Do you want to travel but you don’t know how to travel safe?
After 5 years traveling alone, I have created this guide that it will help you to travel safe.
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I met two Spanish girls who went to India wearing shorts and singlets.
Don’t do that!
When they stepped out of the hotel some Indian men started to touch them. For them, it’s as if you were naked and inviting them to have sex.
Obviously, they changed their clothes after that situation. Women should be more careful about this.
Maybe this is mind-blowing for you, but I hope it will help you to understand how different some cultures are.
It’s good idea to know in advance which neighborhoods are dangerous and which are safe. In some cases, they are right next to each other, and sometimes it’s just safe.
Traveling is not that dangerous.
Choose your accommodation wisely, and stay in a safe area. It’s normal that you want to save money, but don’t put yourself at risk for that reason.
A good guidebook can make your job easier. It will explain in detail the most important matters.
Be Aware of Scams
Each country has its popular scams. Some are worldwide, whereas others are more local style. There is a lot of info available about them, and that will help you to avoid them easily.
A popular one is this: someone sprays your back without you noticing it, and then a “friendly” stranger shows up to help you clean it up.
Never allow anybody to get close to you. Push them away if you have to. Keep some distance, or you will lose your belongings.
Another popular scam is that someone comes up to you and tells you about an “amazing” deal to buy gems/carpets, or whatever. Don’t. It’s always a scam.
Once, in India, a man came up to me saying that he knew a local incense factory where I could buy the best-quality incense at the best price. I was sure it was a scam. But a fellow traveler insisted we go.
We went there and the incense cost 10 times more than in a normal shop, although it was exactly the same incense. Don’t believe what they say.
I recommend you to do a specific search on your destination.
A Money Belt is Your Best Friend
While you are traveling, keep the most important things inside a money belt … underneath your pants.
That means your passport, a credit card, cash and a copy of your insurance. Then keep some more cash and another credit card in your pocket.
When you’re staying in a hotel, keep the passport and a credit card in your room, as safe as possible. Keep a copy of your passport, a credit card and the insurance in your money belt.
Put the money you need for the day in your front pocket. If anything happens, such as someone trying to rob you, it will be easy for you to give that money away.
If you need more money during the day, go to the toilet, take some cash from your money belt, and put it in your pocket. Don’t do it in public.
Passport And Credit Cards
Take a photo of your passport, and visa and credit cards, and send them to your own email. Some hacker could get that info, but the risk is extremely low. This way, you will have always access to the information.
Avoid paying with credit cards in shops. The risk that they might copy your card is quite high in some countries.
Withdraw money only inside banks. ATMs equipped with a device to copy your credit card are common around the world.
Besides, someone could be watching you if you withdraw money on the street.
Don’t be paranoid. All of this is improbable, but we should try to be safe.
Avoiding problems is much easier than fixing problems.
In my opinion, it’s safer to withdraw a good amount of money a few times rather than small amounts many times. Choose a safe place to do it, and keep the cash in your money belt.
Another thing to keep in mind is that in some places there are no ATMs (e.g. El Nido in the Philippines and 1000 islands in Laos). So don’t take them for granted.
That’s why you always need to keep some cash that you use only in case of emergency.
Be Careful Where You Exchange Money
Some tourist destinations are infamous for having exchange offices that give you back less money than they should. This happens a lot in Manila and Bali.
The office exchange looks official. They even count the money in front of you but, like in a magic trick, give you much less.
To make sure it doesn’t happen to you, search some respected places to exchange, and recount your money in front of them.
Keep Your Valuables Safe
How To Pack Your Valuables
I don’t recommend you take expensive items. The less value, the less you need to worry.
Most travelers take a smartphone, which, as you know, you can use to take photos, chat with friends, buy tickets online and much more.
Something that was unthinkable a few years ago. That gives you the opportunity to carry fewer items.
Some people like to take a laptop, tablet or expensive camera. Before you put it in your backpack, consider if you really want them or need them.
You will need to be extra careful if you bring one.
