Safety first. Ever hear of that one? It’s a cliché for a reason. While I am firmly in the camp of “a little risk for lots of fun”, I truly believe that implementing a couple of basic safety measures when traveling is necessary. When they are in place, that gives you a lot more leeway for taking some of those (calculated) risks I alluded to earlier. Which safety measures? I’m glad you asked…
You might be wondering why travel insurance is the first one on the list. Travel insurance is an often-forgotten topic, especially with first time travelers. It is a kind of insurance that covers you in all cases of trouble abroad while traveling. Some insurance agencies might even cover domestic travel, you just need to check the fine print of the policy you acquire.
Many travelers – especially those who only travel “recreationally” and not on a regular basis – believe that their health insurance or the complimentary insurance which comes with their credit card will be enough, but these types of insurance actually don’t cover most of the mishaps that can occur during your travels. Health insurance, even an international one, will at most only pay for health-related issues (duh!), but obviously won’t cover any thefts, flight rescheduling or other potential travel calamities. And the insurance your credit card company promised would protect you abroad usually only takes for purchases made with the card and, at best, repatriation costs if you have an accident at your travel destination and need to be flown home for treatment.
So, your best bet for a comprehensive insurance reimbursing you for any type of misfortunes that might befall you during your travels is a specialized policy for just this purpose. There are several companies currently on the market, so I suggest an internet search to discover which one is right for you. In your choices, please consider the length and frequency of your travel (someone who is on the road for 1 year straight has different requirements from someone who is going for a weekend trip, after all).
This is an item I suggest you should not scrimp on, as having it will set your mind at ease and facilitate the recovery of your assets in case something goes wrong. Take it from me, a person who is as clumsy as it gets and regularly has things happening to them (like missed planes/trains/ferries due to bad weather, hospital visits in about a dozen countries for various reasons, etc.). Travel insurance makes your life heaps easier!
Personal Safety Measures
Personal Safety. What does that even mean? Does it mean I should not talk to strangers? Only stay on the well-trodden path and stick to the most touristy places? Never leave my hotel unless it is in the safe company of my travel guide? Most certainly not!!
Traveling is all about exploring new places, being brave, making new experiences and finding new friends. Locking yourself inside your hotel room except for supervised trips outside in the name of safety would be a shame. But, that being said, you should still keep some basic safety measures in mind while traveling.
First and foremost, remember to only bring the absolute necessities when it comes to electronics. As digital natives, we are often tempted to lug every accessory under the sun with us wherever we go. But when it comes down to it, you probably won’t be needing those little thingummies as much as you think you will. So, do yourself a favor and choose your electronic travel companions wisely. If you don’t bring it, it cannot be stolen from you.
The same goes for jewelry, expensive apparel or accessories. While they might be dear to your heart, bringing them on your travels is probably not a very bright idea. If you look like a million bucks, thieves are more likely to try and separate you from your precious stuff. This doesn’t mean that you may only bring ripped jeans, holey t-shirts and grubby flip-flops. But showing off your designer duds in a third-world country? Dumb idea!
Stay in the present, and mostly sober. Having a drink or two to unwind is perfectly fine. But if you get roaring drunk while on vacation, you are basically painting a big fat target on your back telling criminals you’re easy prey.
Have copies of your passport on you – and the original in a safe place. Note down the details of all your credit cards, passport, travel documents, etc. and store them digitally so that you can access them if the real stuff gets stolen. Carry a copy of your passport with you when you’re outside, not the original. That can stay in the hotel/hostel safe.
Separate your cash. Never carry all your cash in one place, and always pay expenses from the smallest wad of bills so that vendors and passersby do not see how much money is on your person. Bras are a very good place to carry cash – if you’re a woman. Guys wearing women’s underwear might draw unwanted attention instead… Or, a gender-neutral option that works if the place you are visiting is not in the tropics, is to store rolled-up bills in your socks.
