While some people venture into an unfamiliar nation with nothing more than an overfilled backpack and a smile, others are riddled with fear at the very idea of travelling abroad. Anything further than the comfort of the Spanish seaside resorts or hotel pools of Cancun sends a shiver up many people’s spine.
The question of whether or not it’s safe to travel is one that comes up often when backpackers are questioned by their families or their high-school classmates who never left home. The unpredictability is too much to bear.
Fear not, fellow wanderer! In this article, we’ll explore some of the best ways to travel safely!
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Table of Contents
Tourists are a Target
It’s fair to say that simply being a tourist will inevitably put you in the firing line of many unscrupulous characters. As a complete outsider who’s vastly inexperienced and completely ignorant of local life, customs and, more importantly, prices, you’re a sitting duck for anyone who wants to target you.
Standing out like a beacon of hope, tourists are seen as the most likely candidates to possess valuable items. Cameras, the newest iPhone and a pocket full of cash are all likely things that a mugger or pickpocketer might come across.
For those who are truly crafty, it becomes a simple case of daylight robbery. Rather than being incriminated for holding up a bewildered foreigner, they simply fool you into voluntarily handing all your money to them. Eager salesmen and opportunists suddenly have dollar signs in their eyes as they see potential victims who have no real grasp on the value of the local currency or the true value of the items in their stores.
How to Make Yourself Less of a Target
The simple solution is to try to blend in as best as you can. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Most of the time your ethnicity alone is enough to make you stand out from the crowd. A farang in Thailand or a black person in China can be a little noticeable.
That being said, there’s a simple rule to follow no matter where you are in the world – act like you’ve been here before. It’s not just about the outward appearance; though wearing Bermuda shorts and a straw hat certainly doesn’t help the matter. It comes down to subtle body language.
Looking up from the maps on their phones with a gormless look of confusion makes it clear to everyone that this person is not from around here. A moment of hesitation among an ocean of ravenous salesmen is the blood drop of weakens which they smell from miles away, while the initiated walk along the streets with an inscrutable indifference.
Keeping Your Possessions Safe
Rather than one’s own personal safety, the biggest concern for many when they travel is being able to keep their valuable property safe. A worthy unease it is too, as losing bank cards or items valued in the thousands can be a real bummer at the best of times.
The good news is that having items stolen is not as prevalent as people make out. Of course, it can happen to anyone, at any place and at any unfortunate time (much like yours truly), however, it’s not any more likely than having your phone stolen while you’re going about your normal life.
That being said, it certainly does exist, and certain situations make you more vulnerable than others.
Want to protect your possessions, check out 20 Ways to Keep Your Valuables Safe When You Travel.
Only Bring What You Can Afford to Lose
Seasoned backpackers have learned that despite the lack of items they possess, they’re not really that attached to them. In the mad scrambles from place to place, from hostel to broken down buses, things get lost along the way – it’s simply inevitable. Thus, why bring anything valuable in the first place?
Of course, there are some things you can’t do without! Phones, wallets, maybe even a laptop or a camera. Everything else is simply expendable. Clothes and toiletries can be found in every corner of Earth and you’re hardly going to break down over losing the odd T-shirt.
Make Use of Lockers and Safes
Whether you’re in a budget hostel or a 5-star resort, you’re more than likely going to have a safe place available to store your items while you travel. There’s no real need to bring your thousand-dollar Nikon or a few hundred in cash with you when you’re going for something to eat.
Use Online Banks
Where should I hide my money? That’s the age-old question. Crafty individuals have considered inventive solutions to that problem since people first started travelling. While some go for a simple chain or hilariously hideous bumbag, others go for a belt hidden under their clothing. Though some may swear by their effectiveness, the issue is that you still have cash at hand and any experienced scammer has seen all these half-hearted attempts before.
If you do insist on carrying cash, then try to keep it to a bare minimum while trying to hide it somewhere obscure. Down your socks, in your bra, hell, even down your pants – places where a mugger on a ticking clock may not think to look.
The safest option is to rely on online banking. With companies like Monzo and Revolut, you can easily open online accounts which give you much cheaper rates when using your card abroad. More importantly, the account holds only as much money as you decide to put into it. This means you just need to drop a few pounds into your account via your phone app, and if worst comes to worse, the would-be mugger only gets the bare minimum. That way, you’ll minimize the money you’ll lose and they won’t have access to your hard-earned savings!
