Traveling is hands down one of the best things you can do. It gives you a broader world view, it builds your confidence, and it exposes you to other cultures. What's better than all of that? But stepping off into unknown lands can come with its own set of dangers, which is why you should know how to stay safe while traveling.
I've traveled a lot by myself and I've found that, for the most part, things go smoothly. But despite my best efforts, I have ended up in some bad situations, and with some undesirable people. Nothing horrible ever happened, and I can thank my quick thinking and exit strategies for that. (If you remember nothing else, always remember to have an exit strategy.)
I know it's a bummer to consider the negatives, but don't let the small chance that something bad may happen turn you into a nervous traveler. And don't forsake your trip entirely in favor of the safety and comfort of your couch (although that's always an option, I recommend getting out of your comfort zone). Safety is just something to keep in mind, and if you do, your trip is likely to go off without a hitch.
Whether you're about to backpack Europe all by your lonesome or road trip across the country with friends, there are things you can do to make sure you stay safe. There's no reason to be a fearful tourist if you look out for yourself, plan ahead, and remain aware of your surroundings. So here are some tips for doing just that.
1. Make Copies Of Your Passport
There's so much to keep track of while traveling that it can be easy to misplace your important documents — or worse, have them stolen. So before leaving for your trip, make backups of everything just in case. As experienced traveler Norm Schriever notes on HuffingtonPost.com, "Before you embark make copies of your passport, medical card, credit cards and travel itinerary. Give a copy to a friend back home and keep one set with you, separate from the real thing." That way, no matter what happens you can prove who you are and you'll have an easier time getting home.
2. Let Others Know Where You'll Be
While it feels oh so very exciting to hit the old dusty trail all by your lonesome, you should still let your friends and family know where you'll be. As Melanie Pinola notes on Lifehacker.com, "... give family and friends your itinerary and keep them updated during your trip. Leave a trail in your hotel room, too: When you go out, leave a note in your hotel room of where you're going, whom you're going to meet, and when you'll be back." That way, if you end up in a spot of trouble, people will be able to track you down.
3. Be Prepared To Get Away If You Find Yourself In Danger
Of course you'll want to have fun and relax in a new country, but don't let your guard down too much. Be aware of your surroundings, always know how to get back to your hotel, and make sure you have the cash necessary to do so. According to Pinola, "You'll ... want to be able to make a quick getaway in case of danger or signal for help. SmarterTravel recommends keeping a phone card and enough cash for a cab on you, as well as the hotel's business card. Also make sure you know at least the key phrases in the local language, including the word for 'help.'"
4. Don't Be An Obvious Tourist
Acting and looking touristy makes you a target for thieves and scammers, so avoid the whole fanny pack/huge camera/binoculars look as much as possible. According to Heather Simmons on RD.com, "You’re a tourist. You know that, but you don’t want everybody else to know that. Don’t unfold your giant map on a busy corner. Don’t ask strangers on the street for directions. Learn your route ahead of time, and step into a business for directions whenever possible." Basically, try to blend in with the locals as best you can, and don't act lost (even if you are.)
5. Don't Flash Your Cash
Be meticulous with how you handle your money while paying for something. For example, don't whip out your wallet and let all your cash sloppily topple out onto the counter. That's just asking for a problem. "Another thing you don’t want to advertise: Where you keep your money. A fanny pack may be handy, but it screams 'I’m not from around here!' ... If you have a purse, keep it close to your body, preferably under an item of clothing like a jacket or sweater so that thieves can’t do the old snip-the-purse-straps-and-run trick," Simmons suggests.
6. Avoid Chaotic Situations
Nothing's better than strolling down a busy street in a new city. The hustle and bustle can be intoxicating, but don't get too swept up. If things start to get a bit out of control — like a crowd gathers around you, or someone starts shoving wares in your face — there's probably something nefarious going on that you don't want to be a part of. According to Schriever, "Thieves choreograph situations that breed confusion and then strike. So if someone rattles a newspaper in your face or a drunk stumbles into you ... immediately put one hand in your pocket on your wallet and use your free hand to politely push away and step back from the situation. But the best way to avoid trouble is to cross the street when you see it coming."
7. Keep Your Money In Multiple Different Spots
When you're trekking around the globe you'll want to have money in your wallet, some in your shoe, and some back in your hotel room (preferably in a safe). You'll want cash, as well as a credit card if possible.
As Mark Broadhead notes on LonelyPlanet.com, "You know how you keep all your bank cards in your wallet/purse when you're at home? Well, don't do this while you're traveling. Keep at least one in a different place, preferably not on your person. If you lose all your cards on the road it is very difficult to get replacements, and being without money in Timbuktu can be kind of unfun."
8. If Traveling Alone, Appear As If You're With A Group
Traveling alone is a great way to build up your confidence. After all, if you navigate a foreign land all by yourself, then it really feels like you can do anything. But this doesn't include strolling alone down a back alley, or making it super obvious you're on your own. In fact, you may even want to be act like you're part of a larger group (even if you have no idea who the people are), for the sake of avoiding a sketchy situation. As Simmons notes, "If you are traveling alone, try to hide that fact. Stick with groups whenever possible and keep information-sharing with chatty cab drivers and the like to a minimum." It's better to be safe than sorry.
9. Be Aware Of Your Prized Possessions (Or Leave Them At Home)
It's not the time to wear heirloom pearls if you're walking down the dusty streets of Morocco or rumbling through the countryside on an Indian train. Not only do you stand the chance of losing something important to you, but you're giving away the fact that you may have money (whether you do or not), and turning yourself into a target for unwanted attention. As Schriever suggests, "Don't walk around with an expensive camera or fancy jewelry hanging around your neck. Wear a cheap plastic watch, if any. Take it all off before you step out of a bar or restaurant at night."
10. Don't Fight Back If You're Being Mugged
It's so horrifying to think about, but the number 1 rule when dealing with a mugger is to let them have your stuff. According to Broached, "There is a simple rule that people find hard to follow: If you are mugged, give over your wallet, watch etc. This shouldn't be a problem if you have insurance and you've left all your irreplaceable stuff (e.g. grandma's necklace) at home. Just do it, and walk away uninjured."
Traveling, whether you're going it alone or with friends, can be a wonderful an eye-opening experience. Just don't let anything bad happen to you! Keep your eyes open, your stuff safe, and avoid any situation that feels "wrong" and you should be just fine. Happy travels!
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