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How to Stay Safe When You Travel

Female traveler with backpack walking market street

Traveling can be intimidating, and rightfully so. Going somewhere where the culture is different and the language is completely foreign can make anyone feel nervous. Here’s how to protect yourself.

New places can feel scary, but it’s worth every little effort to overcome that fear. The rewards that come from traveling can be priceless, just as long as you take the right precautions. Here, you will find a few preventative tips to follow before you go off traveling, with a couple of extra ones for women.

It’s been six years since I started traveling the world, briefly settling down a few times along the way in places that felt comfortable enough for the average young woman. Although I’ve encountered my fair share of tricky situations, I’ve never gotten into real danger or serious trouble.

By now, I believe I’ve got enough street smarts to feel confident in foreign countries. Just like with everything else in life, the more you practice it, the better you’ll get at it. It’s a simple learning curve, with no special tricks or secret formulas, and down below I share with you some of the most important things I’ve learned to keep in mind when jet-setting around the world. 

Research Your Destination

This should go without saying: the more you know about the place, the easier you can move around with confidence. Your objective should be to minimize your risk of getting into trouble and the easiest way to do that is to stay away from dangerous areas.

Learn the names of the neighborhoods you should avoid, the attractions or bars you should stay away from, the best times of the day to hang out in certain areas, and by the same logic, the safest locations to stay around. 

Learn the Most Common Travel Scams

The world is full of con-artists looking to make a profit out of an unaware and inattentive individual, especially if said individual is a foreigner. You can make things easier on yourself by getting informed about the most common scams you could encounter in your destination of choice. 

In Vietnam, you could deal with tampered taxi meters used to rip you off. In France, you could end up being forced to pay for a bracelet a stranger quickly wrapped around your wrist as a kind gesture. In Thailand, men could get their belongings stolen after being lured into compromising situations by flirtatious women. In Morocco, a local might be happy to take you to the place you’re looking for and then demand money for their help. 

Asking the people working wherever you’re stating is a good way to learn about the things you should be careful with. If you want to truly eliminate the risks and your budget allows it, you can just pay for a private tour guide to show you around. 

Keep Your Valuables Safe

Young traveler sitting at the international airport, checking for lost or forgotten items

The last thing anyone wants to deal with during a trip is having their belongings stolen. Therefore, you must do your best to keep a close eye on them at all times to prevent any unfortunate event from happening. 

When booking your accommodation, make sure they offer safety options, such as lockers, a room safe, or even storage. Using a padlock to keep your bag safe can be a good way to discourage interested individuals from getting close, but zippers can be easily compromised and a slash-proof backpack is your best solution. 

If you’re traveling by bus or train and you know you’re likely to fall asleep, you could use your bag as your pillow or as your leg rest. Some people even use chain locks to keep their bags hooked onto their seats. Obviously, the fewer valuables you carry with you, the less stressful your trip will be, so consider the items you’ll be taking with you carefully before you leave. 

Once you’re settled in a place, never take your passport with you if you’re going sightseeing, on a tour, or even worse, if you’re going out for a night on the town. The chances of losing it or someone stealing it are too high for you to take that risk. Keep it in a safe and enjoy your trip. 

The same thing holds with your money: never carry all of it around with you, because if you lose it, it could very well mean the end of your trip. Leave some cash in your wallet and divide the rest in smaller bunches to hide in different spots in case of emergency, like a bag compartment, inside a shoe, or in an unusual item no one would ever think to steal. 

Get Travel Insurance

As a follow-up to the previous tip, getting travel insurance should be a priority if you’re traveling internationally or if you’re carrying valuables. It doesn’t matter how careful you are with your belongings and with yourself, unfortunate events can happen and when they do, it’s good to be prepared. 

List the places you’ll be visiting, the kinds of activities you’ll be doing, and the items you’ll be taking with you. This will help you identify the best insurance policy for you, and make sure to purchase it before you leave.

Make Copies of Important Documents

Your passport is your most treasured possession when you’re on the road. As such, you should make sure it’s well hidden or locked away at all times. Make a few copies of it and keep them in different places. That way, every time you swap bags, pants, or wallets, you know that you have a form of identification on you—not an official one, but something good enough to save you from minor tricky situations. 

