If you are a frequent traveler you must have experienced the good, bad and the ugly side of travel. Well let’s hope you didn’t *actually* experienced the ugly side. For example getting a surprise upgrade to Business class would be a good experience. Or being hosted by some random local who is trustworthy is a good experience.
Something like getting your luggage lost can be a bad experience (since you still have a chance to recover them). Ugly experience would be getting into some terrible accident or a mugging incident or worse yet kidnaped or sexually abused. It rarely happens but still something to watch out in your travels.
As the old adage goes it is better to be safer than sorry.– Anonymous
I’ve been on the road since 2015. Staying safe while traveling largely comes down to using common sense and being aware of your surroundings. Just one bad experience can ruin your entire travel experience. I’ve met both amateur and experienced travelers who have experienced something in their travels. I remember meeting a 20 year old German girl in Luang Prabang. Laos. She told me a story where she came home late (about 3 am) from a club alone with a tuk-tuk driver. And the driver tried to sexually assault her. Only when she screamed for help he left out of fear. But had she been smart she would have not come home so late alone with a tuk-tuk driver that alone in an unknown country.
There was another incident where another young backpacker from France who goes to an ATM center in a crowded market place in Belgrade, Serbia. He withdraws 200 Euros and put all his hard earned savings in his back pocket. Five minutes later the money disappeared. The issue is that you cannot expect the same level of safety in your home country. It is a rookie mistake to put the money or tickets or anything valuable in your back pocket.
I remember my own experience when I was traveling in Quito, Ecuador. I was in a crowded metro bus going back to my Airbnb apartment. It was my mistake to have been in a crowded bus. And there is a lot of petty thefts in Quito. When one old man standing next to me covertly tried to insert his hands into my open pocket where I had my iPhone. Luckily by the time he pulled it out I caught it and stopped him. Just a simple second of carelessness could have costed my phone.
With those examples as a backdrop I wrote a guide that can help fellow travelers with top safety tips for travel which is trouble free.
1. Keep your life simple
I try to keep my life as simple as possible when I am traveling (doesn’t matter if it is a developing country like Colombia or a developed country like France). I carry the following things with me during the day:
- Cash I need for that specific day
- Public transportation card
- Copy of my passport or some ID document
- Smart phone with an offline Google map (for emergency orientation)
Don’t wear jewelry or fancy things that attracts unwanted attention. Hide some money in your phone cover or in your socks. Many phone covers comes with secret pockets. This is because your wallet (or purse for ladies) contains everything including cash, cards, id card etc. If you lose this you will lose everything. If you want to carry a money belt, keep it in the front and inside your shirt.
2. Watch what you eat or drink
You need to know what you consume. While cooking is not for everyone try to choose places where you eat. If you must, eat hot cooked meals and drink filtered water. Go to street food places or restaurants with high volume traffic. This is important as many places serve old stale left over rather than cook you fresh meal. You might as well buy a dry noodle soup from SevenEleven and eat it in your hostel.
Tap water is not safe to drink in places like Ukraine, India and Thailand. If you must then boil before drinking.
3. Avoid Wearing Backpacks on Your Back in a Crowd
If you have been to Colombia you would have noticed many locals carry their backpacks in their front. There is a reason for this. Pick pocketers can easily cut the bag, snatch and run away. I’ve witnessed this in person. So just wear it in in your front where you can keep it safe and easily access the contents in the bag.
4. Plan Inter City Travel Through Developing Countries For During the Day
For medium to long inter city travels in developing countries, try to plan your trip during the day. Although this is rare but it can happen in countries like Colombia, Venezuela and some central American countries. If you travel in a rental car or taxi you can get mugged. This happened to an Israeli group of friends traveling south of Colombia.
If you arrive late in the night at a new place you may find it difficult to read street signs and use maps in proper light, and you wont draw unwanted suspicion from the local police.
If you do need to drive at night, make sure your windows are rolled up all the way, and do not pull over unless it is an official stop. Make sure you get into official taxi’s or a car sharing service that you can trust.
5. Download local Map before you arrive
It is best to download an offline map of the city where you are traveling. Get yourself oriented before you go to get an idea of the city. Use Maps.me or Google Maps for offline maps.
6. Bring a Lock For Your Valuables
Most hostels or home stays don’t have locks for their locker room or they offer it for a price. I recommend your bring your own combination lock. Here is where you lock your valuables like your macbook, iPad or your cameras. Worst case scenario if the place doesn’t have a locker leave it with the front desk or hide it under the mattress.
7. Try Your Best to Blend In
If you are in a foreign country find a way to blend in rather than stand out as a tourist. For example in Medellin, Colombia locals don’t wear shorts. Only gringos (foreigners) do. If you go there in your shorts you can become a primary target. You can wear thin cotton pants instead.
For women traveling in western clothes in conservative countries like India or Egypt can attract unwanted attention. Wear Salwar Kameez in India. Or simply a scarf around your neck would be fine.
8. Learn basic words in Local Language
Try to pickup some basics words in the local language. This will help you to get around the place and also in emergency situations.
9. Don’t Leave Anything Unattended in Public
If you are one of those travelers who carry a selfie stick to take pictures ask someone who you can trust. I’ve heard stories where some guy grabbed the phone and ran away. If you are carrying a big bag it is better to leave it in the
At bus, train station or airport, secure your luggage with a strap around your arm or fasten to your seat with a lock. If you are traveling in a bus make sure to keep your valuable belongings on your lap and not as checked in luggage. Always try to keep a part of your body connected to the bag.
Remember, any minor obstacle or inconvenience is an effective deterrent for thieves.
10. Secure your important documents
If you are traveling globally chances are you are carrying some important travel documents such as Passports (some cases multiple), visa (stamps for some countries), flight/train/bus tickets, ID cards (drivers license, local id cards), Credit cards, Debit cards etc etc.
So you might come across some worst case scenario where you lose one of more of these vital documents in the middle of a busy journey. And you wished you read this article in advance. Many long term travelers would confess to losing something during the travel.
So here is what I recommend:
- First take digital scanned copies of all Passports, visa stamps, ID cards, Credit/debit cards.
- Back up these documents in some type of Cloud service like Google drive or iCloud which you can access from anywhere.
- Take copies of these documents in a USB drive like a SanDisk Cruzer 128GB drive that is password secured.
- Keep a copy of the credit/debit card number for safe access in your laptop as well.
- Lastly send these documents to someone you can trust like a family member who will be your last resort in case if you cannot recover the documents through any of the steps outlined above in this list.
In addition to documents I also recommend setting the Find me option on your iPhone so it can help track your phone if your lose. I’ve heard many stories from travelers who successfully recovered their phone using this mode.
11. Get travel insurance
It goes without saying that you need a travel insurance plan when you are traveling abroad especially if you plan to do any adventure sports. Luckily there is one that you can cover your back – SafetyWing travel insurance that has insurance coverage in almost all the countries in the world. The rates are pretty good as well.
Let me give some stats as an additional info.
The top 5 cities for homicide (per 100,000 inhabitants):
- Caracas, Venezuela (120)
- San Pedro Sula, Honduras (111)
- San Salvador, El Salvador (109)
- Acapulco, Mexico (105)
- Maturí, Venezula (87).
The top 5 countries for road fatalities (per 100,000 inhabitants)
- Libya (73)
- Thailand (36)
- Malawi (35)
- Liberia (34)
- DRC (33)
World average is 17.4; UK is 2.9 and USA is 10.6.