Updated June 17, 2020.
It’s Travel Tip Tuesday! I think the most common questions any traveler gets asked are about safety–especially solo travelers, and even more especially women travelers. But safety goes for men and women alike. No one is immune to bad things that can happen anywhere in the world (even in your hometown!), but you can take charge and give yourself an edge to travel safely. Here’s how!
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
When you look like you’re not paying attention, you look like a target. Don’t stop to look at the map in the middle of the sidewalk. Don’t wander aimlessly and find yourself in a bad part of town. Get your mess together before you set out for the day, and look at a map to get your bearings in a new place. Be aware of who and what is around you at all times. Don’t worry about it, just be aware of it.
Self-awareness is a dying virtue. But it doesn’t have to be! The best thing you can do while you’re traveling is be aware of yourself. How close are you to the people around you? Are people waiting for you to move out of their way on the sidewalks, escalator, or on the road?
Act Like You Own the Place
If you look like you know what you’re doing, people think you know what you’re doing. Look determined, walk with purpose, and act like you know where you’re going. Pickpockets and other predators want an easy target, not someone who knows what he or she is doing.
Your wardrobe will depend on where you’re going, but no matter where you are, you do not want to stand out. Leave your expensive and flashy jewelry at home, and women especially should dress conservatively. Do a little research on what’s appropriate in the place you’ll be visiting, and pack accordingly. This is not your moment to express your individuality or sexuality. This is your time to experience someone else’s culture. Places that are considered holy will often have garments to use (possibly for rent, so bring some cash) while you’re there.
Not sure what to wear? Check out my Packing Page!
Trust Your Gut
If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. God gave you good sense and gut feelings because we need them–use them.
Know the Nearest Embassy or Consulate Location
Whatever your nationality, you can always go to your country’s embassy or consulate. Find the address and phone number before you leave on your trip, and keep that with you both in a note on your phone and on a piece of paper if your phone is stolen. You can keep the paper copy with your passport, wallet, in your pocket, or all of the above.
Make a Copy of Your Passport
Make a hardcopy of your passport’s picture and info pages, and keep it somewhere other than with your real passport. If your passport is stolen, this will come in handy in getting you a new one or talking to security at the airport.
Write Down Credit Card Company Phone Numbers
Write these down and perhaps put them in your phone as well. In case your card or cards are stolen, you will want to have the phone numbers to call and cancel the cards.
Get Vaccinated if Necessary
Check out the recommended vaccinations and medications for the areas you’ll be visiting. Make sure you get all the dates and information for each vaccination on your yellow travelers’ card and check out my post on Travel Immunizations.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
Don’t bother with high heels, flip flops, or new shoes for day-long wear. Opt instead for tennis shoes, running, shoes, sneakers, walking shoes–whatever you call them, go for comfort. If you need to take heels for a night out or a show, wear them as little as possible. Nothing throws off your whole body quite like compensating for blisters or shoes that are too small!
Precautions on Travel
Don’t Fall for the “Re-direct”
Picture this: you’re walking to a major tourist attraction, but someone who appears to be local stops you to say it’s closed, but he (or she) knows of an even better place for you to visit. Do not do it. Keep walking, do not make eye contact, keep your head up and walk around like you know what you’re doing. If there is a “Closed” sign on the attraction, you can then make a plan B, but do not get redirected. Do not let your attention be diverted. Do not find yourself backed into a corner (or an alley).
Have a Thowaway Wallet
If someone comes and threatens you to give them money, take out a fake wallet with some $1’s in it, throw it to or give it to them, and run away as fast as you can.
Ask for a Cab at a Hotel, Restaurant, or Other Venue
Hailing a cab is fine in lots of places, but if it’s late or you’re just not feeling quite right about hailing a taxi on the street, ask someone at the front desk of a place you feel comfortable to call a cab for you. Also, do not leave your luggage, purse, electronics, etc., in a cab, even if you’re just getting out for a minute.
Only Use Low-risk ATMs
By low-risk, I mean machines that are less likely to have skimmers to steal your card information. Gas station, grocery store, and bus stop ATMs are not low-risk, since those places are out in the open and not always monitored. Instead, use the ATM at a bank, inside security at the airport, or at your hotel. But be smart about the fees you may incur, and also always check the ATM card reader by pulling on it to see if it comes off or is loose–that’s a sign it’s been compromised.
Do Not Leave Anything Unattended
This goes for bags at the airport, your beverage, your purse, etc. If you’re traveling alone, this can be tricky. It’s not always easy to take all your stuff with you into a bathroom stall, but you can do it, and you should!
Wear the Helmet, Wear the Life Jacket
Don’t try to look super cool and then get side-swiped onto the road. Wear a helmet if you’re on a bike, moped, motorcycle, or other moving vehicle. If you’re a boat, especially on open sea, please wear your life jacket. Even if you can swim, things happen–so be careful. Even in a safe destination like Block Island, Rhode Island, all serious medical injuries must be life flighted to the mainland, which can take a while. The effects of a head injury may not wait that long.
Drink Bottled Water
Unless you’re sure it is safe to drink the tap water, err toward bottled water. Traveler’s diarrhea is urgent and not fun at all, but beyond that, you can get other sicknesses from tainted water. Many of these diseases are eradicated in many countries, but not everywhere.
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