The world isn’t dangerous or unsafe. Quite the opposite! There are far more smiling faces to be found but safety remains a priority for even the most seasoned travelers. Don’t spend so much time focusing on avoiding risks that are highly unlikely—such as a terror attack—that you neglect to take sufficient steps to avoid those risks that are far more likely to ruin a trip abroad—such as a traffic accident, theft, or food poisoning. Here are some basic common tips and simple guidelines, traveling safety tips, to use on your next vacation:
- Dress smart. I wear jackets with internal zippered pockets that nobody else’s hands can reach. Rather than keeping my wallet in a handbag that could be stolen, I keep small bills and credit cards in various pockets, so that I never have to take out my whole wallet. If you must carry your wallet in your outside pants pocket, wrapping rubber bands around it makes it more difficult for a pickpocket to extract it. Don’t wear brand new white sneakers. They’re a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist. Don’t be flashy. Wearing expensive clothes, jewelry and luggage can make you a target for crime. Try to blend in with the locals and avoid the obvious tourist appearance.
- Respect the customs of the local culture and dress conservatively (no shorts and sleeveless attire). Keep beach ware for the beach.
- Familiarize yourself with the local culture of the country you are going to visit. It is fairly difficult to cause so much offence as to get yourself into actual trouble; generally people you meet will be tolerant and understanding. The exceptions would be offending local religious sensibilities, unpopular views about the government or royal family of the country you visit, or committing a crime. When traveling to another country, remember you are a visitor, and abide by their laws and respect their culture.
- Don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation, use common sense: Don’t walk alone down unlit streets. Don’t discuss travel plans with strangers. Don’t flash huge amounts of cash.
- Leave valuables at home. Most of us have learned to leave fancy jewelry at home, but we now bring all manner of fancy electronics. Consider leaving your larger and more expensive electronics at home. Whatever devices you do pack, be sure that the information in them is password-protected and that you have a copy of that information somewhere safe.
- Use your in-room safe. Store your passport in it. Leave the Do Not Disturb sign on your hotel room door when you’re not in the room. While your money, credit cards and other valuables should be either left behind in the hotel safe or hidden in a secure money belt under your cloths, neither of these is practical if you fancy stopping for a cup of coffee or buying something on the street. Keep a small amount of cash in an accessible pocket for the day; leave the rest in the hotel safe. If you have the misfortune of getting pick-pocketed then at least you have not lost all of your money.
- Do not leave your belongings unattended in public places (this one is obvious but being done). Most notably visitors leave their bags at their feet or hanging from the back of chairs when they are at cafes or restaurants. Either keep them on your lap or wrap its strap around your leg. While traveling on a bus or train, keep your valuables with you or at least in your line of sight.
- Walk confidently to your destination, even if you have no idea where you are going.
- Don’t pull out a map and scrutinize it in a public place. Step inside a restaurant or shop if you want to check your map. A map identifies you as a tourist and unfortunately as a target.
- When withdrawing money from bank machines, try to do so during day light, in well trafficked areas and use machines from recognized banks where possible. Once the cash is withdrawn take time to ensure it is stashed away safely. Do not do so while walking down the street.
- Program local emergency numbers into your cell phone. I ask my hotel concierge for those numbers.
- Do not give to beggars: I know, this one is hard for me too. There are exceptions to this rule, such as monks seeking alms. Encouraging begging is not the most efficient use of your money (and goodwill). If you want to help out then do some volunteer work in the destination or donate some money to a local charity for the homeless.
- Use taxis at taxi stands, or have your hotel call you one rather than waving one down (in many destinations, taxis will not stop when you flag them down). On your way out of your hotel, pick up a card with its name and address on it. You can use this to ask for directions, or to give to your taxi driver who (in many cities around the world) may not have a clue where your hotel is if you mention only the name of it, or there might be a language barrier.
- Think before you photograph someone. Don’t photograph policemen or anyone who does not want his/her photo taken. Photos are a must when travelling. However keep the camera discreet, many point and shoot cameras will fit in a pocket or bag when not in use. Do not leave larger ones dangling around your neck.
- Carry your hotel’s business card in the local language. Have at least one of these so you can show it to non-English-speaking locals (e.g., a taxi driver) and get back to your hotel quickly in an emergency.
- Carry a mini-flashlight (so you’re never caught in the dark). I once made the mistake of not packing one and learned my lesson the hard way.
- Use trustworthy Wi-Fi. I carry my own portable Wi-Fi hotspot rather than logging into free Wi-Fi on the street.
- Watch out for scam artists. In big cities, pickpockets may prey on tourists, especially in crowded transportation hubs. Clothing with internal zippered pockets, or a neck pouch, are a good way to keep cash and credit cards safe as you walk around and sightsee. If you’ll be carrying a handbag, use a cross-body one. Check out my post on Travel scams to watch out for in Europe.
Most importantly, just use plain common sense and intuition. Traveling abroad should not be overwhelming or dangerous. In fact it should be one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences in your lifetime. Be yourself. There is only so much you can do to make yourself disappear into the local culture. When I was in China, I could have worn a dragon costume in a street parade and still would not have been able to blend in. But I met a lot of great people merely by saying hello.