I have read many travel blogs and tips recently, and while I find them useful, I am surprised most of the following were not mentioned. While saving money is key for travelers, safety may not be on all priority lists, but maybe it should be. Consider that the safer you are, the more fun you will have and you might even contract the travel bug. While everyone is thinking about having a good time in their travels, the fact of the matter is, the world can be a dangerous place, but it doesn’t have to be. People are, overall, inherently peaceful, pretty much everywhere in the world, but it doesn’t hurt to take a few extra precautions to keep you safe from that troublesome minority. Nothing puts you in more danger than looking like you don’t belong, so here are some tips to help you fit in.
#5 Have Pictures of your Maps
There are few things that make you stand out more than looking at a huge map with a quizzical look on your face when you arrive in a new country. Like the coyote after the roadrunner, you will quickly find people behind you, offering to help. While in some countries, these may be honest attempts at helping you out, it could also be a trick to scam you. I am not trying to tell you to be xenophobic and reject contact, but it is a fact that when you are disoriented, you make mistakes. Wandering Earl from wanderingearl.com goes further by suggesting that you take a break immediately after arriving in a new country.
One easy tip is to look up the general area of where you will be arriving on google maps and take a few screen shots. I have also tried doing this with my camera (especially a small point shoot). As you are looking at your phone, you will seem like you are just texting someone, while in fact, you are looking at a map. While I do like physical maps to look at in my hotel room, try not to stand out by whipping it out in public if avoidable.
#4 Divide Your Cash into Different Locations
Maybe it’s a bad habit of mine, but I don’t like to rely on withdrawing money abroad. With one notable exception, I have always brought all the cash I needed on a trip. Besides, something could go wrong like my card not working or I could get mugged right after withdrawing. For this (and other money saving reasons), I always carry cash. However, you also don’t want to carry a bunch of cash in your wallet. Try dividing what you do have into separate locations. I like to put a third in my wallet, a third in a secret pocket in my backpack (which I leave in a hotel / hostel if possible), and a third in my socks (yes the ones I am wearing, don’t judge me!) Theft or hustling does happen, and it is best that you lose some of your money than all of it.
Furthermore, having little money in your wallet makes the art of haggling much easier. It is difficult to tell a salesman that you don’t have much money left in an attempt to have them lower the price when your wallet is bursting with cash. In many countries, haggling is a way of life and a friendly exchange where neither the salesman nor the local is usually offended. While stretching the truth and exaggeration is expected, outright lying to someone’s face can be offensive. Usually, I even divide the money in my wallet, keeping big bills hidden so that no one thinks I am loaded when it is time to pay.
#3 Tie your Bags to your body
Whenever I mention this to people, a light bulb comes on. It seems so obvious now, but the solution had eluded them for so long. Let me explain the scenario. Have you ever had to ride an overnight bus, overnight train, or had to sleep in the airport? Have you ever worried about, or worse, actually had something in your bag (or the bag itself) stolen while you were sleeping? This is very avoidable.
Your bags have strings right? Use them! Tie them around your body so that the slightest move can wake you up. I’ve seen other travelers do this before, but it is astounding how many are careless, and don’t even have their bags near them. In some buses (notably Cambodia), there are entrances through the middle of the overnight bus where thieves can easily enter, pick pocket, and exit without making a sound. If you use this tip though, thieves will usually pick another, easier target.
#2 Bring Enough Local Currency
As I mentioned in #4, I try to bring cash whenever possible. Besides the fact that not every place accepts credit cards, especially in less developed nations, it is also a safety issue. Take Mexico for example. Because I have family there, I have been able to take a few extended trips of more than a month or two at a time. While I am Mexican-American, I don’t feel 100% like a local when I am there, especially when I am out seeing famous sites with other tourists. Furthermore, growing up in the US, I have also seen the countless (and extremely biased) reports about how unsafe Mexico can be. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you should be careless.
My family in Mexico always warns me, more than anything, to be careful in money exchange places. Those are the places where most thefts happen. While banks are rather secure, money exchanges are usually in the middle of marketplaces where pick pocketing is easy. Save yourself the trouble by bringing enough local currency and having a budget. It will keep your expenses regulated, and keep you safe.
#1 Know Where you are Going
I know, I know, I am going against the powers that be on this one, but hear me out. In most travel advice I have ever read, they advice you to not be afraid to wander. In fact, many seasoned travelers claim that their best experiences ever have been when they arrive in a new place without a plan at all. To each their own, but that is not my style. While I do love it when I have unexpected experiences in a new place, and I do often branch out from my planned out itinerary, I am first and foremost, a planner.
For starters, I, like most people in the world, are not full time travelers. I hope that one day I will have that opportunity, but for now, I do have a day job, and every vacation day is precious with no time to waste. With that said, I do have time to plan before my trip, and why not! It is fun after all. I meticulously plan many details of any trip, but as you may not be like me, I do advice that you know where you are going AT LEAST from the airport to your hostel/hotel. Why? Well, it is very simple. If you were a scammer hoping to catch a traveler where they are most vulnerable, where would you prey? At an airport (or near one) of course! People are most disoriented when they just arrive, so do yourself a favor and try to have at least some idea of where you are going.
In my most recent trip to Okinawa, Japan I walked out of the airport, headed towards the tram, bought my ticket, got off, and arrived at my hostel with little delay. I knew pretty much the general geography without ever being there. While there were a few hiccups, and Japan is hardly crime central, the idea that you know the area well enough to feel comfortable in a new country is huge, especially for inexperienced travelers. Know where you are going, and you will stay safe.
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