I recommend you have two bags: a small one with your expensive valuables that you can keep with you all the time when you are traveling, and a big one with the rest of your stuff.
You will have to leave the big one in a luggage hold on a bus, ferry or plane. This way, you can keep the valuables on you, not just for safety, but also because they can get broken in those places.
Keep An Eye On Your Belongings
When you are moving from one place to the next, it’s time to pay extra attention. Maybe you are tired, or you don’t know how to get there, or where the place is … and this kind of things.
You wouldn’t believe how many pickpockets are waiting for the opportunity to get someone’s luggage at airports, train stations, and bus stations.
Don’t trust someone that you just met in one of those places. Some people operate by being friendly, and then, when you go to the toilet, they disappear with your luggage.
As you may read on signs in these places, “Don’t leave your luggage unattended.”
Bring Only What You Need At The Moment
When you are staying in a hostel, take only the stuff that you need, and leave the rest in your room.
I suggest you have your luggage closed and inside a wardrobe. If there is a safe box, use it.
People steal when the opportunity arises. If they see an expensive valuable, it increases the chances of you “losing” it.
I should say that it has never happened to me. And I have been in hundreds of hostels.
Your stuff will be safer in your hotel than with you. Besides, you will avoid going around with a heavy backpack.
Don’t Show Off Expensive Valuables
This could be a general tip, but sometimes we don’t realize how lucky we are. If you visit poor countries, your laptop, camera or mobile could cost five times the local salary.
Keep that in mind.
This is not an excuse for stealing, but some people without a good heart could be tempted to take your values.
Your Valuables When You Go To The Beach Alone
This is a tough one. First, bring just what you need. Don’t bring your passport or your money belt.
If you go by scooter, lock it, and leave any valuables and money inside the seat of the scooter.
Take only the key to the scooter and whatever you need for the beach.
If possible, tie the key to your swimsuit so, no matter what happens, you will have the most important things available.
If you go to the beach walking or by bus, just take a small amount of money and the key to your room. In this case, tie your room key on your swimming suit.
Half of the problems I have seen with travelers were caused by being drunk. They get in a fight, get robbed, have a motorbike accident or end up with a Ladyboy.
Being drunk makes you extremely vulnerable.
It can also make you do some stupid things that wouldn’t be a big deal in your own country but in a foreign country may be unacceptable.
Two guys got drunk in Bangkok and took down some royal flags. Those guys are going to spend several years in a Thai prison.
The royal family is untouchable in Thailand. Anything that may directly or indirectly offend them is severely punished.
Don’t be that guy.
Go Out in Groups
Generally speaking, it’s always more dangerous when it gets dark. So it’s advisable to party with fellow travelers, and especially to walk back to your hotel with someone or at least part of the way.
I have had only a few problematic situations, and I was always alone.
One time in Vietnam I was walking alone to my hostel after a party (totally sober, because I don’t drink alcohol). At that moment there was nobody around. Two girls in a scooter passed near me and asked, “Do you want a girl?” I said “no,” and I kept walking.
They followed me for a bit, and then the girl from the back jumped off and started coming towards me saying, “come with us.”
My reaction was to get on guard “boxing style” and just say, “don’t touch me.” The girl stopped, jumped on the scooter and disappeared.
I definitely don’t recommend you to do the same. It’s far safer to run away to a public area and scream if you have to.
Watch Your Drink
It’s uncommon, but in some places there is a risk that someone could put drugs in your drink (e.g. Rohypnol, GHB or ketamine).
These kinds of drugs can affect you quickly and cause you to become weak, confused and even pass out.
It’s similar to getting drunk. You will probably not remember what happened while you were drugged.
They are used to commit crimes such as robbery or physical assault.
So keep an eye on your drink, and don’t accept drinks from “strangers” or share drinks.
It has never happened to me or to anybody that I know; however …
I saw how something similar happened to a fellow traveler at a Jungle Party in Pai, Thailand. Three people shared a bucket drink, and someone (maybe one of them) put some drug in it. Five minutes later they started to act strangely.
They were fine, because two of us didn’t drink, and we took care of them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way.
