There are many things that you can do to ensure that you stay safe while traveling. Here are certain things to consider before you travel;
- Travel advisories
- Severe weather
- War zones
- Timing your arrival
- Travel documents
- Local laws
- Local customs
- Medical and insurance
- Unfamiliar risks
- Pets, children and people with needs
No place on the planet is completely free from safety risks, including your own home. However, gaining understanding about the nature of risk in general, specific threats at your destination, and what you can do to minimize both general and specific risks can go a long way towards a safe trip.
- When traveling, don’t take risks you wouldn’t be comfortable taking at home, unless you know the area well and are entirely sure about what you’re doing.
- You can’t completely eliminate all risks to your safety, so focus your energy on taking preventative steps proportional to the actual risks. For example, while there is realistically nothing much you can do to predict and avoid random terrorist attacks, car accidents claim the lives of more travelers than random acts of terrorism around the world do, so focusing on traffic safety is more practical than avoiding random terrorist attacks.
- Be wary of possible threats wherever you are; relaxing on a warm beach and newfound friends can provide a false sense of security.
- Gain knowledge about your destination. Learn about local customs, including those around appropriate dress, as well as some key phrases in the local language so that you can communicate. Learning about your destination will make you more aware of risks, help you to be better prepared to deal with emergencies that may occur, and will make your trip a lot easier in general. Check the local guides for advice on relevant crime and security risks, and how to avoid or minimize them.
- Although you may want to make local friends, always be extremely cautious with anyone who tries to assertively befriend you, or situations you are encouraged into by people you don’t know. In some countries this is one way people can take advantage of visitors.
Hotels can be dangerous places in case of fire. Check that there are two ways of escape from your room. Maps and instructions can be out of date. Some hotels and venues have specific fire alarm tones. Ask if you are unsure you will recognise them.
If possible, check that emergency exits are in fact usable. Make sure that you get plenty of sleep before you drive.
The safest mode of transport depends on the country, and the trip particulars, and it can be very difficult to do a fair comparison. Statistics comparing forms of travel are usually given by distance travelled and not by time, and are crowded by urban mythology.
When on a bus or train:
- Stay near the driver/conductor/guard.
- Ensure you always know where your bags are. Bags can be stolen from under seats or luggage racks.
- See Tips for rail travel and Bus travel.
When riding in a taxi:
- Use licensed cabs, rather than private cars (gypsy cabs), even though they might be slightly more expensive.
- Always make sure the driver has turned on the meter if there is one, or negotiate the fare before the trip starts if there isn’t.
- When riding alone, sit behind the driver where it is more difficult for him to threaten or harm you.
When using a car:
- Don’t drink and drive.
- Be aware of local traffic laws and regulations and follow them.
- Keep the car locked, including the trunk/boot—thieves can snatch bags at the traffic lights.
- Keep mobile phones and other valuables out of sight—travel insurance may not cover items left in cars.
- Park in well lit places with no cover around the car—if there are bushes etc. thieves can work on the locks out of sight.
- Before getting into your car, check the back seat to ensure no-one’s hiding there.
- Consider extending your insurance to cover all costs of window/windscreen replacement; it’s not uncommon for thieves to just smash the glass to get in.
- Orient yourself with a map before setting out, and take local advice on undesirable areas to walk in.
- Watch the body language of other tourists and the locals – if they don’t seem happy about being in an area and are rushing through it or are turning around, you should reconsider whether you want to be there.
- If approached aggressively, you may not have much time to think and a lot depends on the situation, so it’s worth mentally thinking through in advance if a risky situation arose. There are many techniques, some rely on avoidance (hand over possessions, or avoid eye contact and keep moving), some rely on attracting attention (shouting loudly, making a disturbance), and some rely on being aware of what is around you.
To buy anything, you’ll need money, which may make you a target for theft. To reduce your risks:
- As much as possible, try to avoid looking like someone that a thief would target (remember, think like a criminal). To that end, don’t flash wads of cash, or wear or carry expensive jewelery or valuables (keep those in the hotel safe).