Similarly, you should have copies of any important documents you’ll be carrying with you, like insurance, certificates, legal or medical documents. It’s also a good idea to create hard copies of all your online login information in case you’re left without your electronics or forget them at the most inconvenient time. 

Learn (and Save) Local Emergency Information 

Whether you need to call the police or the embassy, you should be able to access their information immediately. Take note of all local and international emergency contacts and save it somewhere on your laptop and phone, or write it on a paper and make copies of it. It’s also a good idea to write down the phone numbers and addresses of your most trusted contacts, such as family and friends. You never know when you might need them. 

Be Careful with ATMs

Automated Teller Machine Bank at Yellow Wall

ATM tampering is a worldwide issue. However, there are ways to avoid falling victim to this scam. Before you insert your card into the machine, examine every piece of material, graphic, or even color to make sure nothing looks out of the ordinary. If there is another ATM next to it, compare them and make sure they look alike. If they don’t, report the issue to the bank.

Wiggle, push and pull at everything to check for loose parts. The most important part is the card reader, which is where skimmers are inconspicuously placed to read your card and get all the necessary information to clone it.

If you have the option, always choose ATMs located inside a bank’s branch as they are usually looked after by security guards. Nonetheless, it’s good to double check for tell-tale signs.

Invest in a Good Travel Card 

The market of travel cards is ever growing. However, they all come with different conditions. Do your research, ask around, get well informed, and choose the card you believe will suit your needs best. Different cards offer different kinds of rewards, as well, so make sure you compare several different ones before making your choice.

Not only do they help you save money on international withdrawals, but they also usually offer a safety mechanism that allows you to block your card through the app on your phone in case you notice suspicious activity in your account. They also offer 24/7 support, which is exactly what you need when you’re on a completely different time zone.

Mind Who You Share Information With 

Before you pack your bags and set on your adventurous journey, make sure you leave a copy of your itinerary with your family and friends. Write down the names of the places you’ll be visiting and the respective dates and e-mail them to everyone. If you’re not one for making plans, simply send out frequent updates so that your loved ones know where you are. 

Be mindful of the people you meet along the way. Sometimes it’s the friendliest and most helpful individuals you should be wary of. Don’t share all your travel plans with fellow travelers or chatty locals—you can never know their real intentions. The same goes with social media and online forums. The less you share, the better. 

If you go out with people you met at your hostel or on a tour, limit your alcohol intake to avoid losing your clarity. Be confident and aware of your surroundings, and make up stories if you feel unsafe. Saying you’re married, waiting for a friend, or pretending to make a call can sometimes help you keep trouble at bay.

And always, always keep an eye on your drink! 

Pack a First Aid Kit 

Medication is not always readily available, especially if you’re taking prescription drugs. Make sure you pack only the necessary amount you will take during your trip and keep it in its original packaging. Certain prescription drugs are forbidden in some countries, so it’s good to bring a note from your doctor explaining your case. Pack painkillers, anti-histamines, band-aids, hygiene products, and anything else you know you’re likely to need at some point in your travels. 

Extra Tips for Women

women only sign on a train in Osaka, Japan

Unfortunately, traveling in many countries poses additional risks for women—especially those traveling alone.

Wear Clothing Appropriate to Local Custom

Abiding by the local dress code is crucial in certain countries. Women can be asked to cover hair and limbs to pay respect to the local culture and religion, and it’s good to comply, no matter how warm the weather might be or what your opinion is on the matter. 

Always try to blend in and you shall avoid unwanted attention. 

Look for Women-Only Options

To heighten your sense of safety, especially if you’re a woman traveling solo, there are a few options you could benefit from, depending on the country. When looking for accommodation, you can choose women-only dorms, something very common in Southeast Asia. 

When traveling by train, you can stay in women-only passenger cars, like in Japan or Brazil. It’s a similar case for buses in countries like Mexico and India, and taxis, like in the United Arab Emirates. If the option isn’t available, sit next to another female if possible. 

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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