Why am I going to talk about essential travel safety tips? Is it not enough to pay attention to my wallet and avoid dangerous areas?
In the natural course of life, unexpected events will always arise; therefore, we must expect and embrace change. Life would be pretty boring if everything was flat and predictable, right? And isn’t this the reason why we leave our comfort zones and start a journey: to experience the unknown?
That is perfectly fine but you wouldn’t want to deal with problems thousands of miles away from home. Guess what… you had the chance to keep them away.
With these tricks, you can prevent mishaps from ruining your trip or, worse, forcing you to finish it abruptly.
Think about it now and you will not have to think about it later! Here are some practical and essential travel safety tips to enjoy your trip safely. Make sure you come back home with just nice memories and maybe a killer tan.
The ten essential travel safety tips
Sign up for a travel insurance
The first of my 10 travel safety tips? Trave insurance, of course.
You may be coming from a country that provides free basic travel insurance but it will not be valid in every part of the world. Most likely, when you go to the hospital during your trip, you will have to pay all the expenses out of your pocket. This could be a few bucks in a Thai hospital or thousands of dollars if you get involved in a car accident in California.
If you are a European Union citizen and travel within Europe, you can take advantage of free basic emergency treatments, but you’re not covered for the things that are not health related (like flight delays, cancellations, baggage loss, etc.) that can happen during your trip. So, in my opinion, it is crucial to sign up for a proper comprehensive travel insurance.
First, because the insurance will reimburse you even if you had directly paid to the hospital at the time of your admission. Keep in mind, in some countries, such as the US, you can get rejected at the hospital if you can’t show proof of your finances or a valid insurance.
Second, because the insurance provides direct assistance in case of an emergency (to arrange emergency transportation, interpreter, doctor, etc.) and also covers your unexpected expenses for a series of problems, such as the loss of your luggage, theft/robbery, evacuation due to natural disasters, missing flights or trip interruption for any other reasons covered by your plan.
Which company to choose? After a long research and comparison among so many different companies, I would recommend Worldnomads, a Danish-based company that is my and most backpackers’ favorite insurance.
- You can sign up for a plan even after you’ve left home, without a duration limit. You can also extend your contract conveniently on their website.
- It offers more comprehensive plans than the others out there, for situations like the resumption of travel, evacuation and extreme sports/activities.
- You can file your claims online and have access to up-to-date travel safety alerts.
There are two available versions: Standard and Explorer.
Which one to choose? I’d say Explorer, which, in addition to higher limits, also covers you for extreme sports, physiotherapy/chiropractic treatment, manual work if you’re volunteering, and a wide range of cases from theft to rental car issues (they cover you in addition to your rental vehicle insurance if you are involved in an accident or the vehicle is stolen).
Want a quote? Enter the information of your trip below and you will see a detailed comparative quote between the two versions.
Keep your money safe
I met travelers who carried a huge amount of cash on them and exchanged money to the local currency while traveling.
That’s absolutely a bad idea and the story will not end well! Cash, bags, wallets can get easily stolen -or you can end up finishing all your money way before the planned date of your trip.
- Open two different bank accounts in order to have two ATM/debit cards and two credit cards. If possibile get them on different circuits: Visa and MasterCard (AMEX is not common in Asia and South America). I recommend to choose cards that are completely free of charge and offer free ATM withdrawals worldwide and with zero currency exchange costs (the percentage applied by your bank for withdrawals if the currency is different than yours, eg. USD to YEN)
- Try all your cards before you leave: it’s not a good idea to test them at your destination to find out that they’re not working (you may think that it’s obvious, but believe me, it’s not…)
- Always have a backup: carry only one debit card and one credit card on you, keep the others in an RFID-proof case in your room and store all your passwords in a safe place. You will see that in some places, credit cards are not common and you don’t need to carry your ATM card on you all the time either. For instance, in Thailand I store 2 sets of cards in different places at my home, so if one set is stolen, I can use the backups.
- Store in your phonebook all the numbers you would need to call to block the cards in case of theft or loss.
- Notify your banks of your trip dates and where you are going: in some countries, your bank can block your card if you try to withdraw money or if the system automatically inspects a fraudulent use (like trying to withdraw twice within a few minutes). So let them know in advance where you will use the card to prevent this surprise from happening.
