You know the old saying: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. We generally support this mantra; to really get a true sense of a culture, and garner a greater appreciation for the locals during an exotic vacation, it's wise to try out various traditions and customs, whether that means tasting funky foods or participating in heart-racing activities. After all, we certainly haven't won our title as travel experts by playing it super safe. But we're not suggesting you risk your life in the quest to "do as the locals do." Here are five local practices around the world that are actually quite dangerous. We suggest you avoid them on your next vacation -- or at least read up on them now, so you can be best prepared to participate. If you can't be good, be careful!
1. Eating Blowfish in Tokyo, Japan
Called "fugu," blowfish (or pufferfish) is a local delicacy throughout Japan. Plenty of people -- locals and tourists alike -- eat it and make it through their meals just fine. Certified fugu-trained chefs study as apprentices for three years in order to learn how to properly remove the liver and reproductive organs. But if this process is not performed carefully, a diner can die within hours of eating the otherwise poisonous fish, that's often served grilled or in a raw-like, sushi form. We suggest playing it safe with this one, and instead opting for delicious, traditional Japanese sushi or grilled seafood at one of the luxe Conrad Tokyo's four on-site restaurants.
2. Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain
This one's a no brainer. Participating in the Running of the Bulls during Pamplona's San Fermin festival, which is celebrated every July, is extremely dangerous. Between 200 and 300 runners suffer injuries annually; some are minor (bruises and scratches from falls), while others are quite serious -- even deadly (goring and suffocating). And yet, since 1591, thousands of participants run along with the bulls every year. If you refuse to take our advice to sit this one out, here are some tips on how to stay (as) safe (as possible):
- Watch a run before you try to participate in one. There are several days of running throughout the week-long festival.
- Get plenty of sleep the night before.
- Be 100% sober. Seriously.
- The bulls generally round corners wide, so take the corners tight.
- If you fall, don't try to immediately get back up. This only makes you an easier target to get knocked over again. Stay down with your face covered until someone taps you with a newspaper -- this is a sign that it's safe to stand.
3. Polar Bear Plunge in Long Beach, NY
The "Polar Bear Plunge" is a winter tradition in coastal towns around the world. Vancouver's plunge has been taking place since 1920. Annual "winter swims" are New Year's Day events in the Netherlands and Scotland. And plenty of U.S. cities participate as well (often as a means of raising money for various charities); Maryland holds the country's largest plunge event, which benefits the Special Olympics. But New York's Long Beach hosts a polar bear plunge every Super Bowl Sunday, when thousands of participants flock to its shores.
This is a local tradition we're slightly less concerned about, as almost all polar bear plunge events are well-staffed with police and paramedics on-site, and volunteers who are ready to pull participants from the chilly waters almost immediately after they enter them. However, hypothermia is a real issue, so be sure to get dry and warm (think blankets and hot chocolate) right after you plunge. If you stay at the Allegria Hotel, you won't have to go far to hop in a steamy shower.
4. Riding on a Motorcycle in Bangkok, Thailand
Roads in Thailand are notoriously dangerous, especially in busy cities like Bangkok. The road fatality rate in Thailand is more than double the global average; with 45 road deaths per 100,000 people, only Nambia is considered "worse" than Thailand (which has 44 per 100,000 annually). Many of these deaths can be blamed on a lack of well-established road safety rules, as well as the fact that locals often pile onto motorbikes and zip between cars and buses to avoid traffic. Driving in general is hazardous, but it's especially so when you don't know the roads. Therefore, you should avoid hopping on a motorcycle in Bangkok. Instead, hire a driver through the front desk at your hotel, or use public transportation. The luxe Sofitel So Bangkok is conveniently located within a few blocks of the subway and skytrain; but with a rooftop pool, spa, fitness center, and numerous restaurants on-site, you may not even see a reason to leave.
5. Spearfishing in the Bahamas
Though it dates back to palaeolithic times, spearfishing remains a popular pastime today, particularly in Caribbean islands such as the Bahamas. Hand-carved spears have been replaced by elastic- or compressed gas pneumatic-powered spearguns and slings, but otherwise the practice remains very much the same -- and it can be dangerous. Tourists can make sure they get the proper instruction by booking spearfishing excursions (hotel staff at Paradise Cove Beach Resort is happy to arrange them), but potential risks include permanent ear damage from an inability to reach ear pressure equalization, accidental spearing by fellow divers, injuries incurred by nearby boats, drowning -- caused by rough waters or getting tangled in coral and/or nets, and even shark attacks (carrying around bloody fish on a spear probably isn't the best idea in the wide open ocean). If you want to leave it to the professionals, head to the sushi bar at The Cove Eleuthera, where daily specials are based on what the chef catches while spearfishing.