I’ve visited some amazing countries, immersed myself in foreign culture and met some truly awesome people. I’ve also witnessed the darker side of travel; I’ve observed scams in action and come face to face with dangerous hustlers. The fact is, there is good and bad in all countries. But don’t let that deter you from traveling. You can journey safely through this big, beautiful world of ours by simply following these sure-fire safety tips.
1. Always be aware of your surroundings
When traveling in a foreign city, staying safe requires always being aware of your surroundings. It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many tourists you see walking around immersed in their phone or a map.
2. Don’t be an easy target
Thieves always look for easy targets. Once, during my travels, I was having lunch with a friend in a quaint outdoor French cafe. I kept my purse on the table, where I could see it, while my friend chose to put her purse underneath the table by her feet. Next to us, at another table, sat two people, one with a shopping bag. Immediately my “spidey sense” began to tingle, so I told my friend to put her purse on the table. She laughed and told me not to be so paranoid.
About a minute later a man appeared beside our table to the left and dropped his plate. Naturally, we looked. At the same time, the couple to our right (sitting next to us) got up from their seats and exited the cafe. When my friend went to grab her purse, it was gone. We were fooled by the old “distraction and steal” scam.
The truth is, there are so many versions of this scam out there just waiting for easy targets. Pickpockets and thieves usually work in pairs — someone creates a distraction, while someone else steals your wallet, or purse as in my friend’s case. Be smart and don’t be an easy target. Don’t walk around with an open purse or backpack, slung around your back, and don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket.
3. Don’t be an ugly American
You’re a proud American and that’s admirable. But boasting about your proud heritage in a country that’s been to battle with the U.S. is a bad idea. Not everyone loves your homeland like you do. Don’t be that ugly American criticizing “strange” customs and cultural differences. Don’t get so drunk or high that everyone becomes your friend (or enemy). You’ll just enrage the locals and become an easy target for crime.
4. Don’t walk alone at night
Walking alone at night in a foreign city is not advisable whether you’re female or male. If you find yourself alone at night, walk on the same side of the street where other people are walking so that you don’t stand out as walking alone. If you think you are being followed, don’t continue on to where you’re staying. Stop and ask security or the police for help. You can also walk into any restaurant or hotel, even if it’s not your own and ask for help.
5. Keep a copy of the address where you’re staying
In both English and the native tongue of the country you are in, keep a copy of your address on your phone. Also, write it in a notebook that you keep in your bag or wallet. In fact, everyone in your group should do the same in case you separate and lose your friends.
6. Get travel insurance
Find out if your current insurance policy covers travel insurance overseas. Accidents happen — don’t get stuck trying to cover medical costs upfront. If your insurance doesn’t already cover you overseas then purchase a one-time protection plan that covers emergency medical, trip interruption and delay, baggage loss and delay, and flight and travel insurance.
7. Enroll in S.T.E.P.
S.T.E.P. (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) is a free service provided to U.S. citizens and nationals who are traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate. Why is this important? With S.T.E.P. you’ll receive important information from the embassy about the safety conditions in your destination country. It will also help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency including natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency. And it will also help your family and friends get in touch with you in case of an emergency.
8. Keep your cash in two locations
If your hotel has a safe then store your money there and only take out what you’ll need for the day. Meanwhile, on your daily or evening outings, keep a stash of cash in your wallet or purse and another stash hidden somewhere on your body in case you get robbed. I have a friend who keeps a $20 in his shoe when traveling.
9. Never leave your drink unattended
It’s far too easy for someone to slip something into your drink when you leave it unattended. On that note, make sure you watch who is pouring your drink and that you are getting only a drink and not a cocktail of booze and drugs.
10. Wear your backpack up front
Honestly, nothing frustrates me more than seeing tourists with backpacks perched on their backs just ready for a thief to rob during a distraction. It’s so easy for professional thieves to unzip your backpack and steal your items. The same goes for purses. Avoid thin straps that can be easily broken or clutches that can be grabbed. Nothing screams “I’m a tourist, come rob me,” more than a backpack on your back.
11. Don’t wear jewelry
Unless you’re staying in a luxury hotel and have a private cab taking you to and from your destination, it’s best to leave your jewelry at home. Unfortunately, your lovely jewelry can turn you into a target for crime.
12. Trust your gut
Bottom line, trust your instinct. When something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Safe travels.
— Katherine Marko