- Follow local advice as to safe areas.
- Have copies of the information/photo page of your passport. Leave your passport in the hotel safe if that is available and permitted.
- Have an additional credit card and some cash separate from your wallet. Split everything up in such a way that if one wallet gets stolen you can still enjoy the trip. Consider a money belt or other concealment.
- Be aware of common scams. These are designed to get your money or business from you under false pretences. They fall into three categories: overcharging you, deceiving you or coercing you into paying for a service you don’t want, and outright theft.
- Take steps to protect yourself against pickpockets, who are a hazard in many tourist destinations.
- Use your best judgement about restaurants. If the place looks dodgy, eat somewhere else.
- Make sure food is fully cooked.
- Avoid dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurized.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before eating. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel (with at least 60% alcohol).
- Don’t eat plants or fungi that you find in the wild, unless you really know what you’re doing. Some poisonous species in some parts of the world closely resemble edible species in other parts of the world. There also may be a risk they have been sprayed with pesticide or herbicide that can make you sick.
Taking part in a city’s nightlife can be the highlight of a trip; however, nighttime is when the shady people of the city come out, so extra vigilance is necessary. If the nightlife isn’t your thing back home, don’t feel obligated to go out when travelling; the safest place to be at night is in your hotel room. If you do decide to go out, here are some tips:
- Try to avoid walking the streets alone after dark, or minimally stay in well-lit areas.
- Dress down, and don’t flaunt your wealth.
- Try not to get too drunk. The risk of being a victim of violent crime and sexual assault increases if you are intoxicated.
- Avoid accepting drinks, meals or gifts purchased for you. It can create an expectation in the giver, and can also expose you to drink spiking etc.
- Avoid going back to a stranger’s house, hotel, or any other location. If you wish to socialize in this way, ensure you have a familiar, public, and safe location that you can nominate.
- Avoid purchasing illegal drugs. The transaction is often a pretext for robbery, scams or worse.
- Let someone back home know where you are, and when you will next be in touch.
- Leave copies of your passport and travel insurance details with someone at home, it’s also a good idea to carry a copy of your passport and any visas on you, ideally separate from your passport. This will ease your troubles with authorities if you lose it, and handing over a photocopy to potentially corrupt officials is a good way to deal with a potential blackmail situation.
- Also consider taking a digital scan of your passport and important travel documents and storing it electronically – this can be as simple as emailing it to yourself, but the scan should be stored in an encrypted file.
- Consider carrying a mobile communication method that will work in your destination. Check if your mobile phone will roam, and if there is coverage at your destination. Even a non-roaming phone can be used for emergency calls on a compatible network. Consider renting a satellite phone for remote areas.
- Register with your embassy or relevant government department – some countries provide an online facility for doing this.
Law and authorities
When it comes to conflicts with police officers, immigration officers (see Border crossing), security guards, or any other government officials, you need to be aware of local laws and regulations. Actions that are legal in many countries (such as homosexuality or drinking alcohol) or only minor infractions (jaywalking, littering, drug use etc.) might earn travellers a major fine, or even a prison or death sentence, in others. As laws and their execution vary a lot between countries, advance knowledge of the local situation is needed; see the Stay safe section of each respective destination.
Just like people in general, some police and other government officers are prejudiced, and might discriminate against a traveller based on race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or social class. Be informed about local values, for instance whether racism, homophobia or other prejudices are prevalent. As well, in some countries corruption is widespread, such as when a police officer or government official requests a cash bribe for providing service or even threatens to detain someone who does not pay. It pays to be aware of the local attitude towards corruption and act accordingly. Additionally, sometimes criminals will pose as police officers in order to scam travellers.
At the very least, be informed about what law enforcement forces exist in the countries you visit, and how to recognize them.
Consider the safety tips mentioned above and travel safe. Safe Travels Wanderers!