The most important thing you have to have with you when travelling, is common sense. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re about to do something you think is pretty stupid, it probably is! But, this definitely doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice fun to be safe. Here’s some tips to ensure you have lots of fun, and are safe whilst doing so!
Research, research, research:
- Researching your destination(s) really can’t be underestimated. Understanding the cultures, etiquette, laws, weather and general price of things really will help you out incredibly. As well as this, it’s respectful and knowledge is power.
- Find out where’s safe to go and where isn’t. We’re not suggesting you don’t visit somewhere because it’s considered ‘unsafe’, real travel is about exploring these places and making your own opinions on them. But, knowing where is unsafe will help you be prepared when you arrive or allow you to avoid if you prefer.
- Learn a bit of the language. This will help you so much it’s amazing. It will help get directions, order food and book hotels for example, but just as importantly it will help you relate to locals and impress them with you’re knowledge. They probably won’t expect you to speak the language, so impressing them may even save you a bit of money!
- Understand the potential scams that you could face. Once again, if something seems too good to be true, it nearly always will be. This goes hand in hand with knowing the price of things. A common knowledge of prices will help to reduce the amount of times that ‘friendly’ vendor rips you off!
- Keep up with the latest local news for wherever you’re going. You don’t want to plan a relaxing getaway and then arrive to find the country is in a state of revolution.
- Get involved in the customs and culture, and know what is acceptable before you arrive. This will help make sure you offend as little people as possible!
How to prepare before leaving:
- If you’re backpacking, plan on doing a lot of walking and don’t plan to have a chauffeur who’s going to drive you round everywhere, it’s always a good idea to travel light. It’s A LOT less hassle and where ever you’re going should have somewhere to wash your clothes!
- Decide whether you need your gadgets. Although many people would say leave them at home, if you’re going for a while a smartphone or a laptop can get you free WiFi and keep you entertained on those rainy days. If you’re terrified of losing them or theft however, just leave them at home.
- This is important. Make copies of your passport, debit cards, credit cards and other travel documents, and then email them to yourself! Paper can get lost or damaged, but you will nearly always be able to access emails. If anything gets lost or stolen, you can use these at the embassy.
- Get some money converted for the places you are heading, put some on cards (some credit cards don’t charge overseas withdrawal fees which can be useful), and get some travelers’ checks. This way, if anything happens, you always have a backup.
- Before leaving, check government sites (e.g FCO, US Department of State, Smart Traveller) and check the travel advice for your destination.
- Let people know where you are. Make copies of your itinerary if you want, but more importantly stay in touch with family and friends and keep them updated on your location (city, hotels, hostels), in case of emergency.
- Remember, if you want to drive (legally) when exploring, you’ll need to obtain a international driving permit in advance from your local motor vehicle authority.
- If you take/are taking medication, be spread them about your person and luggage (carry-on luggage/bags/pockets) to make sure you always have some when you need it.
- If you are suffering from any kind of disease (diabetic e.g.), carry a note from your doctor as well as your prescription and most recent health reports to show to medical teams at your destination.
When you arrive:
- If driving, register your international driver’s license with your country’s embassy at your destination. If anything happens when driving, your embassy will have contact information for you and will contact your family.
- If you haven’t already brought a phone with you, buy a cheap one and get a local SIM card that can make international calls – this’ll mean you can contact people at your destination in case of emergency and will also save you heaps on international calls.
- Spread your money all over your person and in your luggage. Don’t be funny with your cash money. Don’t put it all in your wallet. Every time you open your wallet, you’ll risk people seeing your wads of cash and if it gets stolen you are F*@%@d! Put some in all your pockets, hide some in a hidden compartment in your luggage/clothing or somewhere you think people wouldn’t expect.
- If you haven’t got a credit card, now may be a good time to get (and be responsible) with one. Any fraudluntant purchases can be tracked and reclaimed, and it’s also nowhere near as attractive to potential theives as money is. Try to only use cash at cash-only outlets or small shops.
- Keep an eye on vendors when using cards. If they walk off or are taking a very long time they may be noting down your numbers so stay vigilant!
- Keep any valuables/costly purchases you don’t need in a hotel/hostel safe. If you’re not staying in a hotel or a hostel with a safe, or the one you’re staying in looks particularly dodgy, it may be best to just keep your valuables on you and keep an eye out for any danger.
- Try and keep your wallet/purse in an inner jacket pocket so it’s a bit more difficult to steal. Money belts and fanny packs, though incredibly unfashionable, can be extremely useful in these situations. Keep them under your top or near your crotch (unless you’re particularly promiscuous).
- Don’t get too fixated on the sights. The Taj Mahal is pretty, but it’s a lot less attractive when someone’s just robbed everything you own. Look around now and then, be aware of how those around you are acting and check if there’s any particularly suspicious looking people lurking in the shadows.
- Find out the phone numbers of the local authorities at your destination. If anything happens, report it over phone (or in person) when it happens, follow it up with a written complaint and get something in writing – this is needed for claiming stuff back on travel insurance.
- Although following the unknown unbeaten track is very fulfilled, it may be a good idea to carry a map with you. This will allow you to check your route so you know where you’re going, and it definitely save you a lot of time. Don’t forget to ask some strangers for directions though, it’s all part of the fun of travelling!
- Try and travel in a pair if you can, solo travelers are usually targeted more by criminals than groups. But don’t worry if you’re alone, just stay vigilant and if anything feels uncomfortable or out-of-place, it may be best to leave.
Take with a pinch of salt:
- It may be best at times, in countries where the crime rate is high, to manage your currency exchange, taxi bookings and other necessities with government approved agencies. This will help avoid scams. It is often the case though that going to independent vendors can save you a fair bit of money, so just use your common sense to way up the situation.
- And again, due to the fact tourist sites tend to attract crooks and a lot of ‘great’ non-existent tour deals, it may be best to sign up for a tour from your hotel or a reputable agency. Once again though, you can sometimes can much better deals heading out and speaking to people so use your common sense!
- Try not to argue with people you don’t know. Arguing with anyone will mostly end badly, and despite the fact it may lead to unwanted fisticuffs, it’s also how many establish con men operate. They engage you in a conversation/debate and use their well-trained mind games to lead you astray.
Go with the flow
- Try and blend in, if possible, to avoid looking like a tourist. If you’re in Nairobi, and you’re a 6 foot 7″, Caucasian, red haired male, clearly this will be quite difficult. But just try to not look lost, make it seem like you’ve been there before. This will reduce any chance you’re targeted for theft.
- Say it twice because we think it’s so important, learn a bit of the local language, at least enough to ask some basic questions.
Sleep right so you can sleep tight.
- Hostels will nearly always be the cheapest option, and as you will know, cheap hardly means best quality. So check online reviews, speak to people who have stayed in the place before, and try, if you can, to check out the accommodation before hand to make sure it’s sleepable.
- Sometimes, even if they’re a little more expensive, it may be best to stay at a hotel that has been recommended with good reviews on the internet or by friends.
- Be adventurous and try out Couch Surfing and home stays, this will definitely be good for your pockets and will be a great opportunity to network and chat with good, local people. Once again though, do check any potential reviews, and if things don’t seem right, consider leaving.