Staying Safe in Your Accommodation
As much as we would like to feel that our hotels and hostels are a safe haven when we travel, they can still be a source of distress given the right circumstances. It might be a simple case of cleaning staff helping themselves to some earrings left in your room or as serious as waking up next to an uninvited guest.
Generally speaking, hotels are a far safer option, and the higher the price, the higher the level of security. 5-star hotels commonly come with doormen, a 24-hour reception and possibly even keycards just to access different floors.
Hostels on the other hand can be a bit hit-and-miss. Some will offer the same level of security and helpful services you’ll find in hotels, while others are as bare basic as they come. There are places that leave their front doors wide open throughout the night with free access to all the rooms. Not to mention that you’ll be sharing your evening with between 4-20 other strangers lying beside you. In circumstances such as these, incidence can occur.
Smaller Hostel Rooms
The more people you share a room with, the higher the likelihood that at least one of them is an untrustworthy little snake. Higher body counts also minimize accountability. If your phone goes missing in a room of 15 other people, who are you going to accuse first?
Use Lockers and Safes
As mentioned previously, this is easily the best way of securing your possessions. Leaving your valuables locked away in your hotel room is always a weight off your shoulders and is especially true when staying in hostels.
As you’ll be sharing a room with total strangers and your items are often left out in the open, there’s a likelihood that some complete asshole just grabs something that happens to be laying around and leaves never to be seen again.
Research Your Accommodation Beforehand
Everything you need to know about the security of the accommodation will be laid out for you on the booking website. They’ll detail all the services they provide and what you can expect when you arrive there. Thus, simply looking up the details beforehand can save you from anxiety later on.
Where should you stay during your travels, hotels or hostels?
Both have their advantages, but what are they? Which is best for you?
Gender Inequality In Travelling
The sad reality is that gender inequality is pretty much worldwide. Much like in normal society, women can be subject to abuse across the entire spectrum, and that doesn’t necessarily change wherever you are in the world.
Some nations are blatantly labelled as unsafe for women to travel solo, with names such as India, South Africa and even Mexico regularly making that list. Regardless, even in countries which are typically considered safe to travel, women can still be vulnerable.
Foreign women can also gain a whole lot of unsolicited attention in certain countries. A blond-haired, blue-eyed girl walking through an obscure Indian city will attract local men like moths to a flame.
Safety in Numbers
By travelling in a group, you ensure that you avoid the ire of most crooks or at the very least you have people there who can support you if something was to go wrong.
Female Only Rooms
Most hostels these days have the option of female-only dorms, ensuring that you and your possessions won’t ever be sharing a room with a random lustful male.
Dress for the Destination
Though walking along the beaches of Spain or Barbados in a skimpy little bikini might be par for the course, other cultures have different standards. Dressing in such a revealing way could result in unwanted harassment and even anger from someone who believes it to be an insult to their culture.
Careful What You Drink
Much like other destinations across the world, an unattended drink could lead to complete disaster. While sex-crazed patrons might slip an unidentified pill into your drink, it’s also been known to happen by the bartenders themselves!
Whenever possible, try to avoid drinking anything that isn’t unopened, and if you feel something is wrong, get out while you still can.
Stay Out of the Bad Part of Town
Whether it’s Taipei, London, or New York, every place has a “bad” side of town. These are the places that generally have a higher rate of crime and where even certain locals do their best to avoid, let alone vulnerable tourists.
All it takes is a bit of research online to see which areas you should try to avoid when possible. Of course, many of these articles should be taken with a grain of salt. Oftentimes an outside perspective can be a little harsher compared to someone who’s grown up in that kind of neighbourhood. However, you do start to see the same old street names and districts pop up.
It just takes a little bit of common sense to see which areas begin to feel a little more sketchy. Boarded-up windows, unsavoury-looking characters hanging on street corners and ladies of the night walking past freely, this is not going to be a Christian neighbourhood. Places with high traffic of tourists and locals are usually much safer compared to walking down a darkened alley on your lonesome.
