25 Safety Tips for Traveling
Whether for business or pleasure, traveling should be enjoyable. Staying safe should be your #1 priority.
We live in a beautiful and vast world filled with all sorts of amazing sights and flavors. Thankfully, since the invention of the internet, its become much smaller and easier to experience other cultures first hand. You can do just about anything nowadays in the palm of your hand. The world is literally at your fingertips. However, we also live in a dangerous world where many love to prey on the unsuspecting and vulnerable. Don't let the fear of that happening stop you from traveling the world, if your heart so desires.
Whether traveling solo, with a partner, or in a group, traveling can be very liberating and enjoyable. As long as you remain alert, and take proper precautions, you will find that most people are friendly. Modern day media frequently highlights all of the bad things going on in the world. While traveling anywhere, it's important to be aware of possible dangers, but please don't let "possible dangers" deter you. Below I've composed a list of 25 safety tips I find helpful whenever traveling.
1. Don't keep all of your cash in one location.
When we travel, I hold some of the cash, he holds some of the cash. It's never all on one person. If you're alone, keep some on you, and some in your luggage back at the hotel room. This way a) you're not going to blow all of your cash at once, and b) if you're robbed or you leave your wallet/purse at a restaurant on accident (cough* it's happened to both of us), you're not completely stuck. If you're in a larger group, split it up in other ways.
2. Watch the alcohol.
If I'm alone, I don't even touch the stuff since I'm such a lightweight. If I'm with someone else, I drink with dinner, and that's about it. Know your limits. If you're in New Orleans, they make their drinks STRONG.
We all know that alcohol can slow our reaction time and blur our senses. Be careful, even when in groups.
3. If driving—keep an eye on your gas tank.
Whether you're renting a car, or driving your own and heading out for a road trip, keep an eye on your fuel. The last thing you need is to be stranded in the middle of Arizona, miles from the nearest city. It's generally a good practice not to let it dip past a half-tank. Also keep an eye on your tire pressure, and make sure everything looks good before you enter your vehicle.
Maybe I've watched too many horror films where holes were poked in tires... or is that my imagination? Bottom line is, you don't want to be stranded. Check your vehicle, and always make sure it's in working order. If driving your own vehicle, invest in some jumper cables, or even a portable jump starter. It could save your life.
4. If flying, keep valuables in your carry-on.
As a minimalist, I never check baggage. However, I understand that not every one is a minimalist. If you have valuables with you, or important documents, keep those on you. Tuck them away in your carry-on luggage or in your purse. This way if your baggage gets lost, the stuff that really matters (like your identity) will be with you.
5. Don't be too quick to trust strangers (Chicago Kid).
In general, most people are nice, but if something feels off, go with your gut. We've been lucky in that in our travels together we've avoided serious danger.
Once, when I was in Chicago after Christmas, I was visiting the Navy Pier, which was extremely crowded inside despite the cold and icy conditions outside. While headed for the exit, a young man stopped me, and asked to use my phone. I hesitated for a split second. My brain works a lot faster than any other part of me, so I started running through all the different scenarios in my head.
What if this kid steals my phone? I'll be stranded! My plane tickets are on my phone. I'm alone right now, and it's night time in Chicago, the crime capital of America. Am I about to make a stupid decision by letting this kid use my phone? What if he runs for it? I'll lose him in the crowd. Surely with all these people, someone will stop him. He can't run outside it's too slick and icy. Wait... what if I were in this kid's situation? He can't be more than 14, and he's alone, stranded. Wouldn't I want someone to help me? I can reprint my plane tickets at the hotel. Oh gosh, how will I hail an Uber without my phone? Fuck it, I'll walk back to the hotel if I have to. If a criminal wants some I'd be so angry by then I'd put up a worthy fight...
Yes, all of that went through my head in about one to two seconds. I handed over my phone, and the kid stood right next to me and made his call. Once he was done, he handed it back to me with several sincere Thank Yous.
