Your safety can never be guaranteed, but there are so many ways you can try and avoid disaster while abroad. You can be the most organised, cautious, safety-conscious person in the world and things can still go wrong (I speak from experience on that one). After reading these back I wonder if I’m being a bit OTT, but whatever, its better to be safe than sorry, right?
1. Try not to walk alone at night (or be super careful if you do)
Girls everywhere know this one all too well – most of us won’t do it if we can help it – but it’s worth mentioning anyway. This is especially important if you’re somewhere you don’t know because people who look lost look vulnerable. If you have to walk on your own at night, then make sure you don’t have any valuables out on show, and get yourself a rape alarm. Another alternative is to call someone or pretend you are (I’ve definitely done this a few times) because people are much less likely to bother you.
Sidenote to this: please please please don’t let your friends get in taxis/walk alone by themselves, particularly if they’re drunk. I know they probably can get back to the hostel or hotel in one piece, but just be a good friend and go with them anyway.
2. Only use registered Taxis and always watch where you’re going
If you’ve read my Thai Taxi troubles, then you’ll know why I do this. We hailed a taxi off the street and ended up almost being scammed (though probably not murdered, as I initially thought). I always open Google Maps or watch the map on the Uber/Grab/Lyft App to make sure I’m being taken to the right place. The sooner you realise they’re taking you for a ride (literally) the sooner you can get yourself out of that situation. Scope out the most trusted/popular taxi companies and stick to those. For instance, in Vietnam, most tourists stick to VinaSun/Mai Linh Taxis or Grab bikes within the cities. If in doubt, ask the restaurant or hotel you’re in to call you a taxi.
3. Keep your valuables out of sight and out of reach
It’s always best to keep your money, cards, phone, passport and anything else in a money belt or securely closed bag when you’re out and about. If you hold anything in your hand, it can easily be snatched by a passing pedestrian (especially in busy markets) or bike driver. This is also the case for bags, which can be grabbed by moped drivers before you even know what’s happened. Make sure everything is securely attached to you, use your bag straps and hide your possessions when out on the street. When in restaurants, keep your bag between your legs or clip it onto a table leg.
4. Be careful getting into conversations with people
If someone calls you over on the street, or engages you in deep conversation at a street stall, keep your wits about you. They might be distracting you while someone else unzips your bag. Most people are probably just being friendly, but it never hurts to be aware of your surroundings.
5. Do your research
It’s always a good idea to understand local laws, customs and etiquette, all of which could stop you getting in a sticky situation. Above all else, research the area you’re staying in and the places you’re going. Are there any areas that have higher crime levels? In every city around the world, there are places you should avoid, especially at night, so get acquainted with where you’ll be safe and where you might not be.
6. Beware of scammers
Scams can come in many forms, and you should be aware of the common tourist scams in the country you are visiting. The most common occurrences generally have to do with money. Always take out money from a reputable ATM (i.e., those at a bank, or ones with cameras). You can often change money safely at hotel receptions but should be very wary of money exchange shops on the street as this is where most scams happen. If you have no choice but to use one of these places, keep your eyes on the money at all times; workers often use distraction and sleight of hand techniques to con your out of your money. Count it yourself self straight after you’ve watched it be counted, and familiarise yourself with what the notes are supposed to look like. Like many other safety measures, this one is all about keeping your wits about you.
7. Avoid getting absolutely shit-faced
I know most people will ignore this one – I’ve definitely ignored it myself on more than one occasion – so I won’t bang on too much about it, but everyone knows that you’re more vulnerable and less in control when you’re drunk. There’s no need to stay sober (unless you want to) just try to stay relatively with it, or at least with it enough to get yourself home.
8. The more expensive option is usually the safer option
Some people love to travel the local way, taking public transport gives you a real experience of a place. For long trips though, this often won’t be the safest option or the best value for money. For instance, if you’re taking one of the infamously long bus journeys in Thailand, the general rule is that the more expensive option is probably going to be the safer option (and the more comfortable). After all, you get what you pay for. If you’re like me and sitting on a bus for 12 hours is your idea of hell, flights in countries like this really aren’t that expensive, and they’re so much safer. The journey from Bangkok to Krabi is 12 hours by bus and 1 hour flying – price difference £20. With the buses being notorious for crashes, drunk drivers, and a distinct lack of sleep, I know which one I’d go for.
9. Guard your passport with your life
Now, this one’s obvious, but people still manage to overlook it. I know far too many people who’ve had passport problems in various countries around the world. A friend of mine left her passport in a hostel locker in Bangkok and didn’t realise until she finished her 16-hour bus journey to Phuket, and another girl I know who got her passport stolen on a train between Romania and Bulgaria and ended up crossing the border illegally. Keep that passport safe people!
10. Listen to your gut: If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t
Last but definitely not least, trust your instincts. If something feels off, then it probably is. Got a weird feeling about the guy offering you a taxi? Politely say no thanks and move on. Feel like someone’s watching you or you’re being followed? Get yourself somewhere safe or approach some other tourists. Slightly lost walking around town and find yourself in a place that doesn’t feel quite right? Walk back the way you came until you recognise something or feel safe enough to get your phone out and look up directions/call an Uber. (Sidenote: maps.me is an amazing app for travelling which requires no internet!)