I’ve visited multiple big cities over the last five years including New York, London, Barcelona, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Beijing to name a few. So far, I’ve been lucky enough not to run into any serious problems regarding my safety. Sure, I’ve had my moments; I was caught up in the middle of the 2010 Bangkok riots, was accidentally an illegal immigrant in Laos, was bitten by a monkey (somewhat unavoidable) in China, had a run-in with some coral and a sea urchin in Cambodia and narrowly avoided being scammed in Beijing, but have thankfully never been the victim of a crime. I’ve misplaced countless possessions and smashed a camera to smithereens, but that’s my own clumsiness (stupidity?) and that can’t always be helped!
You can never be 100% ‘safe’ anywhere – including your hometown – BUT there are a few easy steps you can take to reduce your chances of running into trouble…
Keep your money safe
Pretty obvious, but you worked hard for that travel money, don’t make it easy for someone to take it away! Keep your money and cards in separate places – don’t keep all your cash in your day pack and definitely don’t keep it all in your backpack at the hostel or hotel. Hide a small amount of cash somewhere inconspicuous (not a pocket!) in your backpack for emergencies. I read somewhere that you could roll a few notes inside a tampon casing, and I think that’s a great idea! Guys, stuffing into a pair of socks is probably a better option for you….
NEVER leave money or valuables in hold luggage on planes. It may seem like a safe option but it’s commonplace for valuables to go missing from bags whilst in transit. Same applies for public transport, keep all laptops, phones, cameras etc with you in your day pack and not in any overhead luggage stores.
Invest in safety gadgets
Invest in a portable travel safe to keep valuables secure in your accommodation. It’s worth carrying a couple of padlocks for hostels that offer lockers but no locks, but you are unlikely to have anywhere to secure your belongings in AirBnB properties. I only just discovered that these portable safes exist, and will definitely be getting one for my travels! Pacsafe also do ‘anti-theft’ bags which have loads of cool features to reduce the risk of opportunistic robberies. They look great, but these extra features are reflected in the larger price tag. I’d love to hear from anyone who has one!
Always look behind you!
I don’t mean in a creepy, who’s following you down the street kinda way, but more make sure you check where you were sat before making a move. Every time you leave a cafe, or get off a bus or train, make sure you turn around and have a quick look before heading off. I never used to follow this rule and lost countless books, sunglasses, and even phones as a result. I once lost a £200 irreplaceable bus pass and very quickly learnt my lesson!! I now can’t leave anywhere without having a quick over-the-shoulder check.
Don’t advertise your possessions
If you are walking around decked out in Great Granny Ethel’s heirlooms, with your DSLR swinging round your neck, iPhone in hand and your wallet sticking out of your back pocket, you may as well be walking around with a sign saying ‘PLEASE ROB ME!’. Leave the important jewellery behind where possible and avoid getting your iPhone out too much, especially in developing countries. As for having your wallet in your back pocket, well that’s just silly. I always take a crappy phone travelling (as well as my iPhone) and buy a local SIM card. My iPhone just tends to be used for the WiFi in hostels or cafes.
Travel insurance is a MUST
From my time working at STA Travel, I know how important this one is. I’ve had to deal with numerous incidents of people getting in really sticky situations – all because they don’t have travel insurance. If you injure yourself, it can easily cost you thousands if you aren’t covered. If you need to cut your trip short because of an emergency back home, travel insurance can reimburse you for your losses (pre booked hotels/ tours etc). If you are robbed, your possessions are covered. If your plane is delayed and you miss a connecting flight, or you are scammed into parting with your money, all these things can be covered. Make sure you read the documents carefully and appreciate that you get what you pay for when it comes to insurance! With all policies, you get 14 days after purchasing to cancel free of charge. Use those two weeks to make sure you are covered for everything you plan to do on your trip.
Keep a copy of everything important
When I go away, I will always take a hard copy of all important documents as I like having them to hand. I also upload them online on to Dropbox or Google Drive, where they can easily be accessed anywhere with WiFi. It’s a good idea to get a scanned copy of your passport and upload that too, along with insurance documents, prescriptions, and anything else that you may need. It’s also worth keeping an online list of contact details for emergencies (or postcards!). Some people suggest taking a photo of the front and back of your debit/ credit cards too, but that could end in tears if the information fell into the wrong hands. I plan to take a note of all my card details and store them somewhere password protected (you can get some great password vault apps) with my card number and expiry date in one place and the security code somewhere else… just in case!
Know your limits
We all like to have a drink on holiday, and I’m pretty sure we’ve all had one too many cocktails at some point along the way. Many crimes are opportunistic and if we don’t know where we are, let alone where our camera or phone is, we’re in trouble. I would say ‘just don’t get drunk!’ but we all know that just ain’t gonna happen! So here’s some friendly advice – don’t take your valuables on a bender with you, leave them locked up at the hostel. Make sure you trust the people you are with if you plan to get completely annihilated and try to follow the usual drink safety tips.. IE. Don’t leave your drink unattended. I plan to limit my drinking whilst away, mainly because it’s an easy way to save money!
Do your research
I’m a complete research and list-making geek and thoroughly enjoy finding out as much as I can about a place before I visit. When I went to Barcelona, I even went as far as marking down every bar, restaurant and tourist attraction on a map so I could see as much as possible in my three days. Whilst you don’t need to go quite that far, it’s a good idea to know a little bit about your destination. Alongside researching the best places to visit, find out which places are worth avoiding. See what people are saying online to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes they may have done!
Along the same lines, if you have done your research you will hopefully have a vague idea of what’s where. Study your maps in the hostel and try to avoid getting them out too much whilst you are walking along. Nothing screams ‘I’m a lost tourist’ than someone with their head in a map! You don’t want to advertise the fact you are unfamiliar with the area as that can make you an easy target.
Be sensitive to local traditions
As well as researching the destination for its top attractions, you should also be reading about the traditions and culture of each place to avoid accidentally offending anyone… or worse. It’s important to learn what can get you into trouble. For example, you can be sent to prison in Dubai for public displays of affection, or cuffed for getting topless in Fiji. It’s even illegal to feed the pigeons in San Francisco! Vicks inhalers are apparently forbidden in Japan and you can earn a hefty fine for smoking or chewing gum in Singapore.
Trust your gut
Most importantly, don’t worry so much that it ruins your trip. Keep your wits about you, trust your gut instinct and use your common sense and you’ll be fine!