Every time I talk about traveling abroad with friends and family I quickly realise the biggest concern of most of the people is SAFETY. Mostly people are worried about getting mugged. Everyone is scared of getting kidnapped violently. Some enthusiastic travellers might think these feelings are silly and unnecessary.
I don’t. If being afraid of criminality is the main reasons why some people avoid travelling to countries outside their comfort zone, this needs to be eliminated by offering different perspectives to the topic.
My first argument is that life is a tricky game and anybody can experience hostile violence practically everywhere in this world. Just think of the recent attacks in Europe or the school shootings in the USA.
What I want to say, not the places, but the people are dangerous. The only difference is that in some places, the security measures are not efficiently practised by the authorities so that criminals get along more easily, thus criminality rates are higher than in other countries.
There are countess sociopolitical factors which make a country or a region less safer than other parts of the world, however in order to keep this blog post simple I won’t get into that topic. I also excluded travelling in conflict and war zones.
There are several tips which will help you to stay safe while travelling in a country, which is outside your comfort zone, where you can not speak the language, not even the body language, where you are not familiar with the traditions and customs. But I’m sure some of the safety tips will help you also in your home country.
Here are some basic safety tips to apply while travelling
Leave your jewellery home
In many countries, as a western traveller you are automatically a rich person who can afford a flight ticket which is most probably even higher than the minimum wage in many countries. So do you want to prove it right with a gold necklace, diamond rings, or a Rolex watch. Just leave them home. It won’t harm you if you don’t carry them for a while.
What about all the gadgets I need?
I carry quite a lot of gadgets, such as an iPhone, a mirrorless camera, camera lenses, GoPro action camera, Macbook, iPad, Kindle, headsets, etc. But I am very careful with when and where I use these gadgets. I don’t carry them around unnecessarily. For example, if I’m out at night I leave my camera equipment in room in my PacSafe, unless I’m out for night photography. When I go out for dinner in town, I don’t even take my phone, if my companion already has one. All you need is enough money to pay for your meal for that evening.
Remember! If your gadgets get stolen, they are replaceable. It’s not end of the world. But, back up your photos 🙂
Beware of common travel scams
The creativity is endless when it comes to travel scams. From friendly local who wants to practice English to fake policemen, there is always something new every day. I guess it is not possible to be fully safe from traveller scammers. However you can reduce the risk and the harm by informing yourself about the typical travel scams, especially in your destination. Otherwise a friendly invite for a drink might end up you getting beaten up and loosing all your money.
I find following links useful which offer a collection of common travel scams all around the world. Worth to bookmark!
- Infographic for 40 common travel scams you should know before your next trip
- Travel scams by Rick Steves
- Common Travel Scams in Wiki Travel
- Travel scams per country at Travelscams.org
Drive only with official taxis!
I’ve heard of so many horror stories tourists being kidnapped by bus/taxi driver(s). As an honest taxi driver it must be very hard to fight for your image and reputation nowadays. In almost every destination tourists are warned about taxi scams which ends up paying double as regular price. But kidnapping is of course something more serious.
I’ve heard of taxi kidnapping stories even in Germany, so no matter where you are you should be very careful when driving with taxi. Here are simple tips and rules you should apply when you drive with taxi in a region you don’t know.
- Don’t drive with taxi as long as it is not really necessary
- Inform yourself about taxi scams in your destination
- Don’t hail a taxi on the street randomly
- Drive with official taxis only!
- Note the auto brand, type, colour and licence plate of the auto and send this info to your family/friends or whoever can contact the local authorities. Just in case.
- Dial the emergency number and keep ready to call
- Have a deodorant (instead of pepper spray) in a place easy to grab to use as self defence
- Position yourself for being ready to jump out of a rolling car
- Have a map where you regularly can check where you are, if the taxi driver is still on the right way
- Go rather for pick up services arranged privately by your hosts, even if it is a bit more expensive.
- Don’t share a taxi with people you don’t know
Don’t resist robbery!
If you’re already in middle of a robbery, avoid it getting from worse. Most of the robbers do not want to get things violent. They just want your money and valuables. Don’t resist and hand over everything you have. Remember! Material things are replaceable. To reduce the financial harm follow the tips mentioned at the beginning of this post.
Tip: Always carry a little bit money, just enough to satisfy robbers.
Learn simple self-defence tricks
Don’t resist robbery! Yes, but there are many other cases which require self-defence technics, where you might need to defend yourself. I think everyone, no matter man or woman, should be able to apply some easy self-defence tricks. It is still on my To-Do list to learn self-defence moves (like Aikido or something similar) not to apply it (hopefully) but just to feel a bit more confident. Also, there are many everyday objects we carry all the time which can be useful in such cases to distract the attacker. A pen, scarf, keys, pocket flashlight, umbrella or deodorant just to name some.
Drug and alcohol abuse
One of those horror stories start at a bar. You probably also heard of people who had a blackout and woke up in the middle of nowhere without his/her belongings or even worse. The reason is mostly liquid drugs mixed in drinks and food. The only way to avoid it is NOT to leave your food or drink unattended. Don’t accept drinks from “friendly” people in a bar or club.
Inform friends and family where you are and heading to
Always inform your family and friends what your itinerary is. Give them the e-mail address and telephone number of the place you stay. Always tell people where you’re heading to. Touch base with friends and family back at home at least every 2-3 days to shorten the reaction time if they don’t hear anything from you. E-mail, messages and social media are easy ways to keep in touch.
Pack your own luggage and don’t accept luggage from others
How many times I was asked in the airport if I could check in their package, because they exceeded the weight limit and extra luggage and weight cost quite a lot. It is very hard to say “No” to friendly looking people. But these are the moments where you have to stay hard and say NO. Remember, when you check in luggage you sign with your name that you packed it yourself. If there is anything illegal in that luggage, I have no idea how you would get out of that situation.
On the road with rental car
A rental car makes it very convenient when it comes to planning an itinerary, but also rental cars make you to a potential victim of scams. Typical traps:
- A car with flat tires on the side of the road waiting for help: Don’t worry! You are not a bad person if you don’t offer your help. A locals in need will have enough options for getting help, before needing to ask a tourist or a foreigner.
- Your car has a flat tire: It is possible that the flat tire is even caused by the scammers. So don’t accept help from anyone who just happened to be there right now at that moment. Don’t accept the help of people who offer to take you or your car to the repair shop near by.
In such situations, stay calm, stay in the car, check the surrounding before stepping out, note your coordinates where you are, call your car rental office, your car insurance, or maybe even your host to inform them and consult with them.
In some countries or regions there are even special units helping tourists on the road involved in car accidents, flat tires, and so on. Like Green Angels in Mexico.
- Don’t carry important documents like your passport. Keep them in the safe in your room.
- Have copies of all documents in the cloud
- Note down all possible emergency numbers (embassy, local police, your stay, your bank, etc.) and carry it with you at all times.
- Inform your bank where you are and will be
- Reduce the daily withdrawal limit of your credit card
- Have two credit cards and distribute the money in both.
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