You might want to invest in a dummy wallet that also contains fake/expired credit cards and which you can hand over should you really be robbed. I use such a wallet to pay my expenses during the day and if the money I allocated for the day runs out, I search for the next restroom to get more from my secret bra stash.
These are some of the personal safety measures that can be dead useful when you are outside. They are, however, not a substitute for protecting the property you’ve left behind in your lodgings. Instead, you should implement them, but at the same time make sure the things you have stacked in your room stay safe as well.
Protecting Your Property
To make sure your stuff stays unharmed (and there!), you might want to invest in some sturdy travel gear. Slash-proof backpacks for instance will make sure no thief can slice open your bag and run off with your valuables. They come in a variety of sizes and styles and usually, in addition to being made with metal mesh embedded in the fabric, often have wiring in their straps to prevent a cut-and-run theft. Some of them even have special pockets for your credit cards, e-passport etc. that are shielded from someone reading out your data and committing identity theft. They are not super-cheap, but since you will need a good backpack anyway, you might as well invest in one that will also keep your things safe at the same time.
Another way of safeguarding your gear is by attaching luggage locks and/or bringing padlocks for locking your bags when you leave them in the hotel/guest house locked storage area. This way, you are sure that no employees make away with your things.
Also, when you are traveling on a bus, train or other public transport, make sure that you stay as close to your gear as possible. On night trains (which I use A LOT for traveling around China) I use my backpack as a pillow or put it under my pillow to make sure my things stay where they should. If you want to be extra careful, you could even tie your bag to your body. Most thieves are counting on things being unattended. Very rarely will someone dare steal things that are attached to you or for which they would have to move your sleeping body.
Avoiding Travel Scams
Travel scams usually fall into two categories – global ones that people try in many destinations the world over and a more specific, localized, variety. There are some popular global tourists scams you should look out for, no matter where you travel to.
I have had many instances where people have tried to scam me. The scam I seem to be hit with most (I’m unsure why this one happens to me so often, maybe I just look super gullible) is probably the “broken taxi meter” or one of its many variations. In this scam, taxi drivers try to make you believe their meter is broken and want to negotiate a price with you to your destination instead. A price that is, of course, a multiple of what you would usually pay to your destination. But you, as a stupid tourist, are not supposed to know that. This is an immensely popular scam in China, but I’ve had it happen to me in other parts of Asia as well, and even in Europe on a couple of occasions.
The best way of fighting the broken taxi meter scam is to get out of the cab immediately and look for another one. Or, now that services like Uber or lyft are so popular, use one of them instead. It usually pays to try to find out ahead of time what the local equivalent of such a private transportation service is and download their app if you can. Here in China, we use DiDi, a Chinese company that bought up Uber China and that is omnipresent in the market.
The advantage of using an app is that it tells you the approximate price ahead of time and you can follow along on the screen of your smartphone. The disadvantage is that you need an internet connection to make it all work. And some of those services might be a hassle to set up (especially the payment part). So if you will only be at your destination for a couple of days, it is probably not worth setting the whole thing up.
Other scams that are common the world over are what I like to call “overly friendly people”. In general, be extremely wary of anyone offering to help you out of the blue, i.e. without you looking at your map in despair, crying by the roadside or having previously asked them something. Like, if someone who looks like a random person on the street or at a tourist attraction offers their help (for things like “cheap accommodation”, “inside tips for buying XY”, “the best restaurant in town”), chances are they are either – best case scenario – employees of any establishment they suggest; or outright crooks trying to lure you somewhere to scam you out of your money or even rob you blind.
But forewarned is forearmed. Beware of inside tips that seem too good to be true. Because chances are, there’s a catch. One that could potentially get quite expensive for you.
In addition to those general ways of trying to part you from your hard-earned cash or your precious stuff, each destination will have its own specific scams that can happen to you if you are not careful.
Do you have any other tips you’d like to share? Feel free to add them in the comments!