Traveling abroad offers up a wealth of unforgettable, life-changing experiences that you will probably remember until your dying days. But it can also dish up some dangerous and scary situations, with opportunistic people in almost every corner of the world looking to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. This doesn’t mean you should cancel your travel plans and never step foot out of your own neighborhood, but just that you need to be a little savvy and aware of the environment you are entering. From researching scams online to getting one-up on corrupt police, here are 7 travel safety tips so you always stay a step ahead.
1. Research Your Destination
Out of all the travel safety tips on this list, this is perhaps the most important. The internet has transformed the travel industry remarkably over the past few years. Rather than everybody relying on the opinions of a few select travel guides, you can get the feedback and personal experiences of people from across the globe regarding your destination, hotels, restaurants and everything in between. So use this wealth of information that is available before you depart to find out what you can expect.
Are there untrustworthy taxis drivers lurking at the airport waiting to rip you off when you arrive? Do pickpockets target certain tourist sites? Is the hotel your thinking about staying in located within a safe area? Researching online before you depart will by no means guarantee that nothing will go wrong, but it might just uncover a few tidbits of information that could prove helpful in ensuring your safety.
2. Keep Your Valuables Secure
It used to be that a passport and cash were the only valuables people took traveling with them, but today that extends to laptops, expensive cameras and smart phones, as well as credit cards. Firstly, you should keep the valuables you’re traveling with to an absolute minimum, so think twice before packing family heirloom jewelry!
But the valuables you do decide to take should always be kept in your cabin luggage when flying, as you can never be sure that your checked baggage will make it to your destination and in what condition. Cash, credit cards and passports are best kept on your body while in transit and once you arrive, and money belts are a great investment, as even if your day pack does get stolen, you’ll still have the essentials for staying afloat while abroad.
Take advantage of lockers and safety boxes in hotels, and rather than carrying your passport and loads of cash everywhere with you, secure it before you go out. Keep in mind that some destinations require you carry your passport at all times in case you are stopped by the police, so always check the country’s requirements first.
You can secure your luggage in transit using a TSA-approved padlock, which means that airport security can unlock it to check its contents, then re-lock it to ensure it remains secure for the rest of your journey. Bag mesh protectors are a great option if you’re going to be taking long journeys on trains or buses. They will hopefully deter anyone from stealing your luggage while its out of your view and being loaded/unloaded into luggage lockers.
3. Notify Your Bank
If you’re going to be using your credit or debit card abroad, then notify your bank beforehand as to exactly where you will be going. Most banks monitor transactions, and if they suddenly see a withdrawal or purchase from the other side of the world, they might suspend your card temporarily until they get in contact with you. This can be inconvenient to say the least and usually means making an expensive international call or finding a Skype connection to authorize its re-activation. It’s also worth taking more than one card, just in case one does go missing or get stolen and you won’t have to cut your travel plans short.
It’s always a good idea to keep the number of your card and bank’s telephone number written down somewhere, just in case your card gets stolen and you need to cancel it urgently. Avoid writing down the expiration date and security code as well, as these can be used to make online purchases if found by someone else.
4. Stay Alert
Human instinct can tell you a lot, and most encounters with danger have a few warning signs that you will more than likely pick up. It’s really important to stay alert at all times when you are traveling abroad, as you’re constantly entering new and unexplored territory, and in some cases you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb as a ‘wealthy tourist’. That doesn’t mean to say your shouldn’t talk to locals who approach you or only stay within designated ‘tourist areas’, but it does mean you have to trust your instincts and you may need to be a little more cautious about who you become friends with.
One of the most dangerous situations you can put yourself in while abroad is getting seriously drunk or taking drugs. It immediately inhibits your ability to intuit situations and react if you are encountering danger. In some countries, this is a common tactic for scammers, who’ll get you drunk or high to take advantage or rob you. Again, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drink altogether, but do so in moderation and if you feel you are losing your alertness, then it’s time to head home.
5. Don’t Flaunt Your Tourist Identity
Walking around with a guide book in your hand and an expensive camera slung around your neck screams ‘tourist’. It immediately identifies that you’re not from this area and probably aren’t familiar with local scams, making you the perfect candidate to take advantage of. While it’s sometimes difficult to hide that you’re a tourist, particularly if you want to take photos of iconic landmarks or need to ask for directions, there are ways you can blend in.
Check maps and where you want to go before you step outside your hostel or hotel door, as trying to orient yourself with an unfolded map is perhaps the easiest way you’ll be identified to scammers and potential criminals. Walk with a purpose and know your route, particularly if you’re out and about after dark.
In situations where you might be in the minority when it comes to skin color and that is an unavoidable feature that sets you apart, you can always play the role of an expat resident who knows all the ins and outs of the local culture. Walk with confidence and keep your camera hidden away until you really need it, and be selective about who you ask for directions or reveal information about you real reason for being there.
6. Don’t Skimp on Money at the Expense of Staying Safe
If you’re backpacking around the world on a limited budget, it’s really easy to try and save a few dollars by putting yourself at risk. While it might be tempting to walk back to your hostel late at night rather than pay a few dollars for a cab, don’t do it if you’re alone or in a neighborhood that is not 100% safe. The same goes for flights which arrive in the middle of the night – don’t risk a dodgy taxi driver or negotiating the streets by bus when you could get a taxi direct to your accommodation door, or (better yet) have them pick you up direct.
The same can be said for travel insurance. You might think that money could be better spent doing something amazing while you area away. But if you end up in a life-threatening situation and need medical help, it’s going to save you an arm and a leg.
7. Know Your Rights
If you’ve grown up in a country where law enforcement agencies usually operate above board, it might come as a bit of a surprise when police start asking for bribes when accusing you of doing something wrong. In many countries, police are paid a fairly minimal wage which they supplement with under the table bribes in a practice that is engrained in the society and sometimes even intertwined with local criminals and gangs.
Tourists can be a target of this in some places, as they know that you might not be aware of the rules and regulations in the country and can easily scare you into slipping them a few dollars to avoid a more serious penalty. It’s a good idea to understand how this operates in your destination and in what situations they commonly occur, all of which can usually be found in online travel forums. This is particularly important if you plan on driving while abroad, as ‘finding’ a traffic infringement (that may or may not be true) is an easy way for corrupt police to make a bit on the side.
If you know your rights and state it to police, it will put you back in control of the situation and they will more than likely let you go to avoid problems themselves.