Above image courtesy of katie30hare
Your long awaited adventure is about to begin! You’ve scrimped and saved for months, pulled an inordinate amount of overtime hours, and done things no human should ever do…. But at long last, your flights are booked, hostels reserved, itinerary is set and you’ve pursued virtually every blog, article, and guide available on your destination. To color you confident would be a grave understatement; your SATs would be envious on how prepared you are.
So why are your loved ones freaking out? The very idea of 6 months on the road drives your family into shambles, regaling in anecdotes of muggings and gypsy conspiracies.
To their credit, a degree of caution is certainly warranted. Although traveling abroad is, for the most part, super safe and you should never be discouraged from exploring the globe, the unfortunate reality is that there will always be those who will attempt to victimize you. In our own journeys, we’ve been targets of scams, thefts and even confronted by those with shadowy agendas. In each case, the outcome could have been significantly worse had we not prepared and exercised good traveling habits.
Below are some travel safety precautions I personally go by, and if you follow them, you can ensure your own travel safety and keep on traveling:
Travel Safety Tips
Protect Your Documents and Your Access to Them
- Keep Important documents with you: Never leave your passport or any other related travel documents in your room. Even room safes are not impervious to an enterprising crook, or for that matter a persistent one. Passports are probably your most important document and the safest place, short of being kidnapped, is on your body in a hidden waist or chest belt. I’ve had my belongings rifled through far too many times in hostels. Fortunately all the would-be-crooks got was a handful of dirty socks.
- Make copies of passport, ID’s and other travel documents: Take photocopies of your passport, and never brandish nor provide the real one unless absolutely necessary. Which translates to only immigration officials and law enforcement. To make the copies even more acceptable, make a color one and laminate it. Also email yourself and your loved ones a copy as well. You can also use smartphone apps, such as Tripit, to keep track of all your important confirmation numbers so you don’t have to rely on hard copies.
- Never give passport to any hostel (provide photocopies instead): In some areas of the world, the hostel/hotel may request to hold on to your passport. This is standard policy for them, and nothing to be alarmed about, as an alternative to the actual document, I offer up photocopies instead (laminated color copies work too). Be persistent. Even the most stubborn hotelier will give if it means you’ll walk. My philosophy is to never part with my passport (unless it’s immigration). I’ve yet to part with my passport on any occasion.
Protect Your Money
- Go the bank machine once (or as little as possible): Withdraw enough for at least a week, but not so much where a potential theft will be detrimental. This is not only safer, but also practical. Withdrawing a reasonable amount at one time (instead of $20 to $40 each time, or as you need it) will minimize the chance of you being identified as a target. As well, it will save you on fees. If you must use the ATM, try to use Bank Machines that are inside and not located in random places.
- Cards, not Cash: Use Credit card whenever possible. I like using credit cards whenever I can. Not only do you get to collect points, but also credible card companies have incredible protection and limited liability. You are able to dispute charges, or just cancel the card if stolen. Word of warning though, when using the card, never let it out of your site. Either have the store owner bring the terminal to you, or walk up with them. Lastly, keep the toll free number on hand separate from your credit card.
- Keep money in different pockets, and hidden areas (like an empty chapstick tube) I’m sure you’ve heard of this safety measure a few times and the simple reason is because it’s good advice. Thieves are not trying to hang around any longer than they have to, and after deposing you of your money will high tail it out of there as soon as possible. By dispersing your money throughout different pockets and containers, you’ll mitigate the brunt of the robbery, and still have money to spare.
- Have a decoy wallet with fake cards and a little bit of money: Similar to the above, Thieves tend to go for the obvious. If you willingly hand them your wallet, who’s to complain? Make it look realistic and they’ll be out of your hair in no time.
- Don’t keep checking your pockets: Nothing is random. Chances are you’ve been profiled due to certain behaviors. By consciously, or even subconsciously, palming and checking the security of your valuables, you’re inadvertently marking the location with a big giant “X”. Don’t help the crooks hone in on your valuables by showing them where they are.
Protect Your Belongings
- Wear your backpack in the front and lock it: It’s not particularly attractive looking like a mommy kangaroo, but this will keep prying eyes and fingers away from your valuables. Also, always lock your bag where the zippers meet.
- Don’t walk close to the road: High-speed snatch and grabs are practically commonplace in some countries. Perps ripping by on motorcycles, and in some cases cars, will tear off anything connected to you that their hands can get a hold of. Walk along the middle or closer to the buildings to avoid being targeted. If you have a side satchel, make sure to wear it across the body, and not just over one shoulder.