- Take the same precaution for cash: bring with you only what you need for the day/night and store the rest in a safe place in your room. Most hostels offer safe deposits or lockers (so remember to pack a combination lock).
- Which wallet is good? I personally use Pacsafe RFIDsafe Z100 that comes with an anti-theft chain with carabiner that I attach to the backpack’s key hook: it’s not dynamite-proof, but it’s certainly safer than keeping your wallet in your pocket.
Have all your documents handy
- Always keep extra copies of your passport and your insurance certificate.
- Scan all of your documents and archive them in the cloud (OneDrive, Google Drive and Dropbox are reliable options). You can access them from any device, share or email them if needed.
- Create a specific folder in your mailbox where you will save all the reservations, receipts and other travel-related information.
Leave breadcrumbs along the path…
- Let your loved ones know where your are! Inform them of your plans: stay connected via phone, e-mail, or even better with WhatsApp, which allows you to share your location. If you are an Apple user, you can set up “family sharing” in the settings on your phone or laptop so they can check your last position.
- Forward them the reservation emails of your booked accommodations.
- When you arrive at a hostel/hotel, immediately take a business card and put it in your wallet. Also drop pin the location in Google map (or any GPS app) on your smartphone. You will need the business card to show to a taxi driver or a local person to go back if your phone dies.
- If you rent a scooter/bike, when you park it, shoot a picture of the license plate and take note of the address or drop pin the location in your GPS app.
- If you go hiking, bring an emergency whistle with you. It is a special whistle that can produce a powerful sound of up to 120db so that it can be heard from long distance. Three consecutive whistle blows are the international signal for help request.
Label your stuff
Attach “waterproof” tags with all your current contact information to your backpack.. and to your daypack (the everyday smaller backpack), so that you can be contacted if you forget it in that nice place where you stopped to admire the sunset.
Don’t forget to include your email address (so you can be reached if your phone is inside your backpack and maybe with an empty battery). In addition add your Whatsapp number (a lot of people use this app nowadays to communicate when there’s wifi).
Label your smartphone: Stick a small sheet with your contact info including your email in-between your smartphone and its cover (transparent cover is recommended). This is also the perfect place to store your hostel/hotel’s business card: it would be easier for a good soul to bring it back there.
Protect your belongings
You’re half way among the 10 essential travel safety tips! Good job!
When you are traveling, your backpack is your home and its contents are everything you have.
Even if your belongings may not have a big economical value to you, they could have for others, especially in poor countries. Therefore, by being careful and following a few tips, you could avoid the hassle of having to desperately repurchase everything.
- When you leave the hostel, store all your valuables in the locker (make sure they’re available when you book your hostel)
- If you need to charge your electronic equipment, do it at night while they are at your bedside. I once met a traveler who left in the room his professional camera and all of its accessories to charge while he was out somewhere. This is like playing with fire!
- When you arrive at a restaurant, tie your daypack to your chair with the chest and waist straps so it stays secure when you’re not looking.
- Use a steel wire padlock like Lewis N. Clark Cable Lock to tie and lock your backpack to a stable object when you’re waiting at a restaurant, airport or bus station so you can go to the restroom or the magazine stand without your bulky bag.
- Use a combination padlock to secure your backpack’s zippers when you are on the move or leave your bag at the hostel, as well as to secure the hostel locker or your bungalow’s door. I recommend to buy a TSA approved type (so that it can be opened by the airport staff).
- When you are at the beach and go in the water, leave your things in a visible spot. If possible ask the people nearby if they could keep an eye on them.
- Need a loo break in the hostel or a coffeeshop while working on your laptop? Ask someone you trust to keep an eye on your things quickly and probably they will ask you to do the same thing.
- If you are on a bus and want to sleep, keep your daypack near you (not on the next seat or in the overhead compartment) and pass the strap around your arm. Be extra careful! There are many stories of bags being stolen on buses.
A bit of awareness
- When you open your wallet in public, be extra careful and don’t show your money to anyone.
- Avoid walking alone in the evening or in isolated streets during the day. If you can’t avoid this, it’s best to opt for a taxi to get to your destination. Also avoid dangerous neighborhoods and go back to a safer area if you find yourself in one as soon as you realize it.
