Traveling is very exciting, there’s a whole world full of beautiful sights, attractions and adventures waiting for you out there. But what about safety? Isn’t the world also a dangerous place? Maybe you know someone who was robbed during a trip. Or you read something on the news about scams that happened to travelers. Maybe you worry about local diseases.
The fact is: every day, countless numbers of people travel the world and the vast majority (if not nearly everybody) makes it home safely! Don’t let horror stories get under your skin – traveling is generally safe. As long as you keep your wits about you, just like you would (or should) do at home.
The best way to deal with the uncertainty of possible dangers during your travels, is to be prepared. In order to protect yourself, there are some simple precautions you can take. Therefore, Traveling Dutchie provides you with the 15 best travel safety tips for you to consider when you venture out.
Travel safety: before you go
1. Do some basic research
Traveling safely starts before you leave your home. Do some research and get to know your destination. Life can be quite different where you are going, different rules and customs may apply, and some places may be unsafe.
In my opinion travel guides are an essential introduction to your destination. Not only do they provide useful information about sights, accommodation, restaurants and so on, but also information on common crime, places to avoid and precautions to be taken. Make sure you have looked into that to avoid trouble.
In addition, check where the embassy or consulate of your home country is located, in case you need to contact them. And make sure you know the local emergency number (no, it’s not always 911 like in the USA, or 112 like in Europe).
2. Make copies of important documents
Bring a copy of your passport and put the copy somewhere seperate from your passport. You may also want to e-mail the copy to yourself or store it in a (secure) cloud location. Besides your passport, it might come in handy to do the same with your visa, your airline ticket and perhaps other tickets you booked online. This way, if your baggage gets stolen or lost, you will stil have access to the most important documents.
3. Be sure to have travel insurance
Of course we all hope to return safely from our travels. But no matter how carefull you are, sometimes accidents happen, you get sick, something valuable is stolen or you have to cancel the trip. In many cases, your regular insurance doesn’t cover the costs if things like these happen while you’re traveling. Therefore a good travel insurance is indispensible.
Travel insurance is something many people think they don’t need – until they do. In fact, I honestly hope you will travel your whole life without ever actually needing your travel insurance. But in case you have an accident (you may drive safely, but someone else may not), or in case your baggage is lost (stolen or gone missing at an airport), or if you have to fly home because a family member is ill, a travel insurance will save you a lot of money, a lot of hassle and a lot of stress.
So I cannot stress this enough: never travel without travel insurance! If you do, you’ll regret it if something goes wrong.
4. Don’t leave without a trace
Sometimes things don’t go as planned and unforeseen things happen. In that case people may want (or need) to get in touch with you. So don’t leave without a trace. Make sure at least somebody knows where you are going and how they can get in touch with you.
These days we can be contacted almost anywhere we go by just bringing our smartphone. But what if something happens to you and people need to contact your relatives? Two tips:
- Activate ICE on your smartphone. This is a phone number (of a friend or relative) people can access and call in case of an emergency (ICE) without having to enter the security code first.
- Old school, but carry an ICE note in your wallet or bag. A small (laminated) piece of paper with the phone number(s) of people who have to be called in case of an emergency, your blood type, whether you are a donor and what medicines you take, if any. This way emergency personnel have all the information they need if something happens to you.
Travel safety: protect your valuables
5. Don’t flash your valuables
This sounds like such an obvious advice, but apparently it’s easier said than done, because travelers do get pickpocketed or robbed.
Don’t draw the attention of thieves and pickpockets by walking around with expensive jewelry or flashy watches. Leave them at home, you don’t need them when you are traveling.
Keep your valuables on your body instead of in your bag. In case your bag gets snatched, at least you still have your valuables.
Now, if you have a DSLR camera, like I do, it’s a bit hard not to show it, since it’s quite… well, big. When I’m traveling, I always have my camera at hand and since it’s quite noticable, it makes me stand out as a tourist. There’s no way around it. Just be aware that you have a nice piece of equipment that might attract thieves.
Be mindful about where you keep your money, bank card and credit card. Never wear your wallet in the back pocket of your jeans or pants. Put it in the front pocket instead. In unsafe areas consider putting your money in a money belt underneath your clothes.
6. Don’t leave valuables in your hotel room
When traveling, bring as little valuables as possible. You don’t want to carry them around all the time (because they may be stolen), but you don’t want to leave them in your hotel room or hostel dorm either.
Whatever valuables you are carrying, when you go out, take them with you. Don’t leave them in your room, because you simply don’t know who has access. If your hotel room has a safe, don’t use it: hotel personell always have master keys, so your valuables are not as safe as they may seem. If your hotel or hostel provides lockers, use a solid padlock.
When you go out, lock the room (obviously), and leave the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door knob. This will reduce the chance of personell entering your room while you are away.