6. If you're traveling alone, don't tell anyone.
Fibbing to a stranger won't kill you. If you're a male traveling alone, you may not feel as threatened as females. Unfortunately, we live in a world where females are often seen as targets not just for muggings, but also atrocities like human trafficking and rape. Not to say that men can't also be subjected to these crimes. Either way, it won't hurt to lie to a gas station attendant that you'll never see again. Sometimes people are genuinely trying to start friendly conversation. However, if you don't feel comfortable, follow your instinct.
7. Research your destination.
I'm a stickler for researching an area before I travel there. I'll go as far as searching Google for crime maps of the city, and pick a hotel that is close to the attractions worth visiting so there isn't extensive travel involved once the primary destination is reached.
Take some time before your trip to research the area. It doesn't take long. While you're at it, you may discover cool new attractions to see.
8. Know your taxi cost before you get in.
For some countries, especially down in the Caribbean, tourists are warned to determine their cab fare BEFORE they get into the taxi. Drivers there take advantage of tourists. Be wary.
Also, not all American towns have Uber, believe it or not. If that's the transportation you plan to use, make sure they have it where you're going. England sticks to their black cabs. Look online first to see if your destination has a metro, or any kind of train system you can use to get around.
9. Try not to look like a tourist.
There are tons of posts online regarding the clothing you should and should not wear while traveling. I may write one myself in the future (a minimalist wardrobe would be ideal here!) Nowadays, taking pictures isn't as tourist-only as it used to be. With everyone taking selfies for their social media accounts, even locals do it. However, your wardrobe can cause you to stand out. The idea here is to blend in.
If you're an American traveling abroad, ditch the baseball cap. Also ditch the hooded sweatshirt that says ODU on it. Instead opt for comfortable clothing that's plain and blends in. There is nothing wrong with jeans and a nice sweater.
10. If it costs extra to stay safe, do it.
If you've got to pay extra to get a hotel room in a safer neighborhood, or extra cab fare from the airport to safe destination, do it. Don't put yourself in unnecessary danger. A few bucks could make the difference between a nice holiday and a traumatizing event. Your safety is worth splurging on.
11. Keep an eye on your surroundings.
Be aware of what people around you are doing. I used to think I was an observant person. However, my partner immediately spots the exit routes of a building as soon as he's inside. I don't know if that is something he developed naturally after years of military combat, but he is very cognizant of exit routes and people. It can be annoying at times, but I wouldn't want to be with anyone else if something bad happened.
12. Write down your emergency information.
Your phone could be lost, stolen, or damaged. The battery could die. Have a handwritten back up of important numbers and emergency information. What's that saying? Expect the worst, hope for the best.
13. Learn about common travel scams.
Again, this is another one you can do online. Research common travel scams or recent scams in your destination area. Don't let what you read deter you from traveling and seeing the world. As stated before, we live in an amazing world, but there is danger everywhere. Just know the possibilities of what could go wrong.
Traveling to Chicago, I knew I was venturing into the most crime-ridden city in America. Before leaving my father said to me, "Lots of crime there..." I came back with, "I work in downtown Newport News, the most dangerous part of Virginia." He shrugged and nodded in agreement. "This is true," he said. Even though Virginia isn't know for its high crime, I do live in the most dangerous metropolitan area, and have spent years walking over a mile to and from my car in the ghetto of downtown Newport News.
I've heard stories of the crimes that happen there throughout my whole life, but have been lucky enough to not experience anything. Being aware of potential dangers, I know to stay alert and what to avoid. Apply that same tactic here and know the risks of where you're going. Every place has them, even your own backyard.
14. Invest in a slash-proof backpack or purse.
Investing in an anti-theft purse or book bag is a great idea if that's something that you normally carry with you. I'm one to leave my things at the hotel, but many people like to carry backpacks. Amazon has a slew of anti-theft products. Some of them can be quite pricey. May I suggest this backpack with USB Charging Port? It's one of the cheaper models with great reviews. I like that the zipper to get into it is against my back so I can't be pick-pocketed, so to speak.
