Being far away from home in a totally new place, travel can sometimes be daunting, intimidating and at times frightening. Especially for first-time adventurers, a bit of fear is healthy. Remembering these sixteen essential tips to staying safe abroad will help ensure that your trip is as fun and safe as possible..
1. Keep Separate Caches of Money
Travelling with no cash is a big mistake — but so is travelling with too much cash. As the saying goes, “don't put all your eggs in one basket”. Keep two separate caches of money so if you get robbed or pickpocketed, you won't be totally screwed. Many backpacks, jackets and accessories have hiding spots designed with travellers in mind to stash away your money. That investment isn't always necessary, however. Splitting your cash between your shoes, socks or tucked into a certain page of a notebook will help mitigate potential disaster (just remember where you put it).
2. Insure Yourself
For the globetrotter in you, investing in travel insurance is a wise policy. Even for the most cautious of travellers, mishaps happen — often things completely out of your control. Most travel insurance policies over packages covering flight and trip cancellations, medical visits, lost or stolen luggage and even interruptions due to natural disasters and terrorism. It is a small price to pay for some peace of mind.
3. Travel Safely At Night
Everybody is bound to be out at night when you're travelling and regardless of where you are, it is best to always stay in a well-lit area. Avoid travelling alone and try to keep to a predetermined route. Navigating a foreign city lost in the dark is not only difficult but dangerous.
4. Avoid Standing Out
You don't need to be a brick in the wall but it's often for the best to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb. In most countries, tourists have a target on their heads. To crooks, all they see is a wealthy foreigner with little knowledge of their surroundings. Don't be taken advantage of and avoid flaunting your foreignness with flashy clothing, bling, electronics and naivety.
5. Keep Somebody Aware Of Your Location
Always keep a family member or friend in the know about your whereabouts. If you're travelling alone, this is especially important, but even in small groups it is a good habit to ensure your safety. Let people know where you're going and set up check-in times at semi-regular intervals ahead of time. If you're following a strict itinerary, leave a copy with some trusted friends.
6. Don't Get Blackout Drunk
If you're going to enjoy a night out on the town, avoid getting too intoxicated. Drinking and partying is often a large part of any culture and a way to meet new people and enjoy a country but getting completely sloshed is a terrible idea. Drunkenly stumbling home, even if in a group, can easily end poorly. Other safe drinking practices should be considered as well, regardless of where or who you are. Don't leave your drink unattended and never accept a drink straight from a stranger.
7. Don't Trust Too Easily
For some people, this isn't an issue. However, for a lot of open, friendly people, the thought that another person is only being friendly to take advantage of you is the last thing on their mind. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. Don't invite strangers back into your room or leave any belongings with somebody you just met.
8. Secure Your Belongings
Your bag, your hotel room, your rental car, everything. Thievery and vandalism know no borders and even if you think you're in a safe neighbourhood, take the extra step and lock any belongings. Being on the hook for a stolen car or losing your laptop, phone or jewellery will put a damper on any trip. Bike locks, handcuffs or padlocks to lock your bags to your seat on a bus or train could be another worthwhile investment — especially if you're one to nap.
9. Record Your Address
This is essential if you're in a country with an unfamiliar language. Even if you speak the language fluently, you shouldn't neglect this tip. It is extremely easy to get lost and having the exact address written or typed out could be the difference in ending up at 33 Cherry Lane or 33 Cherry Drive.
10. Research Your Destination
All too often do diplomatic or political fiascos ruin trips. Circumstances can cause issues anywhere from mild inconvenience to downright dangerous conditions for travellers. Keep up with news sources ahead of your trip, peruse the CIA World Factbook or contact your home country's official embassy in your destination.
11. Learn Some of The Language
You don't need to be fluent in Portuguese to visit Portugal but you best learn some key phrases ahead of time. Not only is it polite and courteous, but it many situations, knowing some of the language is a matter of safety. Simple greetings and manners should be learned but also the words or phrases for help, police and hospital. If you have any allergies, medical conditions or restrictions, you should learn how to communicate that in the language as well.
12. Be Vigilant of Scams
Just about every city in the world has its cast of scam artists — especially tourist hotspots. Research some of the common scams or tricks in that city or country and plan out how you would avoid a similar situation. If something feels fishy, grab your belongings and leave the area.
13. Decoy Wallet and Phones
Not a must-have, but for those of you particularly weary, a decoy or dummy wallet and phone is often a worthwhile investment. Fill up your dummy wallet with a couple of bills, business cards and some expired credit or debit cards (that don't have sensitive info). If you're being mugged, you give them that instead. The biggest issue with this trick is that if you're found, things could get a lot more dangerous. Think closely if this is necessary for you.
14. Study (And Bring) A Map
Never think to rely on street signs, your phone maps or locals (although that's not to say it isn't okay to ask). Before you even step foot in a new place, you should know how to get to your first destination, the different neighbourhoods in the city (including which ones to avoid) and where all the points of interest, hospital and, if applicable, embassy are.
Most people don't have a photogenic memory so bring a paper map with you — still, however, know ahead of time.
15. Respect Local Customs
One of the easiest ways to find yourself harassed, beaten up or worse is to ignore or disrespect local customs. Every time you visit a new country, city or town, you're entering somebody's home. Don't expect everyone to do things your way or force an “American” or “Western” philosophy. Don't pick fun or reject any of their gods, celebrities, legends, festivals or beliefs. You are just asking for an aggressive reaction.
16. Trust Your Judgement
Lastly, always trust your judgement. If something seems odd, out of the ordinary or simply not safe or comfortable, do your best to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.