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Learning how to stay safe when traveling is a common concern. This concern is amplified for solo travelers. However, I find that if you use your common sense, stay alert, and avoid potentially volatile situations, it’s easy to stay safe when traveling.
An overview of how to stay safe when traveling
There are many things you can do to improve your safety and reduce the chance of encountering an unsafe situation. First, and most importantly, research a location beforehand. Are there any common scams or safety issues? Are there any unsafe areas you should avoid? By understanding common safety issues, you can be prepared and avoid them.
Next, keep your luggage secure. If you have a suitcase, use a padlock. Ensure all pockets and zips are closed. Also, when using a backpack, don’t leave anything poking out. It is a given that you should also keep valuables secure and try not to stand out too much as a tourist – leave that vibrant Hawaiian shirt at home!
Generally, when exploring, common sense and logic are also key. Stay alert and try to assess different situations. Don’t place yourself in unnecessary vulnerable situations and keep conversation with locals lighthearted and impersonal.
Expert Tip: If you feel uncomfortable or vulnerable in a situation, walk away from it. If the people have your safety and best interests at heart, they should respect your wishes and allow you to leave.
I find there is a common misconception that travel is dangerous. Of course, there are dangerous situations, and crime happens. However, I wholeheartedly believe that you can greatly improve your safety when traveling, and much of what happens is under your control.
The best advice I can give is to take your safety seriously. Even if you are enjoying a simple city break, think about your safety measures. The moment you start to underestimate situations is when things can turn sour. When traveling, I always try to implement the 10 things listed below to improve my safety:
1. Research safety aspects of a location beforehand
Understanding your location and potential safety issues is a priority. I usually do a little research beforehand on the general tourism scene of a country. Is there much crime? Are tourists targeted in particular? Are there any scams to be aware of? Websites like Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor have a wealth of info on safety issues. Also, consider checking your government website for travel advice.
2. Secure your luggage with padlocks
This is a simple but effective security method. It acts as a real security measure, but also as a deterrent. I usually lock my suitcase or backpack with a padlock. Also, I usually carry a couple of padlocks with me, if I am stopping in a hostel, for example. If you use padlocks, keep the keys safe! There is nothing worse than rushing and trying to find a padlock key when you urgently need something from your suitcase!
3. When exploring, only take what you need
This is both a safety and comfort measure that I always do. If I am walking in a city, or enjoying a day trip, I only take what I need. This reduces my carrying weight and means I will not struggle. It also means if anything does happen, I won’t lose all my worldly possessions. Pack your bag beforehand and think – do I really NEED to take this item?
4. Create a list of emergency info
Having a basic list of contact information is a great idea. I usually create a basic document containing contact numbers and addresses. This includes contact numbers and addresses of any accommodation I am stopping in.
It may also contain the contact information of tour providers, including their head office within the local region. It could also prove beneficial to list country or regional-specific numbers like emergency contact numbers, or even Embassy numbers. This ensures that if you experience any issues, you can easily make contact with the relevant people.
5. Always buy travel insurance
I have known many friends who travel without insurance. This always astounds me. For the minimal cost, it is simply not worth the risk of not having travel insurance. In most instances, travel insurance costs next to nothing. It is a minor inconvenience, and the potential benefits it provides if something happens is something I feel comfortable having.
6. Give your friends/family a breakdown of your travel plan
The worst thing you can do is set off traveling and not tell anyone where you are going or what you are doing. What can they do if something happens? How can they get in touch if they don’t know where you are staying?
Before traveling, I usually give a breakdown of what I am doing and where I am staying to my parents. This includes basic info like countries, cities, and any tour providers. I may also give them hotel information and a rough outline of my schedule. You could also give flight numbers and times too. Basically, ensure at least one other person knows what you are doing.
7. Don’t be blasé when talking to strangers
I love talking to locals and understanding their culture. It is part of what makes travel such a fun experience. I also, however, stay guarded and keep conversations lighthearted. When talking to strangers, don’t immediately divulge your life story – refrain from giving any personal information, or any detailed travel plans. The less they know, the less they can use against you.
8. Don’t flash your valuables
Criminals are drawn to valuables and signs of wealth. For example, if you are continually flashing your expensive iPhone or designer sunglasses, you are more likely to be targeted. Think about what you are wearing, and what valuables you are carrying. Don’t needlessly use them or continually have them exposed.
9. Try to blend in with the locals
Making yourself obvious as a tourist also makes you an obvious target. Whilst individuality and fashion sense are something we should all have; you must also exercise restraint.
Wearing typical tourist attire, or vibrant colors that offset you from the local population, is asking for trouble. I try to keep my travel wardrobe neutral and somewhat bland – this allows me to blend in easier and go unnoticed.
10. If a situation feels unsafe, it probably is!
This is something that you learn with experience, but I always trust my instincts and common sense. You should be able to gauge if a situation feels unsafe. Are you being asked to do something unreasonable? Maybe you are being asked to travel away from secure areas? In these instances, you must assess the individual situation and use your instincts. If something feels unsafe or dubious, it probably is.
Read up on safety info from multiple sources
I usually check my government website for the current travel status of a location I intend to visit. Also, I read advice from Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor – these are two reliable sources that often have first-hand accounts from other travelers. I try to find info on local scams too so I know what “worst-case scenario” to potentially expect.
Document your travel plans and info
I do this before traveling where possible. First, I give a breakdown to my parents of the locations I am traveling to and the accommodation I am stopping in. Second, I create a simple Word document listing important info like hotel addresses, contact numbers, and simple things like the international dialing code of the country.
Paul specializes in travel and photography. His passion for travel spans back to his childhood and has been a life-long obsession. He has seen much of the world including cold climate destinations like Antarctica, Greenland, Svalbard, and Iceland. This combined with a thirst for knowledge, and a love of literature, has allowed him to craft a successful career as a writer. Through his writing, he loves to empower readers to see the world just as he has. Full Bio