- Don’t let people distract your attention. In crowded markets, children or adults may try to distract you by trying to sell you something and pickpocket your wallet or phone. If you find yourself in a messy situation, get away immediately and bring your daypack to the front where you can see it.
- Avoid excessive alcohol, drugs, and situations that you could be taken advantage of. If you miss drugs, see the movie Brokedown Palace (hint: Two traveling girls and a Thai prison).
- When you arrive at a hostel/hotel, ask for advice on where to go. But more importantly, do something that almost no one does: ask where not to go. You will avoid wasting your time but also flag dangerous areas.
- Don’t try to be a hero: if they are mugging you, let them do it. Your life is more important than your possessions.
- Keep a low profile: avoid arguing with locals and other travelers even if someone provokes you. Fighting will only put you in trouble.
Avoid behaving like a tourist
- Don’t show off by sporting designer clothes and expensive electronic gadgets, especially in poor countries. For instance, if you go for a run with your i-phone gleaming in your hand, there’s a big chance it will be snatched pretty quickly in Colombia. True story.
- Try to blend in with locals in the way you dress so you are not an easy target for thefts. Someone in Indonesia told me they could spot all the tourists easily because of their mesh fedora hats.
- Avoid pulling out the smartphone or map in the middle of the street trying to figure out where you are. You can do that in a safe corner without getting attention.
- Learn about local customs and laws. Some habits that may be normal for you can be rude, offensive or illegal in a different country. For instance you can offend a child’s parents by caressing his head in Thailand, or get a ticket by drinking alcohol in public places in the US.
- Leave valuable items back at home. You are traveling to enjoy the beauty of a place and open your mind, not to join a parade. Therefore expensive watches, jewelry, rings, and fancy handbags won’t serve you. They will only attract thieves or the chance to lose them somewhere. I travel with a plastic Casio watch that I paid 25 euros for: it’s lightweight, handy, and has so many useful functions. I do not have to get it to the metal detectors and, if lost, it wouldn’t be a big problem.
Get informed before leaving
- Check the latest updates on your home country’s travel warnings website (such as Foreign Affairs or Dept. of State). They will tell you if there are any imminent threats in your destination like terrorism, violence, epidemic, or volcano eruption.
- Check if you need to apply for visa to enter your destination country as a visitor. Do not assume that you are granted a visa on arrival automatically! This is not always the case: in countries like China, Vietnam and Myanmar, you need to go through a lengthy visa process. Or you can pay extra money at the airport to be able to extend your stay in Bali later.
- Get informed about any vaccinations you may need: yellow fever is mandatory in some South American countries or in case you are from a country at risk of contagion. Also keep in mind some vaccines require repetition after a few months.
Choose wisely what you eat
What does eating has to do with essential travel safety tips? Let me explain you…
Is tasting new flavours in different parts of the world an important part of your journey? It definitely is for me. I’m a big foodie and love to try everything in each country I visit. But that doesn’t mean I turn my stomach into a garbage bin.
If you go for junk food (fried, sugary, and processed), besides having less energy to go and explore what’s out there, you will end up spending more time in the bathroom than outside.
Mainstream media recommends to stay away from raw fruits unless peeled, raw vegetables, and street food.
This is not true! Here is why:
- By eliminating raw fruits and vegetables, you also eliminate all the vitamins and minerals from your diet
- Eating meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products will expose you to potential bacterial infections such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella, etc. Not to mention steroid and anabolic hormones, nitrites and nitrates
- Do you think cooking the food will kill the bacteria? No, coking, baking, frying, or freezing do not make you safe.
- Eat vegan: You will be full of energy and safe from most bacterial infections. Not to mention the ethical side of the coin that is particularly important to me. Make your trip an opportunity to find that you can nourish yourself differently, healthily, and tastefully.
- Eat street food: Each stall normally has one or two specialties (like papaya salad and pad thai). This means fewer ingredients and faster turn around = fresh food. On the contrary, it is easier to get poisoned from the food in a slow restaurant that sells dozens of different dishes, which consist of a ton of ingredients that wait for days. Finally, the street food costs less and is delicious.
- Eat local! Discover local delicacies versus looking for Western food. Trust me you will find the best spaghetti in Italy and best pad thai in Thailand.