Eating Foreign Food
For an alarming number of people, their biggest fear is not getting a mugger’s blade shoved in their abdomen or losing their prized Canon cameras, it’s having to spend their entire vacation evacuating their bowels with the force of a hurricane.
That’s completely understandable, however, it is nowhere near as frequent as these aggravated IBS sufferers make it seem. Food poisoning is no more likely than in your home country. It takes the same amount of precaution and common as you’d use in your home country!
A bit of research, a watchful eye and security in the fact that there’s a reason so many locals eat at these places too will ensure that you won’t have to suffer from a horrific bathroom-related crisis.
For more detailed tips, check out 15 Tips for Eating Street Food Safely.
Observe the Establishment
Whether it’s a restaurant, local cafe or even a street stall, just a quick glance will tell you everything you need to know about the level of hygiene a place has. Have the ingredients been standing out all day? Has the dish been freshly prepared? How clean is everything around you? It doesn’t take much to work out which places might not be the safest to eat at.
Do as the Locals Do
When in Rome as they say. There’s no better expert on the best places to eat than the locals themselves. It won’t be hard to tell either, as you’ll see just how busy (or in fact empty) a place is. A long line is a clear indication of just how good the food really is!
Another fear for many is the risk of catching a tropical disease and having to deal with its ramifications for the rest of their life. Naturally, nobody wants to catch a flesh-eating disease, however, the likelihood of such an incidence occurring is minuscule, especially if you have taken the necessary precautions.
It should go without saying that if you’re travelling abroad, you should take the necessary shots to combat any possible infection. Some countries even have a specific range of vaccines that one should take, just for a bit of extra insurance.
Protect Yourself From Mosquitos
Mosquitos are responsible for more deaths than any other animal in the world. These devilish little creatures can carry such life-altering diseases as malaria, Zika virus and dengue fever. As such, you should do everything in your power to repel these little bitey brutes.
Repellent can be utilised where necessary and mosquito nets will be a lifesaver. If all else fails, simply wearing longer clothes can keep these terrors away from your skin.
Drink Clean Water
The source of many horrific conditions worldwide stems from the lack of clean water. It is something that occurs globally and you should be wary of where your drink might have come from.
Tap water is a simple no. Yet the classic blunder from most is forgetting the ice in your drink – the silent but deadly assassin. Drink nothing but bottled water to be absolutely safe.
Learn a Bit of Local Etiquette
As brief visitors to a new country, nobody expects you to know every single tradition and custom, that would be unreasonable. Locals are much more tolerant than people give them credit because naturally, we assume that an outsider has no idea of how things work. Ignorance is bliss in this case, however, that does not give you a completely free pass.
It just takes a simple search online to find all the most significant dos and don’ts of a given place.
At the very least, it’s all about respect. If you appear to be trying your best to respect local culture, then nobody can blame you. It’s only those individuals who believe that their holiday destination only exists to serve them that are the real problem.
Many travellers face a tough decision; should you travel as a group or travel solo?
It’s a big decision, so here are the pros and cons!
Always Respect Local Culture
We all have our morals and different standards when it comes to society. Gender equality and religious freedoms are hot topics of debate worldwide. However, despite your passionate objections to certain laws, practices and attitudes across the world, making a stand and actively opposing the local culture is simply going to lead you into a lot of trouble.
Flying the flag for what you, a lone ignorant outsider, believe in is not going to win you any medals. However, it might very well end up with you in a dingy jail cell or as a bloody corpse along the city streets. You may think it’s misogynistic being told to cover your head when visiting the Middle East, yet do you really want to roll the dice just to prove a point?
Choose Your Transportation Wisely
Undoubtedly, the biggest potential hazard you have while travelling is transportation. The rules of the road aren’t necessarily as strict as in many Western nations. Red lights don’t exactly mean stop and neither does one side of the road have any particular direction. Additionally, seatbelts are often an optional extra.
Some forms of transport are likely to be safer than others i.e. flights, trains and ferries. Riding in the back of a taxi who’s on a mission or a bus rocking from side to side as it overtakes in total darkness is a little less secure.
Most importantly, you are putting your life in the hands of someone who might not have your safety as their biggest concern.
Thank You for Reading! Check Out These Other Helpful Links!
Thank you so much for reading How To Stay Safe When You Travel! Check out these other helpful articles!