How to Stay Safe When You Travel
Before you buy your tickets, it is important to examine whether your destination is a safe place to travel or not. You need to check out the risk levels, travel alerts or any warnings that are present in the country you’re interested in traveling to. Most places in the world are peaceful and the media does not always convey an accurate picture of the risk levels abroad. For instance, unlike the picture conveyed to the world by television, Pakistan has been a safe place for travelers for years. In this article, I will talk about the precautions you should take in order to feel secure at your destination as well as how to avoid some basic scams.
In order to evaluate if your destination is safe, I suggest that you first check out the official websites of state departments. Then crosscheck them with other websites or chat sites where travelers that have been there in recent weeks or are still there, share their experiences. Here are some websites to get you started:
US State Department: This website is a great source of information about the risks of traveling to any country of the world. Each country information contains a Travel Advisory, Alerts, and other important details, such as diseases, local laws etc., that could affect you. It also informs you whether you need a visa, certain vaccinations, or any other requirements.
UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office: This website provides a list of 224 countries or territories with information about their entry requirements, local laws and customs, safety and security, terrorism, health, money, travel advice and support.
Canada’s Consular Affairs Department: This website is a source of travel advice and information on local safety and security conditions as well as areas to avoid, entry and exit requirements, local laws, possible health hazards and restrictions, natural hazards and climate, and where to find help while traveling abroad.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs: Similarly to the previous websites, this one provides travel information on safety and security, laws, health, natural disasters etc.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: This website is specialized in health issues in individual countries. It provides extensive details on vaccinations or medications you may need as well as tips for staying healthy while traveling.
Safe Around: This website provides interesting graphics that show warnings and dangers in more than 100 countries.
What Precautions Should I Take When Traveling Abroad?
So, you’ve done your research and decided that it is safe for you to visit the place you’re interested in. However, even if your destination is the safest place in the world, you should still take some precautions in order to protect yourself because…you never know. Here are some tips:
Register for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. If you’re a U.S. citizen or national traveling and living abroad you can connect with the Embassy just by enrolling your trip. In the event of a natural disaster, civil unrest, family emergency or any kind of threat, the Embassy or Consulate will be able to alert you and provide help.
Get the Appropriate Vaccines. If your travel destination requires vaccinations before your arrival, make sure that you do it. Do not ignore the health concerns of the country you’re planning to visit and also get a checkup in order to ensure that you are healthy enough to travel abroad.
Do not Share Your Travel Plans with Strangers… Do not share your travel plans, accommodation or flight details with people that you don’t know or you just met as soon as you arrived at your destination.
…But DO Share Your Travel Plans with Family or Friends. Make sure that at least one person that you know and trust, is informed about your travel plans. In case of an emergency, there should be someone who knows where you are supposed to be, especially if your travel plans include extreme sports e.g. hiking, mountain climbing, etc.
Keep Photocopies and Electronic Copies of Your Documents. Before you leave, create copies of your itinerary, medical insurance card, passport, ID, tickets, travel insurance, and visas in a safe place. This way you can access the information in case your paperwork is lost, damaged or stolen. To find out more about travel documents, click here.
Don’t Become a Target. This can be achieved through dressing in a way that doesn’t show that you are an affluent tourist. You don’t want to draw the wrong attention, so remove all jewelry and wear a cheap watch or no watch at all. Also, wear clothes that are discreet and keep your camera concealed. In general, show that you are not a tourist and you don’t have much to steal.
Never Seem Lost or Unwary. Even if you are not sure where you’re going, do not just stand out in a crowd rather walk like you’re going somewhere. Also, try to be discreet when you’re reading a map and keep an eye on the people around you in case you notice anything suspicious. Ask for directions only from individuals in authority.
Don’t Carry Everything Together. Avoid carrying your cash, credit cards, and your original documents in your wallet rather keep them locked in your hotel room safe. If for any reason you need to carry them with you, you may wish to put them in different places rather than all in one wallet or pouch. A pouch or money belt worn under your clothing is one of the safest places to hide them. Also, don’t carry things in your back pocket; this way you can become an easy target for a pickpocket.
