I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing about safety in travel, but how to broach the subject has been difficult. Safety is a bit of a taboo topic. God forbid I’m the insensitive writer that claims I won’t go to a country because the US Government has given a level 4 advisory and the news says it’s dangerous. There is a lot of shaming that goes on in the travel-sphere online, but fear of ridicule is a bad reason to ignore such an important subject.
When I travel safety is always top of mind. I never book a trip without doing my research. The best safety resource out there for travelers is the US State Department. Reader be warned, going on the State Department website can be akin to a Web MD rabbit hole. Do your research, but don’t assume every minor dangerous thing in remote parts of a country will cross your path. That being said the State Department provides all the useful information you need: disease outbreaks (vaccines you may need), if you need a vista, known safety concerns, areas to avoid, and contact info for local consulates and embassies. Further, once you book your trip I also recommend registering it with the State Department program STEP. If there is any issue such as an earthquake, political unrest, or another emergency they will know you are in the country and where you are staying.
Another not so fun part of trip planning is researching local laws and customs. Everywhere in the world is a little different, but assuming everywhere has the same rules can be a costly mistake. When I traveled to Singapore, I was warned time and time again against bringing food or beverages on public transit, chewing gum, or carrying around Durians (apparently people aren’t fond of smelling this local fruit) for fear of getting smacked with a hearty fine. To avoid a ticket or worse an international gum scandal I left my gum at home and brought breath mints instead.
It’s important to keep in mind that just about every place has its risks. Petty theft and pick-pocketing occur in many areas around the world. Unfortunately, you can’t 100% guarantee you won’t get pick-pocketed. To avoid losing it all – opt to carry a copy of your passport (replacing the real thing can be hard), keep your cash/credit cards in different spots, and avoid being flashy. When I travel, I usually use a secure cross-body bag and keep extra money in my shoe (We always stored our valuables in our boots when I studied abroad) or the inside of a coat jacket. Another great tactic for places where pickpocketing is very common is to carry a dummy credit card (expired) and old cell phone. Keep the decoys in a less secure pocket then your real phone/credit card. The pickpocket will find the decoys instead of the real thing. I also avoid wearing labels and any jewelry.
When I travel, I always try to blend in as much as possible to avoid getting targeted. Something I cringe when I see is loud groups of foreigners. We’ve all probably seen them. Usually, it’s a lively group of girls or guys from the States, UK, or Australia loudly speaking English, visibly intoxicated, and utterly unaware of their surroundings. Save the excitement and noise for the restaurant, bar, or hotel you are headed too. Avoid loudly standing out in the street waving around your iPhone. The last thing you need is for someone to follow you to where you are staying.
My final piece of advice is to share your plans. Let someone else know where you will be staying when, if you plan on making any day trips, and share your confirmation numbers. I usually create a Google Doc with this information. One way I keep people informed is by having a basic data plan, and often times I enable find my friends also. Traveling the world is an incredible experience, but it’s important to remember that every place is not the same as your hometown. Doing some minor planning upfront and taking basic precautions can make for a much more enjoyable and safe trip.