With the holidays just around the corner now, it’s time to start getting excited about those vacations you may have planned! However, whether you’ll be walking through a German Christmas market or experiencing the architectural wonders of Turkish mosques, it’s important to brush up on important travel safety practices before packing your bags. As such, this guide will cover certain preventative measures that can be taken before your trip to avoid potentially dangerous situations as well as ways to keep yourself safe while exploring your destination.
Keep family and friends informed
Just like any backpacking or outdoor adventure, make sure to let your family and friends know your destination, where you will be staying and your general itinerary throughout the trip. Should there be an emergency, they’ll know exactly who to call to get in touch and provide assistance. For those extra concerned parents that want even more connectivity with their traveling children, there are a host of tracking applications, such as Life360, that provide users with real-time location updates within their network.
Plan your trip ahead of time
This goes hand-in-hand with keeping your family and friends informed. While a “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of trip may sound fun, it’s also going to significantly increase your chances of running into a dead-end situation. The reality is that these types of trips end up costing much more than if you had just booked your airfare, hostels/hotels and excursions months ahead of time. It’ll also give you a chance to read some reviews before booking, which can be a tell-tale sign between a charming Bed and Breakfast and an uncomfortable night spent in a filthy room.
Finally, make sure you plan out how you will be getting from the airport to your hotel. Taxi drivers prey on ignorant travelers and often scam them for as much money as they can. When traveling to most main cities, there will often be a main metro/tram line that will take you into the city for a fraction of the cost of a taxi service. Don’t rely on the WiFi of the destination airport and make sure you make travel arrangements to your hotel before departure.
Consider traveling in a group
Above anything else on this list, the best way to keep yourself safe is by traveling in a group. I get it. Many prefer to travel alone, as it provides a completely different experience traveling in a group doesn’t offer. However, I’ve learned that as long as you are cognizant about personality styles and social interactions, inviting others to join you as you travel around the world can be equally as enjoyable. When traveling in numbers, your chances of being targeted by pickpockets, scammers or muggers drops significantly. First-time travelers should absolutely consider inviting a friend or family member to join them.
Research your destination
Depending on where you’re going, the culture of your destination may be wildly different from your own back home. Make sure to research the customs present in their way of life, paying particular attention to things that might incite them. What may be accepted back in the United States may be crudely insulting to those in other parts of the world. As you probably already guessed, learning even a few phrases in the local language can prove incredibly useful and give a unique insight into the culture. Finally, spend some time to update yourself with the current political climate of your destination. If there’s going to be a giant anti-fascist protest the day you were planning on doing some sightseeing in the main square, you might want to reschedule.
Don’t be an easy target
Pickpockets and muggers are always looking for an easy target, so don’t make yourself one. Avoid flaunting your wealth by wearing modest clothing and leaving jewelry at home. Be aware of how locals are walking, talking and moving around the city and try to copy their actions and blend in with your surroundings. Keep a low voice to avoid standing out as the loud American (a very common stereotype apparently). Always have your eyes and head up to keep yourself aware of your surroundings. When moving around a crowd, move your backpack or purse to your front to dissuade pickpockets.
One of the most common pickpocket traps is to distract a tourist with solicitation for donations, whether it be a charity for the poor, blind, deaf, etc. While being distracted by the conversation with the solicitor, a pickpocket (usually a small child) will attempt to steal your valuables. This scam is usually found around popular tourist monuments, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. You can prevent this by adamantly ignoring all solicitation requests and continue walking. Under no circumstances should you begin conversing with these individuals. Remember, when donating to charity, it’s always best to give to a charity directly than to “representatives” on the street.
Protect your financial information
In the age of technology, using electronic payments while traveling abroad is not as safe as it used to be. ATMs can be one of the easiest ways for thieves to steal your financial information through a process called skimming, in which the thief replaces the card scanner with a counterfeit scanner, collecting valuable card information. Tiny spy cameras are placed within sight of the keypad that records your secret PIN, giving them access to your account.
To avoid this, it is recommended to only withdraw cash from banking institutions and use cash whenever possible to avoid identity theft. Should there be a situation where your bank account is compromised, make sure that the number needed to block your bank account is saved in your contacts. If you do plan on using your card often, it’s worth looking into Travelex’s prepaid multi-currency card, which includes 24/7 assistance and insurance.
Prepare for the worst
At the end of the day, we can only do so much to prevent unfortunate situations like theft and muggings from occurring and much of this is out of our control. As such, it can be incredibly helpful to prepare for these worst-case scenarios. The best way to do this is by getting travel insurance which can cover medical emergencies, lost luggage, stolen passports and more. While it might be a small investment, it’s certainly cheaper than the alternative of losing all your possessions or racking up expensive medical bills.
When exploring a destination, make sure to only carry things you need for the day. Your passport can be left behind locked in your hotel as you will likely only need a copy for excursions and identification. Also consider wearing a “bum bag” which straps around your waist, allowing you to invisibly store your cards and cash. To throw muggers off, you can even carry a “decoy” wallet with some cash inside should you be held at gunpoint.
With the proper planning and appropriate precautions, traveling the world can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences in life. We hope that these above tips will keep you and your family safe this holiday season. As we’re always looking for new ways to keep people healthy and safe, please feel free to share any additional travel safety tips in the comments section.