14 Tips for Travel Safety

14 Tips for Travel Safety

Dusk in the Flores Islands - Indonesia

Dusk in the Flores Islands – Indonesia

Along with money, the most significant deterrent to travel is fear – fear that something terrible will happen to you when you are away.  The safety of travel is a concern for many. The reality is that bad stuff can happen anywhere – and you are very unlucky if it happens to you. For some reason, people tend to focus more on dramatic incidents that happen to people when they are away from home than when something occurs in their home city.

The advice for all regarding travel safety is to use common sense, but unfortunately, many people common sense tends to take a holiday when they are on holiday. Every destination in the world is dangerous if you do not use common sense. Safe travel is mostly determined by common sense. For example, if you are unwilling to walk through a park alone at night in your home city, why would you want to do this when you are in a foreign land? Sadly, this situation happens too often.

There is no need to be paranoid when travelling. It is a case of being alert but not alarmed. A destination is very rarely dangerous if you research beforehand.

It is crucial always to trust your intuition – women are generally better at this than men. If something doesn’t feel right, then heed your inner warnings and do something else or go somewhere else.  Remember that if you take any form of alcohol or drugs, your intuition is compromised for a certain time.

A lot of these tips are about control – keeping control of yourself and your situation. To do this, you will need to be assertive, and this skill will significantly assist you during your travels.

In the 100+ countries I have visited, I have never been subjected to violent crime. Perhaps it is luck, but one does make their luck for the most part during their travels.  Here are tips based on common sense that assist me to travel safely.

Act Confident

Even if you are not confident, act as if you know where you are, and act as if you can assert yourself. Walk with your head held high. If you walk with your head lowered and shifting your eyes or head uneasily side to side, you will look lost, unsure and vulnerable. If anyone with evil intent is nearby, they will see it and may try to take advantage of the situation. Acting with confidence may be a bluff, but it is usually effective.

Be Smart With Taxis

If you have ordered a taxi and are waiting outside your hotel, do not assume that the one that stops in front of you is one you called. Always ask ‘Who are you waiting for?’ and if they say your name, you know it’s the correct one. If you are still not convinced, ask ‘Where are you taking me?’ This also applies to share services such as Uber. Sometimes, a hotel will tell you the registration number of the taxi coming to meet you, and this is always helpful.

Never agree to share a taxi with anyone else unless you already know them. Never allow yourself to be outnumbered within a vehicle. If you see someone else enter your taxi after you have taken your seat – do what I did when it happened to me once, leave the taxi immediately – don’t question – just go. From the time the third person entered the taxi, it took me only a few seconds to grab my bag and leave, and despite the protest of the taxi driver, I kept walking away. This is an excellent example of taking control of a situation.

One of my most essential travel tips relates to the situation if someone approaches you at an airport, bus station, or train terminal offering you a taxi service – immediately say no, or ignore and just keep walking. At best, you are going to be overcharged; at worst, you could end up in personal danger. If the transport hub has a registered taxi service (such as a desk where you pay a certain fee and you are given a voucher) use it, or head to the taxi queue. In summary – never, ever accept any taxi service by someone who approaches you at a transport hub – they may say they have a reasonable price or bargain for you, but it never is the case.

Beware Of The Overly Friendly Stranger

It is a difficult one to decipher. In some countries, everyone is friendly (especially Africa, Middle East and India) so gauging the difference between a genuine person or someone with nefarious purposes is not easy. If you feel something is not right, you are usually correct. Your intuition is always a great ally when you are travelling. If you are unsure about someone, you have just met, be courteous but don’t let your guard down.

Don’t Get Distracted in a Crowd

These are long-standing techniques for theft, and these usually occur in crowded places. The first one is when a child or other adult talks to you and when an accomplice approaches you from elsewhere to pick your pockets. The different technique is if someone wants to get ‘touchy’ after you have just met them, whether in a playful manner (such as a mock game of martial arts) or in an affectionate way – this is a warning sign. One of those touches can involve lifting something from your pocket. Picking pockets is harder if it’s an internal pocket and taking something from your bag is easier if the bag is on your back or at your side.

Again, use your common sense – if something doesn’t feel right, excuse yourself and walk away. If the person you are concerned about tries to stall you from leaving – walk away more quickly and without a word – don’t engage in conversation that will keep you in a potentially dangerous situation for longer. This is another excellent example of taking control of a situation.

Don’t Disclose Your Hotel Information

Unless you trust the person you are talking with, be cautious in revealing where you are staying. This avoids having anyone waiting or following you there. If pressed for where you are staying, just give the suburb rather than the hotel name or tell them you have forgotten the name of the hotel, but know where to find it. In other words, be vague if someone asks you where you are staying.

Pretend to be With a Group

If you travel alone, it is sometimes wise to pretend to be with a group who you will “meet soon”. It is also handy when trying to leave awkward situations. I know of females who invent imaginary partners that are back in the hotel, carry photos of a male friend claiming them to be their husband, or wear a fake wedding ring (which I term the “deterrent ring”) to keep away unwanted attention.

