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Travelling should be exciting and fun, but I know many people are anxious about safety when travelling abroad.
While I have always managed to stay safe when travelling, I have definitely been scammed a few times and had a couple of things stolen, mostly due to my own negligence. I’m hoping these tips will help to keep you safe and at least get you thinking about the types of things to be on the look out for.
But I want to preface this article by saying that most places are incredibly safe to travel to and these points aren’t meant to instill fear. They are meant to help you avoid worst case scenarios.
I’d love to hear any other advice you have, leave a comment below with your safety tips.
Research thoroughly before you go
I’ll admit, this isn’t something I’m always very good at! In fact I’m pretty useless, I’ve not got vaccines I probably should’ve, I’ve applied for visas at the airport, I’ve paid way too much for taxis, I’ve got off at the wrong train station, I’ve been way overcharged for tours… you get the idea. Do your research.
Is the area recommended as safe to travel to by your government? Read up on the area you’re going to, are there areas that should be avoided at certain times?
Check for any healthcare requirements. Do you need vaccinations? Do you need malaria medication?
What’s the public transport like? How will you get around?
Where will you stay? Have you checked the reviews of your accommodation online? Is it in a safe area? Does it provide lockers to store your valuables?
I also always ask at my accommodation which areas are safe as they’re likely to have the most up to date information and local knowledge.
Salvador, Brazil – Often listed as one of the most dangerous cities in the world (but also very pretty!). Even these cities aren’t all bad. Do your research and know which parts of town to avoid to stay safe 🙂
Keep your valuables safe
Seems like a pretty obvious statement, but how do you do it?
Ideally leave any non-essential valuables at home, why run the risk of having them stolen or drawing attention to yourself?
If you’re going out for the day, leave any valuables that you’re not taking with you in a safe or locker. And only take what you need, leave everything else behind.
Don’t keep all your valuables in one bag. I met a girl in Chile who had her handbag stolen with both her passports (she had dual citizenship), purse with credit cards and cash, phone, room key, camera, EVERYTHING basically in it, she was understandably devastated. Don’t be that person. Separate your valuables as much as possible. Keep a back up credit card in a different bag and some cash, just in case, you can hide these in your toiletry bag, old sock, glasses case, anywhere you like! Also consider carrying a dummy wallet, one with a small amount of cash that you can hand over if mugged, you can do the same with a cheap phone.
When in transit, keep your valuables on you. Don’t put them in your checked bag or any other bag that’ll be out of your sight.
I also always have two padlocks with me; one for a locker and one to keep on my backpack to prevent anyone taking anything right off my back.
You can’t prevent all theft but you can at least reduce your risk for opportunistic thieves.
Make copies of travel documents
Keep a copy of important documents online on a storage cloud such as Google drive. This should include your passport, drivers license, credit card details, insurance documents, travel itinerary, anything that might be useful to have a copy of if the original is lost!
Keep someone informed of your travel plans
It’s a good idea to keep someone you trust in the know. For me those people are my parents and boyfriend. On a day to day basis, my boyfriend would notice if I didn’t come back from the shops that afternoon, and on a more long term basis, my parents would notice if I didn’t check in with them regularly and usually have a pretty good idea of where I am.
Equally, make sure people know if you’re going to be out of reach for a while so they don’t panic. It may be incredible to disappear of the grid for a bit, I know we all need it sometimes, but just let someone know first. I know my parents would freak out if I didn’t reply to them or post on Instagram for a week, in fact I’m sure a full on search party would be in operation!
If you’re going to particularly remote areas or areas with unstable conditions, it’s also worth looking into whether you can register your plans with a local organisation or government body. For example, in Iceland you can leave your information with safetravel.is so they’d know where to start looking should a search and rescue team be required.
Keep an emergency contact number
Ensure you always know the local emergency phone number for the country you’re in. Although many countries use 911, 999 or 112, each country has its own emergency number so make sure you know what it is before you need it. It’s also a good idea to have the contact details for your embassy to hand, as well as a personal emergency contact e.g. parent/significant other.
