Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (tel. 716/754-4883 or 416/652-0137 in Canada; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns, and for lists of local doctors. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/232-4636; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on health hazards by region or country and offers tips on food safety. The website www.tripprep.com, sponsored by a consortium of travel medicine practitioners, Travel Health Online, may also offer helpful advice on traveling abroad. You can find listings of clinics overseas at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels -- otherwise they won't make it through airport security. Visitors from outside the U.S. should carry generic names of prescription drugs. Medications are readily available throughout San Diego at various chain drugstores such as Walgreens (www.walgreens.com), Rite-Aid (www.riteaid.com), and CVS (www.cvs.com), which sell pharmaceuticals and nonprescription products. If you need a pharmacy after normal business hours, the following branches are open 24 hours: CVS, 8831 Villa La Jolla Dr., La Jolla (tel. 858/457-4480), and 313 E. Washington St., Hillcrest (tel. 619/291-7170); and Rite-Aid, 535 Robinson Ave., Hillcrest (tel. 619/291-3705). Local hospitals also sell prescription drugs.
For U.S. travelers, most reliable healthcare plans provide coverage if you get sick away from home. Foreign visitors may have to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later.
Safety -- San Diego is a relatively safe destination, by big-city standards. Of the 10 largest cities in the United States, it historically has had the lowest incidence of violent crime per capita. Tijuana, on the other hand, has seen a dramatic rise in violence.
Virtually all areas of San Diego are safe during the day. In Balboa Park, caution is advised in areas not frequented by regular foot traffic (particularly off the walkways on the Sixth Ave. side of the park). Transients are common in San Diego -- especially downtown, in Hillcrest, and in the beach areas. They are rarely a problem but, like anyone, can be unpredictable when under the influence. Downtown areas to the east of PETCO Park are sparsely populated after dusk, and poorly lit.
Parts of the city that are usually safe on foot at night include the Gaslamp Quarter, Hillcrest, Old Town, Mission Valley, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, and Coronado.
Avoid carrying valuables with you on the street, and keep expensive cameras or electronic equipment bagged or covered when not in use. If you're using a map, try to consult it inconspicuously -- or better yet, study it before you leave your room. Hold on to your pocketbook, and place your billfold in an inside pocket. In theaters, restaurants, and other public places, keep your possessions in sight.
Always lock your room door -- don't assume that once you're inside the hotel, you are automatically safe and no longer need to be aware of your surroundings. Hotels are open to the public, and security may not be able to screen everyone who enters.
Driving safety is important too, and carjacking is not unprecedented. Question your rental agency about personal safety, and ask for a traveler-safety brochure when you pick up your car. Obtain written directions -- or a map with the route clearly marked -- from the agency, showing how to get to your destination. San Diego's airport area, where most car-rental firms are based, is generally safe. If you drive off a highway and end up in a dodgy-looking neighborhood, leave the area as quickly as possible. If you have an accident, even on the highway, stay in your car with the doors locked until you assess the situation or until the police arrive. If you're bumped from behind on the street or are involved in a minor accident with no injuries, and the situation appears to be suspicious, motion to the other driver to follow you. Never get out of your car in such situations. Go to the nearest police precinct, well-lit service station, or 24-hour store.
Whenever possible, always park in well-lit and well-traveled areas. Always keep your car doors locked, whether the vehicle is attended or unattended. Never leave packages or valuables in sight. If someone attempts to rob you or steal your car, don't try to resist the thief/carjacker. Report the incident to the police department immediately by calling tel. 911.