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Safety first guide

Traveling can be a scary concept, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. This post highlights tips to help you stay safe while traveling.

Things can go wrong anywhere

The world can be a scary place. And with the bombings in London, Paris, Rome (the list goes on and on), it feels like travel might be too dangerous of an enterprise to take part in. When I start to think like this, I remind myself of a few facts: 1) Even if my hometown feels safe, I can’t just assume it is. People in Columbine, Newtown and Miami probably thought nothing would happen in their hometown either; 2) And this is really important, the odds of something happening to you are really, really small.

Understand risk

We as humans are really bad at managing risks and we don’t logically think through things when the media is screaming stories at us all the time. B recently had a conversation with a coworker who said they don’t fly because it is too dangerous, yet had no problem driving. This illustrates the bad-at-managing-risk point–how many plane crashes do you know of compared to automobile crashes? This lesson can work for trips overall. Even if you hear about a few things going wrong, think how many millions of people go on trips each year. The odds are definitely in your favor.

Don’t stop traveling!

Okay, now that we have that over with and I have hopefully convinced you to keep traveling, we should talk about some ways to help you not become one of those scary news stories. Separately or together, B and I have been to dozens of countries on dozens of trips. Neither one of us have ever had a serious problem where we were in danger. While there’s a chance that this could just be the luck of the draw, I do believe we take precautions to make sure we aren’t easy pickin’s for the bad guys. Here are some rules you might want to think about when you are on a trip, either international or in your home country.

Be inconspicuous

Leave it at home. I know you love your one-carat diamond solitaire earrings. But that doesn’t mean you should wear them when you are visiting a country with the gross domestic product of $12,000 a year. Why tempt fate? I’m all for accessorizing, but if something is really flashy, it might be best to not draw attention to it or your perceived wealth. I probably wouldn’t wear fake diamond earrings either, just because people might see them and that I’m an American and assume they were real.

Elephant ring holder
If you love it, leave it at home.

Be alert

I have heard several stories about people on vacation enjoying themselves and not paying attention to their surroundings and getting their stuff stolen. While you are supposed to relax and have a great time on your vacation, you should still be alert of your surroundings. While we were in Morocco, our tour group was checking out a souk. We couldn’t have been more conspicuous in the fact that we were foreigners on a tour; as such we were pretty much sitting ducks. One lady in our group was looking at some of the goods for sale when she felt the slightest touch on her arm. When she looked down, she saw a hand unzipping her purse. Luckily she felt something and could push it away before anything was taken.

This is a good time to mention something that should be standard practice for you–when walking through a crowded area, make sure your purse or bag is on your front. If you are using a bag a cross strap, just swing that thing around so it is on your chest instead of your back.

Kavu cross shoulder bag
Swing that baby to the front where you can see it.

Behave

Again, vacations are for relaxing and having a great time….but that doesn’t mean you should lose control of yourself. While B and I have left the particular phase of travel where we stay up late and party (albeit tamely), if we did have plans to get wild we would make sure one of us was sober enough to think for the both of us. What could be an easier target than a out-of-her-mind high or drunk girl, stumbling away from a discotech by herself? That’s just asking for trouble. The buddy system can be challenging for solo travelers, but if you don’t have someone looking out for you, it might be prudent not to lose control of your faculties. Who’s going to tell the Uber driver what hotel to go to, after all?

Be prepared

Mitigate bad things happening. It would be a real bummer if something bad were to happen while on a trip. But the real bummer would be if you lost everything, not just something. Remember the adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket? This can be applied to travel as well. When I am on a trip somewhere that I think might be a little sketchy, I will divide my money and credit cards up and carry them in different locations. Sometimes I’ll leave it in a hidden compartment in my pack, sometimes under the sole of my shoe, or in a pocket of a coat. The idea is to spread things around so if you do get robbed, you only have to give them what is in your wallet.

Shoe and wallet
Divide and conquer.

Another trick is to make photocopies of the front and back of your cards you are taking with you. Remember to keep these copies as safe as you would the real thing, because if someone gets a hold of these copies you would be just as screwed. You can do an electronic version of this if you like–either with pictures on your phone or in your email. That way, you wouldn’t actually have a piece of paper laying around.

Photocopy to the rescue

Here’s where this advice comes in handy: a while ago I flew to Frankfurt, Germany. I distinctly remember using my debit card in the Atlanta airport, but when I got to my hotel in Frankfurt I realized I didn’t have it anymore. This was a blow because, as we’ve talked about in other posts, an ATM card is the best way to get local currency and my trip was just beginning. Fortunately, I was able to pull out a picture of my card and read the numbers to call on the back to cancel it and put it on fraud alert.

Don’t worry–my friends were nice enough to let me pay for the shared items like hotels on my credit card and pay me in local cash so I could have some spending money.

Be knowledgeable

Know what you are getting into. Before you leave for your trip, do a little research into what the place you are going is known for. Your guidebooks should have a section on averting crime, but there is also a very good section on Wikitravel called ‘Stay Safe’ that has a lot of tips. For example, you should stay away from bars that might rip you off in certain districts of Tokyo or that while riding a train late at night in Melbourne you should ride in the car closest to the driver.

Yogya Scam

We forgot to check up on this section of safety tips while in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. We were walking along when a seemingly nice gentleman approached us and asked if we wanted to see batik fabric being made at a school. ‘Sure,’ we said and after a tuk tuk ride, we arrived at a shop where people were making batik…or so we thought. Thankfully, we each only bought a few small things. Later we learned this is a pretty common scam, but being as we had a really good experience and spent only $20 or so on our batiks, we felt we lucked out. Plus, we got a pretty cool souvenir out of the deal.

Framed Batik
Even if it was a scam…I still love it.

Conclusion

I’m pretty sure we are going to have some sort of safety incident in future trips. But instead of letting that stop us from adventuring, we will be as smart as we can to stay safe while traveling. Think about this: if something happened one time in every thirty vacations, would you really regret going on those other 29 trips? No, me neither.

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