Learning the hard way is never fun. I have learned some hard lessons during my travel. Learning and preparing is a wise idea. As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” As travel becomes the rage, it is important to consider a few things that will assist you in having safe travel experiences.
One thing I have learned is that most people in the world are good. I know because I have met some marvelous people during my travels who I now call friends. But that said between all the decent people you will find a few evil-minded ones. Those are the ones who want to scam you or take your stuff to benefit themselves. Don’t fail yourself by not taking steps to maintain your safety.
To minimize the risk of petty crime, stick to where there are families and other people. Especially in the evening, stay away from areas that tourists only visit during the day. These areas can attract sketchy and intimidating characters since they know that some tourists will visit an attraction after closing.
Leave valuables locked up in your hotel or Airbnb, ideally in a safe. Stash your documents such as passports, bank cards, extra cash, your driver’s license (if you’re not renting a car), even your daily medicine (like my thyroid meds). Carry a copy of your passport photo page for identification – in case you need them while out on the town to prove who you are. We like to wander around town with only the money we think we will spend during the day, keeping the amount as small as possible. We love our money belt, make sure to purchase a comfortable one, you will wear it all day. A good friend of mine carries a decoy wallet, what a great idea!
Crowed areas, such as airports and train stations, are a pickpocketers paradise. Stay alert and keep your bags close to you. Thieves will often create a diversion to distract your attention while an accomplice takes your belongings. If you wear a backpack, wear it with the bag in front. Don’t put your important documents, or phone in the front pocket where it is easy to open and take out; put it on the large area and toward the bottom. These days I love the clothing which has secret pockets to put your valuables since having it deep in the backpack is not always convenient.
If you carry a purse, the best are the ones that are across your body. We love our Osprey Sling Bag to keep our important stuff while out on the town. If you wear your bag off your shoulder, it is easier for motorbike thieves to snatch it in a blink of an eye. Don’t leave your bag somewhere easy to grab, like hanging off the back of a chair or next to you at a café. We like to tie our bag with our Pacsafe Retractasafe cable lock to a table or a rack on a train. Your phone is also an easy target. Don’t leave it sitting on the table in front of you when you are enjoying a quick cup of coffee on a terras; it is another easy grab and run item.
Always look like you know where you’re going. Phones have made it easier to find your destination, but don’t be on your phone constantly as you will seem like you’re lost and be more of a target. If you need to review your surroundings on the phone, stop at a bench or go into a coffee shop to have a drink to review where you need to go. So, when you get back on the move, you are confident about which way to go.
Learn the money in the country you are visiting. By being familiar with the currency, you will not be bamboozled by swapping money or giving you the wrong change back. A scam I have seen in many different countries.
This one might seem obvious, but I am always so surprised how many people wear their expensive jewelry during travels. You are the perfect target with your bling, bling. Looking wealthy, wearing expensive clothes, and lots of jewelry will single you out as a target. Leave it at home and blend in is my advice. I even buy local clothing or jewelry to blend, especially in under-developed countries. The clothes will cost you a few bucks, but you take the bullseye away. Several years ago, at a Christmas market in Dusseldorf, my earrings and neckless were snatched without even noticing; I have no clue when and how it happened. They (the thieves) are pros, that is their job
If you are renting a car, rent a car that is not attractive to thieves. If you are driving a car, do not leave valuables in your car. Once in Amsterdam, our car was broken in twice (from each side of the car) in a matter of an hour. There was nothing in our car, so no big deal, but it can happen anywhere (to prevent damage and hassles when returning a car, I no longer lock my car in Amsterdam). Even the trunk is not a safe place. One more thing, make sure you park your car in a legitimate parking spot; if your car is towed or booted (the dreaded Denver boot), you will be bummed — not a fun experience during your travels. It happened to us (again in Amsterdam, lol).
Beware of people posing as a guide or people with advice about where to go or stay. The pushier the person is, the most likely it is a fake guide, a scam, or an overpriced excursion. We have fallen for a few scams in our travels and now take unsolicited advice with a (large) grain of salt.
The more of the language you know, the better your experience; people will receive you with open arms and a smile. Locals will respect you for taking the time to learn their language. Plus, knowing a little of the language helps when getting around and makes the whole experience more authentic. Just remember it takes time to learn a language, so start well before you travel. That said, you can still learn during your travels. Many people think if you know English, you can get around anywhere. But that is not necessarily the case. LingoHut.com is a great website to learn the basics of a language before starting your travels.
Always “prepare to prevent,” so there is not needed to “repair or repent.” Make your travel experience positive. Learn the language, purchase some gadgets to help keep your items safe, and remember to carry less. This will make you less of a target. As Elenor Everet said: “for safety is not a gadget; it is a state of mind.”