15. Ask for advice from locals.
Hotel staff are especially helpful in this regards. They are most likely local to the area, or have been there a while. Ask them where to go and where to stay away from. If you stay at a Hilton, there is usually a concierge. That'll be your new best friend during your stay. They can help you decide the best restaurant to dine at, and the best theater to catch a show. And they will make the necessary reservations for you.
16. Tell someone back home where you're going.
I always tell my friend, Kelsie, where I'm going when I'm traveling. In addition, I make Instagram posts to a number of followers, but I usually wait until I am back home before I post too many pictures of my journey. Why? Look at #17.
17. Don't give TMI.
Many of us live on social media nowadays. It's really easy to see when someone's home is going to be vacant for two weeks, because they're in Barcelona. That's why, in the previous point, I mentioned telling a friend, not the world.
A friend of mine once told me that his grandfather's house was broken into once while he had been traveling. What did the thieves take? An extremely valuable coin collection that was hidden in an upstairs closet. Nothing else had been messed with. So the thief knew exactly where to look, because the thief knew the family. Many crimes occur between people who know each other. So be wary.
18. Get a neighbor to take your mail in.
Going along with the previous point, a house with a full mailbox, or with packages stacked at the door is a clear sign that no one is home. Even newspapers can stack up in a driveway, letting passersby know that the owners aren't there. If you can, get the post office to hold your mail, and have a neighbor bring in any packages.
19. Copy Important Documents.
Make copies of important documents that you may have on you such as your license and your passport. Keep a copy at home, a copy with you, as well as the originals. This way, if your passport gets lost or stolen, you have a picture of it on your phone, or a paper copy in your luggage. It's better than nothing if you need to contact authorities.
20. Be extra careful at ATMs.
Any time my partner goes to the ATM while we're traveling, I stand at his back like a puppy dog guarding my post. Not that 120 lbs of me could do much if someone really wanted to grab a hold of him, but at least I can alert him to incoming danger. Besides, thieves like easy targets. While you're focused on the ATM screen, it doesn't hurt to have somebody watch your back. And common sense suggests avoiding ATMs at night time.
21. Learn to read body language.
I'm not sure if it was something I was born with, or if it's even something that can be taught, but I've always been good at reading people. Naturally, I'm an excellent judge of character, and can tell when someone is being insincere by inflections in their voice or small expressions on their face. If you're not naturally gifted in judging people (that sounds wrong) there are books and YouTube videos that can help you understand things to look for when detecting deceit. May I suggest, What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People? You can find it here:
22. Register with your embassy (travel abroad).
This one is a bit self-explanatory. If you're traveling abroad, register with your embassy. Better to have all bases covered on the off chance that you need them.
23. Be alert. Don't pull out your phone to look for directions in public.
One of the other ways you can appear as an easy target is by looking lost. Granted, a lot of people look like that naturally. All jokes aside, be aware of where you are, and who you're around. Put your phone away while walking down the street, and be present. If you desperately need to look something up, I'd advise popping into a local shop so as not to draw attention to yourself looking at a map.
I'm being a bit hypocritical here as we've done this before in DC. People with their faces glued to phones isn't an uncommon site. They are however, easiest to take advantage of, because they aren't paying attention. Catch my drift?
24. Check State Department Website (US)
While they may be OVERLY cautious, the State Department Website has to alert you of any potential threats. Knowledge is power. It doesn't hurt to take a look.
25. Trust your instincts.
Above anything, trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, chances are, it isn't. Don't let anyone pressure you into doing something you don't want to do. It's OK to say no. Telling a white lie to a stranger about meeting some friends, or having to be somewhere won't kill you. If you get stuck in conversation, it's easy to just say "no" or keep walking.
While in New Orleans, I frequently made the mistake of making eye contact with a local and smiling. HUGE MISTAKE. They would bee-line for me, and my partner would walk faster, dragging me along, and blocking me from the lechers. If you're alone, pretend you got a phone call and walk away... just make sure your phone is on silent so it doesn't actually ring mid-pretend-conversation (Or there are actual apps that create a fake caller to call you!).
I hope these tips help! If there is anything I've missed, or if you have other safety tips worth mentioning, please do so in the comments below.
Stay safe. Have fun. Happy Trails!