Avoid Short Cuts or Poorly Lit Streets. Don’t use narrow alleys and be particularly aware after dark. I advise you to avoid traveling alone at night since muggers can easily hide in doorways during that time.
Save Emergency Numbers. Find out what the local emergency hotlines are and save them to your phone. Also research the nearest embassies or consulates and save those addresses and phone numbers as well.
Don’t Fight Back. If you are confronted, just give up your valuables. Don’t try to be a hero because your belongings are not worth an injury or death. Give the items and once you’re out of danger contact the nearest embassy or consulate to report the incident.
In Case of Sexual Harassment, Scream. A common mistake that women do when a harasser approaches them is that they freeze and don’t fight back. If a harasser chases or grabs you, SCREAM FOR HELP. This is actually how most women have escaped attempted rapes. Kick in the knees or privates and do not hesitate to jab him in the eyes.
Don’t Flash Your Cash. Keep your cash separated so you’re not showing a big wad of cash every time you need to pay for something.
Wear Your Backpack on Your Front.
How to Feel Safe in Cars, Buses, Trains or Taxis?
Systematic robbery of passengers on trains and buses on tourist routes is a common phenomenon. It is more often at night and overnight trains and buses while tourists are sleeping. To avoid being a victim of such well-organized gangs, follow my tips:
Do not accept anything from strangers, even if this is food or drinks. If it’s from a criminal, the food or drink is probably drugged.
If it’s possible, lock your compartment. If not, stay awake so that you secure your valuables.
Do not hesitate to alert authorities if you find anything suspicious or you feel threatened in any way.
If you travel by your car or you rent one at your destination, make sure that:
the car has an air conditioner so that you will not need to open the windows,
you keep the car doors locked at all times,
you avoid driving at night,
you don’t leave any valuables in the car or just keep them out of sight,
you park the car on a well-lit street,
you are suspicious of anyone who hails you or tries to get your attention when you are in or near your car and,
you don’t pick hitchhikers.
As for the taxis, make sure that they have official markings. Beware of unmarked cabs.
Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them
It is almost impossible to know when you will be scammed but it is important to know what kinds of scams exist and how to avoid them. Keep your guard up, but don’t overdo it; not all locals are out to scam you, some are just hospitable. It’s better to be wary, so I’ll share with you some of the most common travel scams:
Fake Officials Scam. When traveling, you might be stopped by the police or security that flashes a badge quickly and asks to see your documents. To give them back, they ask for money. Or a person could approach you and offer you drugs. While conversing, one or more people will approach you, flashing badges and insisting that you give them your passport and wallet. In both cases, these people are not police officers. What to Do: Do not hand over your passport or wallet. Request them to show you their identification and call the police to confirm that they are who they are. Or ask them to take you to the police station where you’d gladly show them your documents or make any payments. If they don’t allow this, simply walk away or ask the people around you for help.
Hotel Pay Scam. You book and pay for your hostel accommodation in advance and when you check out you don’t have any proof of your payment. The person at the desk doesn’t believe that you paid and he charges you again. What to Do: If you pay up front for your accommodation, make sure that you get a written receipt and keep it till you check out.
Unlicensed Taxis Scam. You get in a cab that is unmarked and you’re literally at the mercy of the driver. In the best case scenario, he will only charge you highly. What to Do: Do not accept rides from people in unmarked vehicles, not matter how low they claim their prices to be. When in doubt, have your hostel call a taxi on your behalf.
Counterfeit Money Scam. You are about to pay the taxi driver and he tells you that your money is counterfeit. He secretly changes the money you gave him with counterfeit money and gives it back to you asking you to pay with other bills. What to Do: The best way to avoid being scammed this way is to mark your bills so that you know whether someone replaces them with counterfeit. Another solution would be paying with coins.