Alcohol and Drugs

I don’t drink alcohol nor take drugs, but reports of young people dying during overseas travel reveal a trend of being drunk and alone – whether they are drinking alone in the first instance or when they wander off from their friends while intoxicated. If you are not with someone who has a strong emotional attachment to you (that means someone you have known for at least a few weeks), avoid getting drunk or high. Being isolated when you are not in complete control of yourself is the most dangerous combination when you travel – avoid it at all times. As mentioned before, alcohol and drugs impair your intuition as to the danger or otherwise of a person, situation, or location. If you do wish to have a drink at night and you are alone, use the bar (if they have one) in the place where you are staying – very little is going to go wrong in that very short journey from the bar to your bed in the same hotel or hostel.

Alone at Night

You are not going to walk down a dark alley alone or through an unlit park at night in your home city, so why even do it when travelling. Stay where the crowds are, and you are less likely to find trouble. Some cities may not also be safe if you are part of the group. If locals are telling you this, then the simple answer is not to go out during the evening. In some places, you will be informed that under no circumstances should you walk outside at night and to take a taxi instead. I know of a traveller who was given that advice by the hotel staff as he was leaving the hotel in a certain unnamed city, but he insisted on walking a few short blocks to his destination. Guess what – he was robbed.

Arriving at Night

If you can arrange it, avoid arriving in any new destination at night. Orientating yourself after dark and finding your way around an unfamiliar city is not recommended. Look for transport options that come during daylight hours, and if that is not possible, arrange with your accommodation provider to meet you on arrival or use registered transport options at your arrival point.

Keep Valuables Hidden

Very obvious but easily forgotten. Flashing a wallet/purse or wearing the latest designer brands when travelling is not a good idea on the road. If you cannot leave your valuables in a hotel safe, or keep them locked in your room, then you must carry them with you. Remember to never take valuables in your trousers or external pockets of a jacket. Passport, cash, credit cards should all be stowed securely in a money belt or something similar. Keep an emergency supply of money stored separately from your wallet or purse.

Sit Facing a Room

Always keep your bag close to you when dining or sitting anywhere. I always sit in the corner of a restaurant or against a wall facing the room with my bag beside me. By adopting this position, no one can approach me from behind to steal my possessions. If I cannot find a wall or corner, I wrap the carrying strap of the bag around my leg, so if someone tries to move it, I will immediately know.

Photograph with Discretion

Avoiding police and other security personnel is usually easy when you travel. But if you decide to photograph everything you see, the chance of a less than pleasant encounter with the police is more likely to occur. In Europe and North America, photographing residences of the Head of State, parliament or other public buildings do not pose a problem – for example, shooting Buckingham Palace in London or the White House in Washington DC is not going to cause any issues. However, in many places in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, it is illegal to photograph such buildings, and this can get you into serious trouble.

If some regions (Central Asia and the Middle East to name just two) it is illegal to photograph transport hubs including airports, train stations, bus terminals and the like. Furthermore, photographing important parts of transport infrastructure such as bridges or tunnels can be illegal in some countries.

There are two universal photography prohibitions when you travel. The first one is never, ever photography a security checkpoint, whether that be an internal one within a country or at a border. The second one is to never, ever photograph an immigration checkpoint, such as the immigration area of an airport. Doing either of these could change the course of your holiday very quickly.

Remember that some countries have extensive restrictions on photography (such as North Korea) or they are sensitive to someone walking around with a camera (such as Yemen and Somaliland). Before you travel, research further into a destination as you may need to modify the way you photograph a destination.

Be Aware of Local Laws

Just because something is legal in your country, doesn’t mean it is legal somewhere else. To list all of these differences is not possible, so I would suggest you read either government advisories about foreign countries that have detailed and accurate information on these laws. Also, read the advice of people who live within a country (whether locals or ex-pats), and you can find this information on forums, social media, blogs or travel websites. Even simple things such as not dressing conservatively (men or women should not wear shorts in large parts of the Middle East), or dressing incorrectly (wearing camouflage clothing is illegal in Barbados). Talking about the leader of a country without reverence (such as Thailand) can get you into a lot of trouble, so research before you go.

Inform Others of your Travel Plans

Keep your family and close friends informed of where you are and what you are planning to do. Leave an itinerary with them (especially add details of where you are staying, including contact information) and keep them informed of any changes in travel plans. I always tell my family when I first arrive in a destination (such as ‘Just landed in Dubai’ followed an hour or so later by ‘I’m now in my hotel room.’) If you know you are heading to a place where you will be without the Internet for any period, let them know in advance so that they don’t get unnecessarily worried. By keeping the people close to you informed of your movements, if you suddenly lose contact, this will quickly alert them that something could be wrong.

You may also want to register your travel plans with your government’s travel advisory service. They will keep you informed via email of a threatening situation including, but not limited to, cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, floods, or civil unrest.

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