- Leave the bling at home: This is pretty self-explanatory. Don’t wear your jewels and expensive watch. If you’re flossing riches, then you’re just asking for it.
- BYOL (Bring Your Own Lock): Never use a lock that is provided to you. It’s a common scam; loan you a lock with 2 sets of keys where one set is given to you and the second set for your would-be stalker. Unbeknownst to you, however, once you’re out of sight, whatever was connected on the other end of that lock will miraculously disappear leaving you on the hook for its full value.
- Keep your eye on your bag: Crooks are always looking for the path of least resistance. An unsecured bag has got to be up there as one of their all-time favorites. Either have your bag in sight at all times, or have it wrapped around your leg or arm if under a table or anywhere without a direct line of sight.
Make Friends, But Be Cautious
- Don’t trust everyone in uniform: Be aware of the Fake Police. In some places around the world, they’ve taken identify theft to whole new levels by impersonating local law enforcement. Demand identification loud enough for others to hear and do not hand off your passport until identified. If it appears to be a shakedown, offer to accompany them to the nearest police station.
- Watch your drinks: Males and females alike should be cautious of spiked drinks, as either sex can, and have, been victimized. Cover your drinks, don’t leave them unattended and never accept a drink from a stranger. It’s unfortunate and can be perceived as rude to refuse a gift, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Be and look confident: A lot can be said for perception. Ambling around lost and confused can open the door to unwanted attention, giving the appearance of an easy target for scams, theft or even attack. Try to review your maps, phones or guides in coffee shops or less conspicuous surroundings.
- Pay attention to people and surroundings: Meeting new friends on the road is an undeniable pleasure while traveling. 99% of the time those you come across are amazing, generous individuals, however, the unscrupulous will always be hovering in the shadows. You don’t need to be like 007, but practice situational awareness by keeping your head up, make friendly eye contact, and know your surroundings. Crooks will always go the path of least resistance.
Know Your Destination
- Know your Embassy: Keep the address and contact number of your respective Embassy on hand as it will be a lifesaver when the shit hits the fan. Embassies can help you secure and replace travel documents; contact loved ones, assist in legal issues, and other non-emergency services. Check with your local embassy to get a full list of what they are able to help with before hitting the road.
- Know of funding help from home country – This tip is from Hannah Logan, a dedicated solo female traveler, and blogger over at Eat, Sleep, Breath, Travel. I confess that I wasn’t even aware of this tip until recently and I’m thankful that it was introduced to me. Apparently Canada and the U.S have “emergency programs for citizens victimized abroad” that provides funds and assistance for items such as medical, travel, evacuation and even funeral expenses. You can read more about it here – Planning It Safe: How to be Prepared if you are Victimized Abroad
- Be aware of travel alerts: Part of knowing your destination is staying abreast of current and potential dangers. Things such as political strife or natural disasters can put a wrench in even your best-laid plans. If you’re from the U.S you can stay informed by signing up with STEP (Safe Traveler Enrollment Program) and even if you’re not, you certainly can still refer to the Travel.State.Gov site for country specific updates.
- Learn about local laws and customs: Don’t be the quintessential obnoxious tourist. Do your best to familiarize and immerse yourself with the culture and traditions of your destination. Not only will you enrich your own travels but you’ll also navigate amongst the locals more comfortably, avoid offending others, and avoid unknowingly breaking the law. Remember, ignorance is not a viable defense.
Good Sense and Preparation:
- Get travel insurance: Recently I blogged about the importance of travel insurance and how you can purchase complete piece of mind for what equates to a cup-of-coffee a day. Accidents do happen and are completely unpredictable. Buy Travel Insurance! Read my full post here – Should I buy travel insurance? Yes and Here’s Why
- Get Vaccinated: Like travel insurance, vaccinations is that extra layer of peace of mind. It doesn’t make you bullet proof, but it’s one of those things where it’s better to have, than have not.
- Leave stray animals alone: I’m a dog lover, and it pains me to see them roaming alone and starved. But the truth is, as cute as they seem, they may carry diseases or maul you unprovoked. Give them a wide berth to be safe.
And finally and most important of all, always trust your instinct! If it doesn’t look right, then you’re probably right. Hone that sixth sense and certainly don’t cut through that dark alley! More often than not, if it looks or feels sketchy, there’s a good chance it is. Trust your gut, practice presence of mind and situational awareness and you’ll take home only great memories!
Special thanks to Hannah over at Eat, Sleep, Breath Travel who provided some incredibly succinct advice. Please do visit her blog – Amazing stuff. www.eatsleepbreathtravel.com
Share this article with all your friends and families and if you have any great travel safety tips that I may have missed, I’m all ears…
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