Beware of scams
These can appear in many different forms, and often countries are notorious for specific scams. In my experience, taxi drivers are some of the worst for it. I’ve lost count of how many taxi drivers told me their meter didn’t work, despite it being a legal requirement. Make sure you negotiate a rate with the driver in advance or ensure the meter is working before you get in the car. If the driver refuses to put the meter on, then get out and find another driver, you will find a good one!
The taxi driver may tell you your hotel is overbooked, really bad or closed and try to take you to another one for commission. Don’t believe them and insist they take you to your hotel, or find another driver who will take you there. Ideally call your hotel in advance and ensure they are open, have your reservation and ask whether they provide a shuttle service.
Another one I’ve come across a few times is someone telling me an attraction is closed. This seems to be a popular one in Bangkok. Either your driver (I promise not all drivers are bad!) or someone near the attraction will tell you it’s closed and offer you another tour or to take you somewhere else instead. Again… don’t believe them. Go directly to the attraction and find out for yourself. It’s also highly unlikely you need a guide, despite all of the “guides” offering their services.
These are just a few that I’ve personally encountered but a quick google search will give you examples of plenty more that it’s worth being aware of to avoid any problems.
Learn the language
I don’t mean become fluent in it, but learn some key phrases where you can. I found the little Spanish I knew got me a long way in South America. Locals were much friendlier and keen to help me once they realised I understood them and could communicate easier with them. In south east Asia, even just hello and thank you will get you a long way!
Blend in as much as possible
Another thing that I’ve noticed, is that the people I’ve often met that have been mugged have stood out like a sore thumb. Now this isn’t true in every circumstance of course, but you can draw less attention to yourself by taking note of what locals are wearing.
The more you stand out, the more obvious it is you’re not local and the more vulnerable you are to criminals. It’s of course not always possible to blend in, in some places your skin colour and characteristics alone will show you’re not local. However, you can still minimise how much you stand out by blending in with ex pats and long term travellers.
Don’t be that person with your fancy camera dangling around your neck whilst stood on the corner of the street consulting your smartphone map for directions. You may as well draw a target on your head. If you’re lost, go somewhere more discreet to consult a map, or if possible head to a hotel concierge or reputable shop to ask for directions.
Sometimes you just can’t blend in! Even when you’re forced to buy local clothes because your bag is lost!
This kind of links in with blending in. Appear confident, even if you don’t feel it! Keep your head up and be aware of your surroundings. Those that look like a victim or look vulnerable are more likely to be at risk of crime.
Invest in travel insurance
This should probably be at the top of the list!! Do some research and make sure your insurance covers any belongings that you require insurance for and will cover you for the length of your travels and the countries you’re visiting. Check which activities you’re covered for. And finally make sure the health insurance will cover your needs. Healthcare abroad can very quickly add up to thousands of pounds, it’s just not worth taking the risk. You’re also more likely to become ill due to different foods, different activities and different environments.
This is the kind of ridiculous outfit you end up with when your baggage doesn’t arrive the same time as you do!
Be sensible – particularly when drinking
This again may seem obvious but it’s amazing how many travellers sensibilities go out of the plane window. Consider whether you would do what you’re doing at home. Would you get drunk and go home with a complete stranger? Would you walk around drunk late at night in an area you don’t know? Maybe you would, who knows. But I wouldn’t recommend it.
Watch how much alcohol you drink and who you’re drinking around. If you’re planning on getting very drunk, are you with someone who will look out for you and help keep you safe? Have you been watching your drinks? Always take your drinks directly from the bartender.
Plan how you’re going to get home. Can you walk home safely, or do you need to get a taxi or public transport? Make sure you have enough money at the end of the night to get home safely.
You’re more vulnerable when you’ve been drinking alcohol, your reaction times are slowed and your judgement is impaired. This may be stating the obvious, but I’ve seen so many people when travelling behave in ways I’m sure they wouldn’t at home and get themselves in all kinds of trouble. Same goes for recreational drugs.
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