Ever notice how some people like to travel, but they always end up going back to the same three or four places every year? That’s often because they’re worried about safety and don’t want to take the risks associated with going somewhere that’s off the beaten track. The truth is, many exotic destinations are probably safer than your own hometown. You just need to take some simple precautions and use your common sense when you’re in an unfamiliar place.
Here are some tips to keep in mind next time you’re planning something a little more adventurous than a trip to the beach.
- Check for government warnings. The country you’re visiting (and your own) will post advisories about trouble spots and destinations to avoid.
- Make photocopies of your passport, driver’s license and other travel documents. Keep these separate from your originals and email copies to yourself in case the real ones are lost or stolen.
- Watch for distractions. Most pickpockets and thieves begin by bumping into you, spilling something, or engaging you in conversation. Keep your hand on your wallet or bag and move away.
- Don’t carry or display valuables. Hide your electronics and don’t wear an expensive watch or jewelry that’s going to attract attention.
- Wear your backpack up front, especially when you’re in a crowd. Ideally, get one that will resist slashing. Never put anything in your back pockets.
- Don’t be a night owl. The last place you want to be at night is on an empty street in a country where you don’t speak the language or know your way around.
- Watch your drinking. Getting drunk in a foreign country is a recipe for trouble unless you’re in someone’s home or tucked away in your hotel.
- Be aware of your surroundings. It’s easy to get lost in the souks of Morocco or crushed by the crowds at the Vatican. If you keep your head up and look for trouble, it’s less likely to find you.
- If you’re a woman travelling alone, sit beside another woman on the train or bus. Eventually, the seats are going to fill up anyway so choose your seat mate rather than letting them choose you.
- Create an emergency plan. It’s not paranoid to know the number for the police, embassy and hospital if you’re going somewhere new and don’t speak the language. It’s also not a bad idea to have a friend back home monitor your progress so that they can raise the alarm if you don’t check in.
- Keep your bag on your lap, not under the seat, when you’re travelling anywhere sketchy. You can also buy a cable to lock your pack to the arm rest if you’re planning to doze off.
- Be friendly – within limits. No matter how much you liked your tour guide or the guy you were chatting to at the café, don’t reveal too much personal information and don’t divulge where you’re staying.
The number of safety measures you’ll need to take will very much depend of where you’re going. Start by thoroughly researching the city or country and if other people raise concerns about violence, theft, or common scams, pay attention. You probably don’t need to check-in with a friend if you’re going to Disneyland, but you will want to watch out for pickpockets.
Travelling always involves a certain measure of risk, but so does crossing the street. If you make personal safety a priority and stay away from countries flagged as needing “a high degree of caution”, you’ll probably do just fine. It’s a big world out there, so get out and explore it!