Being safe in a foreign land — travel tips
Yeah, yeah, we all know that part of the travel adventure is to go to foreign lands and experience things out of your comfort zone, that’s part of travel, BUT there are some things that you must consider when travelling…
There are as many scams, thieves, con-artists and ingenious methods to relieve you of your well-earned holiday money as there are photo opportunities when you travel abroad. From drive-by purse-snatchers to identity thieves and even worse. While this is not to scare anyone, sometimes a jolt of reality is necessary to ensure that you have a crime-free holiday, as you only have to watch the news to hear about someone taking advantage of unwary travellers.
Rule #1: is blend into your surroundings, specifically if the culture of the land is vastly different from where you come from. For example, bare midriffs are sure to raise eyebrows where Islam is practiced and can even get the offender fined or jailed in some of the stricter countries. It’s about respect, so do research around dress-codes and keep the risqué outfits for a more lenient setting. Dress as the locals do.
So too, wearing obviously expensive (even ‘flashy’) jewellery in public in a poor country, borders not only on insensitivity but blatant stupidity! Innumerable tourists have had expensive necklaces snatched from their throats or watches removed at the end of a sharp knife.
It’s also a good idea to acquaint yourself with what the local scammers are up to in the country that you are visiting! These can range from RFID scanners to ploys using children to play on your sympathy.
While smiling-faced street urchins may appear harmless, they are often the perpetrators of pickpocketing (or worse). As the benevolent visitor fumbles for change to give to them, they are already helping themselves to the contents of his jacket and more, while he’s distracted.
In Brazil, for example, the street urchins can literally strip you naked in seconds by deftly slicing off your clothes; like piranhas devouring a carcass. Don’t be that carcass!
When on the street, cross-body bags are safer than shoulder or handbags. There have been cases in just about every city worldwide where a passing motorcycle passenger grabs a jacket or handbag slung over a shoulder. Another trick criminals use is to stand behind a tourist on an escalator and, in the cram of humanity, unzip their backpacks and relieve them of all manner of items, passing them to accomplices behind them.
There are ranges of bags made specifically for travellers with features such as slash-proof straps, RFID blockers, and locking zippers. Do some research to prevent becoming a statistic.
This is also a good reason to never carry large amounts of cash, either on your person or in a backpack or bag. Instead, if you are going to be in one country for an extended time, open an account with an international bank or credit card company so you can use local ATMs.
In addition, when using ATMs, try to use only those that are physically attached to banks as these are less likely to have been meddled with by scammers using skimming devices.
To prevent being rendered totally cashless should you be robbed, keep cash and credit cards in two or three different places so that if one of your stashes is stolen, you still have resources.
If anything, thieves are emboldened by the obvious lack of street-savvy shown by tourists, especially those standing on the pavement staring around for landmarks… Try to avoid being an obvious tourist. If you are asking for directions, try to find a government official, such as a policeman. While nothing or anybody is assured of being a safe bet, it’s safer than asking the guy standing on the corner…
When checking in at a hotel or hostel, ask for recommendations about which neighbourhoods are safe and which are to be avoided, and make notes.
Rule #2: drink responsibly. This needs no explanation! There is nothing wrong with visiting the local watering holes or enjoying the nightlife of an exotic city. However, while alcohol can serve to enhance a setting, relieve stress and simply be an opportunity to try a new cocktail, it also lowers your response time, concentration and can get you lost or ending up in a dangerous neighbourhood. Intoxication makes you an easy target for scams, robbery, or worse. And a word to the ladies drinking in public: keep an eye on your drink at all times, in fact, rather hold onto it! There are too many terrifying stories of tourists waking up in baths filled with ice and a note on their chest telling them to get to a hospital as they have been relieved of a kidney. These are not scare tactics, they do happen!
Always pay attention to your surroundings, to any street disturbance, an outburst in a restaurant etc, regardless of whether you are in a crowded tourist spot or walking down an empty street. Criminals target people who are distracted or disconnected from their surroundings, particularly solo travellers.
Travel tip #3: have the emergency services’ numbers for your destination and, while you’re at it, before you leave, look up the number for your country’s nearest embassy. Write them down AND save them in your phone for easy access in the event of an emergency. Also, keep digital copies of important documents like your passport. In the event of a stolen passport, having a digital copy will help make the replacement process easier.
Tip #4: getting around in a foreign place safely is assured when using reputable transportation companies.
Before you leave, research which taxi companies are reputable before you arrive in a place, and use only those, even if they may appear more expensive than that suave guy who has just offered you a lift at half the price! If you’re ride-sharing using an app like Uber or Lyft, double check your driver’s vehicle information and verify their name before you get in the car with them. Don’t just get into the first car that screeches to a halt in front of you, expecting it to be your booked ride!
Tip #5: keep in contact with your family and/or friends. Share your itinerary with them before you leave, and update them to any changes of plans. Make a habit of checking in with a close friend or family member back home at the end of each day.
The bottom line is, you’ll get help faster if someone knows where you were supposed to be that day if something untoward should happen to you, heaven forbid. That said, accidents do happen, and you want someone who cares for you to know if you are in one.
Tip # 6: trust your gut… and we’re not talking gastronomically here! Listen to your instincts. If someone or something makes you feel that something is ‘off’, there’s probably a reason. Our subconscious never switches off and often picks up on things that we aren’t intentionally aware of. Listen to those feelings, they may save your life.
If this hasn’t totally terrified you about travel, time to dust that passport off and head for the great unknown, armed with some sound advice! Enjoy!