tolerance for altitude varies considerably from one person to another, but the symptoms of ‘mountain sickness— headache, nausea and shortness of breath—are very unlikely to appear in anyone below 3050 metres (10,000 feet).

The body copes with altitude by making new blood cells to enable you to take in more of what little oxygen there is—this process takes up to three weeks. So, even if you feel quite well, you should NOT exert yourself when you arrive. The British athletes at the 1980 Olympics were brought to Mexico City-which is 2255 metres (7400 feet) above sea level—four weeks before the Games and were forbidden to train at all for the first four days to allow their systems to adjust.


In a very cold climate, the small arteries (arterioles) become restricted, reducing the flow of blood to the surface in order to maintain warmth. This increases the blood pressure, meaning that the heart works harder and needs more oxygen. Angina sufferers feel worse in the cold, and those with arteriosclerosis (hardened arteries) will suffer freezing cold feet and hands, since the blood flow is impeded.

In extreme heat, loose clothing traps a layer of air and encourages perspiration. In the cold, you should also wear loose clothes-this time to trap warm air. The rule is, wear several layers—you stay much warmer than with one thick jumper. Clothing should be close fitting, but not tight enough to restrict movement or prevent that insulating layer of air.

Don’t wear TOO much. If you sweat profusely, the moisture can freeze. Equally, ensure that your outer clothing always stays dry. Extremities (toes, fingers and especially ears) are prone to frostbite.

Time zones

Aside from climate changes, the traveller has to cope with readjusting to different time zones. It’s a peculiar fact of modern life that you can now get around the world so fast that you can live through a few hours twice, or never have them at all.

The internationally-agreed time change line is drawn along the 180° meridian, zig-zagging around lands in the Pacific. For every 15° of longitude, the time changes by one hour—backwards (or behind Greenwich Mean Time), to the west and forwards (ahead of GMT), to the east.

As we now know, the ‘unnatural’ speed of travel across time zones upsets your body clock. Apart from this problem of jetlag ALWAYS take into consideration the time at which you will reach your destination. It is not fun to arrive exhausted in a strange city in the small hours after a 12-hour flight!


Flying across time zones disturbs not only your sleep patterns, but also your pulse rate, body temperature, reaction time and decision-making abilities. Bowel movements and urination times are usually affected too, possibly leading to temporary constipation and further disturbance of sleep through having to get up in the night to urinate.

It has been proven that jetlag is twice as bad after eastbound flights than westbound, whatever the time displacement. Flying north-south has no effect apart from the normal journey fatigue. Jetlag is not usually dangerous, it’s more a case of inconvenience.

  • Time your journey so that you can go to bed as near to your ‘old’ home bedtime as possible
  • DON’T make decisions or enter an important meeting straight after arrival. Your faculties will be greatly impaired
  • Try to take it easy for the first 24 hours after arrival
  • Use an aperient and/or mild sedative on arrival for constipation and insomnia ONLY if absolutely necessary
  • Diabetics should take their meals and administer insulin injections at the ‘old’ time during long flights, then change their routine on arrival. Always notify the airline in advance