There are few experiences that can compare to travelling the world. Scaling the slopes of Macchu Picchu and scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef in the company of good people and breathtaking scenes is something that we all aspire to do at some point in our lives.
Equally, nothing ruins an adventure quite as quickly as being scammed, robbed or injured whilst backpacking across the globe. Losing your phone to a pickpocket, breaking an ankle on a treacherous hike or misplacing travel visas are all real possibilities that stand to send your excursion spiralling rapidly downwards.
Of course, the world is generally a safe place for travellers. There’s rarely anything to fear, but remaining vigilant and aware of potential dangers is critical to making the most out of your journey – even if there are a few bumps in the road.
That being said, here are twelve simple ways to stay safe when travelling.
1. keep emergency contact details on hand
Probably the single most important details to have on hand at all times are those that you’ll require in emergency situations. Ambulance lines, local police and directions to the nearest embassy for your country are all vital pieces of information to keep within your position should anything go wrong.
Rather than leaving yourself open to being in a difficult situation, frantically searching for the right contact numbers to relieve you – have them ready beforehand. That way, whatever happens, you can rest assured knowing that you have the right information ready just in case you need it.
2. become aware of common travelling scams
Sadly, there are a great number of existing scams out there which many travellers tend to fall for. Wherever in the world you decide to go, you’ll always find people trying to swindle you out of your hard-earned money.
Long-used scams such as the broken taxi meter, being handed free merchandise and ordered to pay for it or having your ID stolen by fraudulent police officers are all common tricks used by scammers to take large sums of money from backpackers.
Having an awareness of not just one, but of as many existing scams as you can manage to research will ensure that, should a con-artist come your way, you’ll know exactly what to do to stay safe.
3. lock away anything valuable
When travelling, many backpackers choose to stay in budget hostels as they’re inexpensive, readily available and allow individuals to link up with others on similar adventures. If you’re planning on sleeping in a hostel, ensure that your accommodation has secure storage options for you to lock away any valuables before you go to prevent them from being lost or stolen.
As well as that, it’s certainly worth investing in sturdy travelling gear. Cheap ruck-sacks are prone to breaking, leaving your belongings vulnerable to loss or robbery. Instead, opt for a slash-proof backpack that’s likely to withstand wear, tear and any attempts at theft.
Lastly, when travelling on bus/train routes with a reputation for theft, be sure to keep your bags close by and out of reach of potential thieves. Tying them to chairs with locks or using soft bags as pillows should minimise your chances of falling victim to robbery.
4. get good travel insurance
Of course, this one’s a no-brainer, but it’s also one that a lot of people forget. You never think you’ll need travel insurance – until you do and you don’t have it. If it’s there, however, you can relax knowing that you have the right cover in place should anything go wrong.
Securing insurance from a reputable provider for both your health and belongings will ensure that all bases are covered. Just be mindful that property insurance will usually be bound by a specific price per item, so if you’re thinking of taking expensive camera gear, you’ll want to find insurance that covers you completely.
Note also that not all travel insurance companies were made equally. Some contain loopholes and clauses that, if not properly considered, may make your cover invalid. Failing to declare pre-existing illnesses, for instance, can cost extortionate amounts in hospital bills should disaster decide to strike again.
Before purchasing insurance, check that you’re buying from a credible source. That way, you’ll be legally covered in all situations.
5. be careful with the information you share with other people
While it can be tempting to make your travelling itinerary more public by sharing it on social media, this isn’t always the best idea. Your whereabouts are often exactly the information people with ill-intentions would like to know.
Not only are thieves local to your home more likely to attempt robbery if they know you’re away, but people you meet whilst travelling may also decide to track you back to your hotel if you let them know where you’re staying.
Of course, not everybody you encounter whilst backpacking will have malicious plans for you. The point is that if you’re not certain that the person asking can be trusted, don’t tell them where you’re staying. Instead of being rude, just give them your general location or tell them a false piece of information.
Lastly, if people that you don’t yet trust ask if it’s your first time visiting that country, your best bet is to say no. That way, you’ll seem less vulnerable and are less likely to become a victim of crime.
6. be mindful of your clothing choices
When you’re travelling, various styles of clothing will cause you to stick out like a sore thumb – or rather, a tourist lost in a foreign destination. The less of a visitor you look, the less attention you’re likely to attract from the wrong people. Opting for relatively plain clothing as opposed to bright Hawaiian shirts or your favourite football team’s gear will allow you to blend in a little better with the locals.
As well as that, if you’re travelling to Islamic countries or those with stricter laws on showing skin, be sure to respect customs of the state in order to stay out of trouble. It’s even illegal for both men and women to walk around topless in Barcelona, so it’s certainly worth checking the rules and regulations of the nations you’re heading to.
Of course, it’s perfectly possible to dress lawfully and still bring offence to locals by wearing offensive clothing. Generally speaking, dressing as conservatively and respectfully as possible will reduce the likelihood that you’ll get into any trouble.
7. don’t compromise your safety when budgeting
Travelling anywhere can be expensive. It’s only natural to want to cut costs on things like accommodation, flights and insurance as much as possible – but this isn’t always a great idea where your safety is concerned.
