We’ve all heard horror stories of people being robbed, pick-pocketed and targeted while traveling, but you shouldn’t let that make you afraid to travel outside the country. If you take the appropriate precautions while traveling to protect yourself from avoidable trouble, you’ll be just as safe on the road as you are at home.
Traveling isn’t any more dangerous than stepping out your own front door. There are some things that are just unavoidable. But you can always arm yourself with the knowledge and skills to keep yourself safe no matter where in the world you are.
Use common sense, keep calm and follow these 30 principles to stay safe while on vacation:
1. Always be alert and aware of your surroundings. It’s easy to get distracted as a tourist, so be extra careful not to become so worried about snapping the perfect picture of the Eiffel Tower that you forget your surroundings. Major tourist attractions are a hot spot for pickpockets.
2. Don’t carry your camera around your neck. The more you look like a tourist, the more you look like a a target. If your camera has a strap, wear it across your body so it blends in.
3. Don’t wear expensive (or any) jewelry. Those rings or necklace you wear every day at home can make you a target. There’s no need to take jewelry with you on vacation. It’ll be there when you get home.
4. Don’t pack your expensive shoes, watch, hat, etc. Wearing expensive clothing and accessories is an invitation to thieves, especially if you’re caught looking like a tourist as well.
5. Know where you’re going. Look up directions beforehand and carry a map with the route marked, in case you find yourself lost or need help getting back. It’s much easier to show someone your map than to explain in a different language.
6. Know where you came from. Always carry a card from the hotel with the address and phone number. Since most hotels have an English speaker on staff, if you get lost or are in need of assistance, you can call the hotel for help. It’s also handy to give a taxi driver the hotel’s card rather than trying to pronounce the hotel name correctly.
7. Be extremely cautious when hailing a cab. Don’t get into an unmarked cab. In some countries, it’s normal to use unmarked taxi services, just be aware of the situation and if you feel unsafe for any reason, wave them on and don’t get in.
8. Carry protection, such as a can of spray mace, just in case. It’s very unlikely you’ll have to use it, but you’ll feel better having it available.
9. Don’t trust the nice fellow who follows you down the street. In Istanbul, there are dozens of vendors within a 30-foot radius who want to sell you something and they often talk their way in by familiarizing themselves with you. They’ll ask where you’re from and miraculously they have a brother who lives there! While many (if not all) of them are not dangerous, this is a scam that’s used everywhere to make you feel comfortable and let down your guard. Don’t fall for it. Just smile and keep walking.
10. If you lose your passport, get on the State Department Passport website and follow the links specific to whether you’re stateside or overseas. If you’re overseas, you’ll want to get in touch with your local embassy or consulate immediately to get it replaced.
11. Overindulgence often leads to inattentiveness. If you’re going to be drinking, make sure you have a safe and guaranteed way home.
12. Look into car rental insurance. You may be covered by your credit card or your home insurance, but it pays to do the research before leaving for vacation. Having insurance coverage will make a car accident a lot less painful, in many ways.
13. Use the buddy system. It worked in grade school, why not use is while on vacation too? Stay with your travel partner as much as possible, and work together to stay alert of surroundings and keep track of details.
14. If traveling alone, make sure someone at home or at the hotel knows where you’ve gone and when you’ll return. Leave hotel information at home along with a copy of the main page of your passport at home with a friend and consider texting at regular intervals when in more dangerous locations.
15. Choose your hotel wisely. Budget hotels are great for the wallet, unless they put you in harm’s way. A hotel in a questionable neighborhood could cost way more than it saves.
16. Carry your wallet or money clip in a front pocket rather than your back pocket and keep your hand on it as much of the time as possible, especially while traveling on public transportation.
17. If you need to carry a backpack, consider placing a small luggage lock on each compartment if you wear it on your back. You’ll look like a tourist wearing it on your front. It’s best not to bring a pack at all to locations with known pickpocket problems.
18. Don’t carry too much cash around and never pull out a wad of cash or flash a stack of bills. Keep the amount you need to pay for a taxi or a ticket in your pocket separate from your other cash so you don’t have to show how much cash you have on you.
19. When pulling cash out of an ATM, choose a machine in a well-lit, high traffic area like at the airport or a mall and put the cash away immediately.
20. Carrying around your expensive tablet is a quick way to get it stolen or leaving it behind by accident. You probably don’t want to know the number of cell phones that have been lost in taxis. Leave your expensive devices in the hotel. I often see people walking around taking pictures with their tablets. Let me tell you, it’s much easier and less expensive to replace a $100 digital camera.
21. Make copies of your passport’s main page. Leave a copy at home with a friend who can be counted on to fax you a copy if you lose your passport while overseas, and take a copy with you. Once at the hotel, leave your actual passport in the hotel safe and carry the copy with you if you think you’ll need it.
22. When driving a rental car, don’t allow the gas tank to become less than 1/4 full, especially when in a rural area where gas stations may be hard to come by.
23. When our friends were driving in Italy, a pack of motorcyclists approached and started casing their car. A few miles later, they came upon a road block the motorcyclists had set up to force them to stop. Keep doors locked and windows up and don’t stop for anyone, ever. Never roll down your window or get out of the car if someone approaches you.
24. At home, it’s habit to hang your purse over the arm of the chair in a restaurant or set it under the table by your feet, and would-be thieves know this. Keep your travel purse in your lap or wrapped around your foot instead.
25. Store any valuables, including extra cash, jewelry, electronic devices and your passport in the hotel safe.
26. Pay for tours and activities with a credit card. Ideally, you’ve researched a reputable company in advance, but in case something happens, you can fall back on your credit card to reverse charges for a tour that doesn’t go through. You can be sure you’ll never get any cash deposits or payments back.
27. Familiarize yourself with the town or city you’re visiting so you’re aware of neighborhoods or streets you should avoid and be especially careful when walking in an unfamiliar place in the dark.
28. Blend in as much as possible. Avoid wearing clothes that make you stand out as a tourist. Flip flops, Hawaiian shirts and fanny packs all say one thing — tourist! — unless you’re actually in Hawaii. Do some internet searches before leaving home to determine what is appropriate to wear.
29. Don’t form noticeable routines. I’ve heard of people being robbed while running because thieves were able to discern their routine. Change up your running path, don’t always go for a walk at the same time each night — and if you do any of these things, don’t carry any valuables with you – even a watch!
30. Use common sense. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Even if something may be harmless, if you don’t feel right about, or it seems fishy in any way, you’re better off avoiding it. Trust your instincts.
Now that you’re highly aware of the things you shouldn’t do while traveling, you’ll be able to stay safe while on traveling. It’s wise to always keep this list in mind, no matter where you’re traveling. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.