One of the common reasons I hear for not traveling (other than cost) is safety. We are bombarded with negative news every day on our phones, computers, televisions, radios– it seems to never end, and this influx of news makes the world seem like a much more dangerous place than it actually is. Now is the time to travel. The world is safer than ever and there is data to prove it.
Traveling abroad, even solo, isn’t any more dangerous than visiting a large American city or getting in your car and driving through traffic. Don’t let safety keep you from traveling.
Here are a few things you can do to lower risk and give yourself peace of mind.
Lock it Up
Most thieves are opportunistic. If you lessen the opportunity to steal, even by a little bit, the thief will move on to something easier.
Put your most valuable items deep in your bag in a difficult location to get to. This might be a hassle, making it difficult to get your passport out for airport security or your wallet out for coffee. But it’s much more of a hassle to have your wallet and passport stolen.
Choose a hostel or hotel with a safe and lock up everything that is valuable that you don’t need on you. If you have to stay somewhere without a safe, get a slash proof bag that locks up and lock the bag to something that can’t be moved.
Also, seriously consider protecting your technology with insurance. That nice DSRL camera and lenses that you’ve worked so hard to afford could be gone in a second. Ditto for your laptop and smartphone. And, aside from theft, your devices will be subject to falling, smushing next to you on public transport and getting rained on or overheating. A few bucks a month in insurance is nothing compared to the cost of replacing your technology.
Know Before You Go
Research is your best friend. Read about where you’re going and make note of areas that are dangerous. What is the public transportation like? Is it ok to travel after dark? What are the cultural norms?
Try to blend in as much as possible. Wear clothes similar to the locals. That probably means no shorts and t-shirts. When you’re walking through town, try your best not to look lost, even if you are hopelessly lost. Pop into a shop or cafe to look up directions and when you walk, look strait ahead and walk with a purpose.
Along with guides like Fordor’s Travel and Lonely Planet, check out message boards. Travelers build amazing communities with first-hand information about what it is actually like to travel somewhere. Lonely Planet has active discussion boards and Facebook also has some great thriving communities like “Let There Be Travel,” “Me Want Travel,” “Ultimate Travel Group” and “The Solo Female Traveler Network.”. Pop in, read about the places you’re going, and ask a few questions. The more you know and plan, the better off you’ll be.
Pay for Safety
Spend your money on keeping yourself safe. It’s worth it to pay for a taxi home after a night of drinking or for a hostel in a nice area versus cheaper accommodations in a less safe area. Your first impulse might be to save money however you can so that you can stay longer and see more, but you need to budget for safety. You don’t want seedy accommodations or a sketchy taxi ride to ruin your trip.
Going out is fun and a great way to get to know the local culture, but you can’t rely on people to take care of you. Drink water, eat before you go out, and don’t drink to excess. You don’t want one drunken night to ruin your whole trip.
You also want to remember your amazing trip, which you can’t do if you’re blacking out every night. Plus, you’ll see less if you’re nursing a hangover the next day. Go out and have fun, but don’t feel bad about turning down drinks or not keeping up with your friends.
If someone stole my phone right now, I would only be able to call 3 people, and none of those numbers would help me much if I was abroad. Write things down and keep backups.
Keep copies of the information of all your credit and debit cards, either as scans you have printed out and safely stored, on a cloud service like google docs, or both. Have phone numbers written down and have copies of your passport and insurance.
If you can, give copies of all that information to someone you trust at home. It’s also a good idea to have copies of your itinerary with names, addresses, names of safe transportation systems (safe taxi services, bus lines, etc.) and any notes. Give copies of that to a trusted family member or friend and check in often.
Plan for the worst with stashes of hidden cash. Only carry what you need on you, put the rest in your safe or slash-proof bag, and then have at least one other stash of enough money to get through a few days hidden in your luggage. I mean hidden. Stuff it in folded socks, a tampon, a secret fold of your luggage– somewhere that is difficult to find and also not an object someone would want to steal.
Get travel insurance. There is no case where you shouldn’t have travel insurance. Travel insurance will help with everything from getting medicine for a small cold to the worst-case scenario of getting your body back to your loved ones if you died.
Carefully read what your insurance covers, especially if you’ll be participating in any extreme (or even regular) sports. You don’t want to be at the hospital with a broken wrist when you find out your insurance doesn’t cover mountain climbing.
Walk confidently and don’t feel bad about saying “no.” This is especially important for female travelers. We feel such intense pressure to be kind, nice and helpful that very often, it’s difficult to be direct.
It’s ok to be rude.
You’re not a bitch for turning down offers, ending inappropriate or uncomfortable conversations and letting others know that you want to be left alone. Your safety is the top priority and you are never obligated to compromise your safety.
Listen to your gut. If you feel like a situation is weird, even if the people are nice, leave.
Be careful about eye contact and smiling. I come from the midwest where it’s courteous to make eye contact and smile at complete strangers. In many places, this behavior is viewed as an invitation to flirt. It might feel weird to be stony-faced and stare strait ahead, but you’ll look normal to the locals.
Enjoy Your Travels!
It’s a bummer that safety is even an issue, but most destinations only require a little bit of extra work on your part to be safe places to visit. Plan ahead, lock up your stuff, have traveler’s insurance, be confident and use common sense. For me, the benefits of travel outweigh the risk– you’ll be glad you went on your dream journey.
Do you have any safety tips from your travels? Share them with us!