It’s a big scary world out there, but it really doesn’t have to be. The key to staying safe while on the road is awareness! Here’s a few ideas to make sure you have a happy safe homecoming
- It might be difficult to always catch the news while abroad, but keeping an eye on travel advisories before and during your travels can keep you out of the wrong place at the right time.
- Keep an open ear when you are in airports, trains, and bus stations.
- Know where your embassy is for your country in case there’s a problem while you’re away. For international travel advisories check out http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html.
- For U.S. citizens, you can enroll in the “Smart Traveler program” which will register you with the embassy where you are traveling, and they will send updates on advisories and warnings based on the itinerary that you provide. It will also be easier for loved ones to track you down if something such as a natural disaster occurs while you are away.
Even if you aren’t able to call home every time you land in a new place, keeping people in the loop on your whereabouts can be as easy as finding internet access somewhere and posting on a social media site such as Facebook or Twitter. These sites can also be good to keep you informed of what’s going on while you are away. (I was informed about the earthquakes last year in New Zealand, as well as the floods in Thailand this fall because of posts I read on these sites.)
KEEP A LOW PROFILE
This could be anything from the way you dress, to choosing the appropriate topics of conversation where you are. If you are wearing extravagant and expensive clothing and accessories, consider yourself not only a target for theft, but also for tourist scams, and paying higher than normal prices. Try to blend in with the culture if possible. For women, if you don’t want unwanted male attention, then be sure you are wearing modest clothing and you are covering yourself up. You may still get some attention, but it will be much less obvious. You may even consider wearing a fake wedding band (nothing too fancy of course) depending on which areas you are traveling through. Having a “fake” husband who is meeting you somewhere or waiting back at your hostel or hotel can also help keep unwanted male attention at bay.
- Keep electronic as well as hard copies of your passport and visas, as well as a copy with someone back home in the event that these items are lost or stolen while you are away. (Make sure the electronic copy is in a safe secure place, not in your email. Something like google.docs that is secure and privacy protected.)
- Keep credit cards and spare cash spread out amongst your luggage, in different pockets and or bags if you have them. Don’t store them all in one place.
- Consider setting up a free pay-pal account online, which can be used to wire or transfer money without having to go through outside companies (and is another safe place to store money besides your bank account. ) You can use this to pay for online transactions in the event you do lose your credit cards.
- Have the phone numbers and addresses of the places you will be staying so it’s easily accessible when you are trying to find the location, and you have a way for someone to contact you if you haven’t yet set up an international number (or consider setting up an online number with skype so they always have a place to leave a message for you.)
- Consider pepper spray or a small pocket knife to carry (but just be sure to check the laws where you are going and also make sure you put it in your checked luggage.)
- Do some research on the areas you are traveling to, look over maps and have a general knowledge of the area and how to get around. Know which areas are higher crime or more dangerous and try to avoid them if possible.
- If possible, try to schedule arrival times so you will be getting to your destination when it’s still light outside. It will be easier to find your location and much safer walking in an unknown city during the day.
- If you are traveling at night, stay in well-lit and heavy-traffic areas (avoiding side streets and dark alleys if possible.) If you are lost, stay where ever you find the most people (in a bus or train station, a cafe etc. until you can get your bearings (I once stayed on a bus for 2 hours when I arrived late at night until I found someone who could help me and made sure I was getting off in the right place.)
- Even in crowded places, be aware of pickpockets. Make sure you have bags and pockets that zip up and close securely (I had my wallet lifted in a bus by someone right out of my purse.) Wear your bag in the front and keep valuables as close to your body as possible.
- If you are traveling alone, try to link yourself up with other travelers (look for the gigantic backpack with patches from other countries as a clue) There is always safety in numbers.
- If taking a cab, make sure it is a marked and metered cab (ask them to turn on the meter) If they refuse, find another cab
- Trust your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Intuition has been my biggest source of protection. It’s a powerful tool…don’t ignore it.