Often, ludicrously cheap backpacking hostels are low in cost for a reason – they aren’t usually the safest places to sleep. Many such hostels attract homeless people and drug users, and not all cheap hostels are secured with door locks, putting you at risk of being harmed or stolen from.
Staff in hotels should be trained to ensure the safety of their guests but this varies widely from country to country, and hotels at the lower end of the budget may be less interested in prioritising health and safety. Safety hazards in hotels that you should look out for include poorly maintained or low balconies, exposed wires, faulty gas appliances and a lack of fire safety notices. If you’re travelling with children it may be an idea to bring safety plug protectors for electrical sockets.
Budget flights can also tend to arrive very late at night which isn’t the nicest, safest or most convenient time to be hailing down a cab to take you to your bedroom.
It’s usually worth spending a little extra money on secure accommodation, decent flight times and safe airport transfers to where you need to be. That way, you can rest assured knowing that you’ll have a comfortable, safe place to stay at night and a pre-planned way of reaching it.
8. take classes in basic self defence
Of course, you don’t need to become an expert in karate before you jet off to Bali, but having a few basic defence skills under your belt will mean that you’re equipped to fend off any potential threats should they arise.
Knowing how to defend yourself is one thing, but knowing when you should actually apply those skills is another. You should do whatever you can to avoid confrontation, but if it’s inevitable, attack defensively and create for yourself a window of escape.
Lastly, if ever somebody with a weapon should approach you in an attempt to steal from you, often the best thing you can do is to give them what they’d like and then get yourself as far away from them as possible.
9. have an emergency cash supply
If you do find yourself a victim of a robbery or happen to misplace your money or cards, having an emergency cash supply tucked away will ensure that such events don’t completely ruin your trip.
Some great hiding places include safety pockets sewn into trousers, hidden inside compartments like glasses cases or belt pouches or tucked into secret pouches in backpacks.
The next question is exactly how much cash is it sensible to store in an emergency space? Spreading around £100-200 in different safe zones will arm you with enough backup funds to keep you going if you misplace your pocket money.
As well as having cash, a hidden credit card can also help. That way, even if you run out of money or have yours stolen, you can always ask a friend or family member to support you until you’re back on track.
10. be vigilant when using ATMs
We’ve all been told to cover our PINs when punching them into ATMs, and that’s certainly advice that you should follow when travelling. Cameras built into such machines are notorious for catching card-users and having them scammed out of their hard-earned money.
Such cameras aren’t the only security threats that ATMs can come laden with, however. It’s always wise to take a close look at a cash machine before using it, pulling lightly on parts to check for tampering. If you see any, be sure to head let the respective bank know immediately and ask for assistance with your withdrawal.
Sometimes ATMs can swallow up cards that aren’t appropriate for use, but such swallowing techniques can also be mimicked by devices implanted by scammers to steal debit cards. Thin plastic sleeves are used to capture them so that when you walk away, thieves can return to their trap and run away with your card.
As well as making sure that nobody swoops in to snatch your money from you as you withdraw it, checking machines for tampering, covering your PIN and remaining vigilant of existing scams will minimise your chances of being caught off guard.
11. safety in numbers
in almost every situation, the more people you have around you, the safer you are. Thieves, attackers and scammers are generally far less likely to target you if you’re part of a larger group for the simple reason that they’re unlikely to succeed.
A group dynamic creates a more physically intimidating appearance – one which tends to ward off lurking predators. Rather than travelling solo, opting for group adventures or making friends quickly will ensure that you’re able to follow your desires whilst remaining safe.
Although it might be relatively easy to find other travellers when jetting off around the world, be mindful that not everybody can be trusted. Trusting people with too much information too quickly can put you in some pretty sticky situations if you’re not careful.
Whoever you meet during your adventures, exercise caution. Don’t open yourself up to harm or theft by placing your trust too deeply in somebody that you don’t know very well. And, if you’re travelling with others, be sure to stick together in order to keep each other safe.
12. take it easy with the alcohol
When travelling, it can be tempting to drink a lot more than you otherwise would. Whether it’s partying, social drinking or cocktails on the beach, it’s important that you remain mindful of the amount you’re drinking in order to stay safe. Getting too drunk can put you at risk of all kinds of threats.
Of course, you should enjoy yourself when you’re travelling. Drink as much as you please, just do so responsibly, making sure you’re not putting your safety on the line. That applies both to your state of mind and your health. Alcohol-induced dehydration combined with hot weather and lots of walking can quickly deplete your body of liquids, leading to sunstroke and all kinds of dangerous conditions.
Instead of taking the risk, be mindful of your limits. Don’t put yourself in danger for the sake of having a good time. It just isn’t worth it.
Many of us would agree that travelling is one of the most fun, exhilarating and enjoyable experiences there is to have. Whether it’s backpacking with friends, a romantic excursion or voluntary work in Africa, staying safe along the way will enable you to make lifelong memories whilst keeping out of harm’s way.
By following the simple tips above, you can rest assured knowing that you have all bases covered. That way, you can spend your time, money and energy focusing on the fun stuff. After all, isn’t that why we decide to go travelling in the first place?