Broken Taxi Meter Scam. You get into a taxi and the taxi driver informs you that the taxi meter is broken. Later on he charges you a ridiculously high price. What to Do: Ask for the price ahead of time, and if necessary negotiate it. Another option is to make sure that the meter is working before you get in the cab. Be especially careful with the taxi drivers near the airport or bus stations.
Credit-card Scam. You give your credit-card to the store owner to pay for something and he secretly swipes it twice; one time through the machine in front of you and one through another one that is hidden. What to Do: Keep a close eye on our credit card and if you see anything suspicious do not hesitate to make a scene. Ask the person to run your card through the machine in front of you.
Exchange Scam. You find an unofficial street dealer with a ‘too-good-to-be-true’ price on money exchange. The money you get back is probably counterfeit. What to Do: Obviously, avoid unofficial dealers and be extremely careful when it comes to money changing. Count and recount.
Repair Scam. You rent a car, motorbike, bike or scooter and it ‘mysteriously’ breaks down. You return it to the rental company and they charge you with ridiculous repair fees. What to Do: Take several pictures of the vehicle before you leave and make sure you have recorded any scratches or damage it already had.
Free Bracelets Scam. A friendly woman approaches you and places ‘for free’ a bracelet on your wrist. Later on, they will demand money and make a scene if you refuse. What to Do: Do not let anyone put anything on your body and do not accept anything for free.
Spills on Your Clothes Scam. Someone puts something on your back or he throws it at you from an unknown location. This could be bird poop or a fast-food condiment such as mustard or ketchup. Then a friendly stranger approaches you and tells you that you have something on your back. He offers you a tissue to wipe it off while plucking your wallet. What to Do: Do not allow anyone to help you and do not take off your backpack for any reason. Instead, move to the nearest restroom and clean the spill on your own.
ATM Helper Scam. You are at the ATM cash machine and someone approaches you to help you with something (e.g. avoid the local fees, or warn you about something, etc.). What he actually wants to do is scan your ATM card with a skimmer he has in his pocket or simply watch you enter your pin number. What to Do: Never let anyone approach you when you’re using the ATM cash machine and always cover with your other hand your pin code while entering it.
Beggars Scam. A woman with a baby, an injured, or a deaf beggar asks you for money. Some of them are frequently used by gangs in order to collect money. Or sometimes there is someone nearby watching to see where you keep your wallet so they can pickpocket you later. What to Do: Do not give money to beggars, instead buy them food. This way you know that your money isn’t going to a gang.
Photo Offer Scam.
What If I’m Robbed Abroad?
Things can sometimes go wrong and you have to be prepared for anything. So, let’s say that your wallet, purse, or backpack, with all your valuables in it gets stolen. What do you do?
1) Report It Immediately. Go to the nearest police station and report the robbery. This police report will be needed in order to get replacements or make an insurance claim. Presenting it to your embassy will also speed up the issuing of a new passport
2) Cancel Your Cards and Phone Number. If you have any stolen credit cards, you need to call your bank and report a theft asking them to cancel your cards and send new ones at home. They can be replaced by the issuing bank in anything from 24 hours to three days, depending on the bank and the country. Do the same with your phone number company, so that you won’t have to pay any extra charges when you return home.
3) Contact Your Embassy or Consulate. As soon as you report the robbery to the police and you get your police claim, you need to go to your embassy or consulate in order to issue a replacement passport. In order to do that you need to pay an amount of money which is covered by most travel insurance policies. If you need any medical treatment, the Embassy or Consulate will be able to find you a doctor or hospital.
4) Inform Your Travel Insurance Provider. Ask them what papers you need in order to make a claim when you return home. For more information on travel insurance read our article on Travel Insurance.
5) Inform Your Tour Operator. In case you are traveling with a tour operator, you should also inform them so that they help liaise with the police.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong when you’re traveling abroad and there’s no way you can predict all of them. However, you can keep an eye for anything that looks suspicious and be prepared for as much incidents as possible. But don’t overthink about it; try to have some fun at the same time!
Edited by Eleni Gkovedarou
Sign in to leave your comment