7. Don’t carry (too much) cash
Following up on tip number 5: don’t carry too much cash or no cash at all. These days, in most countries credit cards are widely accepted and contactless payment with your bank card becomes more and more commonplace. In more and more countries you will hardly ever need cash.
If you do need cash, don’t carry too much. Never flash stacks of money in public and be extra alert after leaving an ATM. Thieves know you just withdrew cash – now they just have to collect it from you.
In unsafe areas or cities, consider carrying a second wallet with some money and maybe an old (useless) bank or credit card. In case you do get robbed, you can hand over this spare wallet. Put your ‘real’ wallet somewhere safe.
Travel safety: being out there
8. Remain vigilant
Of course when traveling you want to enjoy all the sites and attractions as much as possible, making photos, having a great time. By all means, do so! However, always remain vigilant. Don’t forget to pay attention to your surroundings. Thieves and pickpockets behave opportunistically: the make use of the fact that you are not paying attention. Always keep an eye on your belongings, never ever leave them unattended!
9. Be aware of who you talk to
As a traveler you get to meet a lot of people you don’t know. Some people will only cross your path, others you will get to talk to. You may approach people for help, or people may approach you, either for help or to sell you something.
Of course this may result in great encounters with locals or other travelers and maybe even new friendships. But don’t let the holiday vibe make you forget to make sound judgements about the people you meet. Is this a friendly local or another tourist? Do they have good intentions? Or are they maybe trying to lure me or maybe even out to rob me?
Don’t get paranoid, just be aware of possible scams and people with bad intentions – which includes the smooth talkers and people who are ‘too nice’. Follow your intuition, and if you feel uncomfortable: leave.
10. Use common sense
Just a few more obvious don’ts to keep you safe: don’t venture into unknown territory alone at night, avoid dodgy areas and deserted streets. Never just hop into someone’s car, or join people you don’t know met to go to a party in some far-off and possibly unsafe area. Don’t get in unlicensed taxis and don’t get drunk in a place you’re not familiar with (especially when traveling solo). Just use common sense and you’ll be fine.
11. Respect local culture and customs
Especially when traveling to a different continent or a country with a different culture, as a traveler you should be mindful of the local culture. At your destination different rules and customs may apply. Make sure you are aware of them and respect them. Not doing so might actually put you in danger.
12. Be carefull when using public WiFi
Hotels, coffee bars, trains, planes, even public areas; these days more and more locations provide public WiFi. Which is, of course, extremely convenient. It’s also not safe. WiFi is vulnerable and hackers can steal your data. Public WiFi is fine for innocent purposes like finding a restaurant or navigate your way on the map. However, never use public WiFi for bank transactions or checking your credit card account.
Talking about maps… as a seasoned traveler I’d like to recommend installing the Maps.me app. This highly accurate (and free) navigation app uses GPS so you don’t need an internet connection. Just download the map of your destination and it will be impossible for you to get lost.
Travel safety: health
13. Get vaccinated
Due to the covid-19 pandemic, we have alle been reminded about the importance of vaccinations to prevent us from being infected by a potentially deathly virus, ending up in a hospital, or worse: dying. With covid-19 vaccines widely available to most people in western countries, as a traveler you still have to be aware of other viruses that may pose a risk to your health. While traveling is generally safe, there is always a chance of getting infected by a nasty virus that doesn’t exist at home.
Especially if you are traveling to countries in the tropics or subtropics, it is strongly advised to be vaccinated against viruses like Hepatitus, Diphtheria, Rabies, Malaria, Yellow Fever or Dengue. In fact: vaccination may be required to enter the country you’re visiting and be checked upon entry. Which vaccinations you need depends on your destination as well as your personal health status. Consult your local medical professional to get a tailor-made vaccination advice. Do this 4 to 6 weeks before departure.
Tip: traveling to tropical countries, bring insect repellant containing 40-50% DEET. It effectively keeps stinging and biting insects away.
14. Carry a first aid kit
Always bring a first aid kit. Small accidents may occur that need DIY medical treatment, and if they do, you will be glad you have a band aid.
15. Eat and drink wisely
One of the perks of traveling is you get to try the local cuisine. So when you are abroad, of course you want to try local food. But you don’t want to get sick and you don’t have to be in Delhi to have a ‘Delhi belly’. So be aware of the following:
- Be careful with eating street food that has not been well cooked. Also: food that has been out in the open (or even in the sunlight) all day? Maybe not a good idea.
- Avoid drinking contaminated water by checking if tap water is safe to drink. If it isn’t, or if you are not sure, drink bottled water. Or boil or purify water before drinking it.
- Take care of basic hygiene. It’s easy to forget cleaning your hands before you eat something, but a simple way of keeping the germs away.
- Eat where a lot of (local) people are eating. That’s generally a sign that the food is reliable.
- Go easy on the booze (even if it’s dirt cheap). Fights and accidents often happen as a result of drinking and when it happens in some far-off country, the consequences may be worse than at home.
Have fun and stay safe!