Traveling is one of the most exciting and rewarding activities you can pursue, whether you’re a college student trying to explore the world, a retiree looking to relax, or something in between.
However, if you’re traveling somewhere new, you may find yourself more vulnerable than you would be in someplace recognizable; you won’t be as familiar with the potential security risks, and you may be more likely to be a target.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps that can help you travel safer.
Do Your Research
First, do as much research as possible before you plan your visit. “Research” here applies to many different areas. For example, you’ll want to know which neighborhoods are regarded as safe and which ones should be avoided. You’ll want to know the common scams in the area, and the most common types of crimes committed in each area.
If you’re traveling to someplace where people speak a different language, you’ll also want to master at least the basics. You may not need to carry on complex conversations, but you should at least understand how to ask for help if you need it.
Be Smart When Carrying Money
You’ll inevitably need to carry money and valuables when traveling, but you’ll need to be smart when doing it; for example, if you carry thousands of dollars of cash and flaunt it in a public place, you’re much more likely to get mugged than someone who’s more subtle about it.
Start by minimizing the amount of cash you carry overall, and consider reducing the number of credit or debit cards you carry. You may also want to invest in prepaid debit cards, which can provide you with more protection than cash or conventional credit cards. If you’re traveling with important documents, like a passport, keep them in a safe if you don’t need them.
Tell People Where You’re Going
Keep in contact with someone you trust, even if they’re not in the same country as you. Give them detailed information on your itinerary, and if you deviate from those plans, let them know. This way, if you fail to check in at the right intervals or become unresponsive, someone can make a call and/or send for help.
Travel With Someone
As a general rule, it’s safer to travel in pairs, or with a group, than it is to travel alone. While traveling alone can be a peaceful and liberating experience, bringing along another person can dramatically increase your safety. This applies to both your overall trip and any journeys you might take in the context of that trip. For example, if you travel to another country with someone, then split up to attend different events, you could both be more likely to be a target. Use your best judgment, and at least stick together if you’re gong to explore an unsafe or uncertain area.
Pay Attention to Merchants
Most vendors and merchants, all over the world, are trustworthy. However, there are a small number of merchants who will deliberately take advantage of tourists and unsuspecting travelers because they won’t have much recourse if they’re swindled. Be especially wary in these situations. Talk to locals about which merchants are trustworthy, and learn the common scams attempted on tourists. It’s also important to use common sense; if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Walk With Purpose
Oftentimes, muggers and other criminals will target people who seem slow, unfamiliar, or out of place. If you’re dawdling down the street, looking up at the buildings, and without much direction or purpose, you’re more likely to be a target. Instead, keep a brisk pace, and walk confidently with your head forward. It’s a small change that could deter a potential attacker and keep you safer.
Keep an Escape Route in Mind
No matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, come up with a possible escape plan. If someone attacks you, where will you go? What will you do? If the event goes in a direction you don’t like, how will you get back to your hotel? It may feel paranoid to think this way, but if you get into the habit, you’ll be able to respond much faster to a threatening situation.
Analyze Your Surroundings at All Times
Similarly, you’ll want to get in the habit of analyzing your surroundings at all times. How many people are around you? Can you see their faces? Is there lighting available? Are there any security cameras? These questions can help you decide whether to be on guard, or whether to abandon an area entirely.
These strategies aren’t a guarantee of safety, but they can substantially improve your security when you’re somewhere unfamiliar. Make your personal safety a top priority, and you’ll sharply reduce your chances of being the target of a crime.