Don’t Drink And Swim
Every week tourists get drunk or high, take a swim at night, and are never seen again.
This is quite common in Southeast Asia and Central America, where there are many beach parties.
On some islands, there are strong currents that can drag you far from the shore (e.g. the Gili islands in Indonesia). It may happen even if you are not drunk.
So, swimming at night is a wonderful experience, but stay close to the shore.
Another matter is that you may “lose” your backpack while you are swimming, which happens a lot in Barcelona, Spain. Someone should stay to guard the post.
Beware of Some People
Generally speaking, people are good. But let’s take a look at some bad apples.
The Friendly Stranger
Sometimes a person will show up and start talking with you in an extremely nice manner.
They talk and talk, then finally tell you that they know a “special place” or “special shop” or something like that.
Don’t go with them.
It’s a scam. This is popular in Bangkok. Suddenly a tuk-tuk will appear to take you somewhere for an extremely cheap price. No matter what they say, don’t!
Again, the majority of travelers are lovely. Traveling, you meet a lot of people, and once in a while, you will encounter a few stupid ones.
If some of them start to do silly things, just walk away. You never know when things can go wrong beyond solution.
As I say, there are plenty of good people. Don’t waste your time with bad people.
You always have to avoid problems as much as you can, especially on foreign soil.
As I said before, you can end up in jail for things that you wouldn’t at home.
Don’t Say You Are Alone
We are talking about maximum security here: I mean, this is a bit of an exaggeration. Nevertheless, if a stranger asks you, it’s recommended to say you are traveling with someone.
I also found that it helps to say you live in the country. Scammers want easy targets. Living there makes you a harder one, plus they assume you know about their tricks.
Don’t Say The Name of Your Hotel
This is similar to the previous tip, and I have personally been in this situation. A local person came up to me and asked, “Where are you from?” And next, “Where are you staying?” which I found strange.
Normally, I say I don’t remember the name, or I say any name. Sometimes they insist a lot or don’t believe the fake name, and I don’t tell them where it is.
They apparently know all the hotels around. No matter what, I repeat the same as many times as I have to.
If you say you live in the country, you can say you live in an apartment.
Be Like a Local
Dress Like A Local
This means to try to act and dress like the local people as much as possible. In some countries, it’s going to be more difficult than others.
If you are a girl, where you really need to pay attention is in Muslim countries and India. That means pretty much covering your whole body except your face.
Not dressing modestly in those countries puts you at risk. Dressing in a few clothes is interpreted as an invitation for them to have sex.
Besides that, try not to look like a lost tourist.
Don’t be like this man
Talk With Locals
Local people can share their culture and way of thinking with you. I have found that what you see on TV about a country and the reality are completely different.
They can tell you things that can blow your mind. A 17-year-old girl from a good family told me she preferred her family to choose her husband because it was easier than choosing for herself.
Sometimes people working in reception will show you the city. This happened to me in Dali, China. In fact, she showed me more than the city, but that’s another story I will write about in my fourth book …
Self-defense While Traveling
I can’t teach you Kung Fu online. But I can give you some great tips to stay safe while traveling. Which I also consider Self-Defense.
Number one: the best way to overcome a problem is to avoid it.
To know what is going on around you is the best way to avoid problems.
Once, in Bangkok, I was returning home late at night and stopped to buy something at a Seven Eleven shop. Just before I entered the shop I realized that two local guys were following me.
One of them had a hand inside his jacket holding something. I can’t tell you what it was, but it could have been a gun.
They noticed that I had spotted them and stayed outside the shop for a while. I bought a few things and looked outside to make sure they had left. Fortunately, they had; otherwise, I would have called the police.
That is the second point of this experience. If you are afraid for your safety, don’t hesitate. Call the police!
Please, don’t get scared. Thailand is a safe country. But if you live there for a few years, and you go out often, the possibility that something might happen to you is higher.
Nevertheless, nothing really bad has happened to me besides two policemen – or fake policemen – stealing 50 euros from me. I wrote about it in my Second Book.
For me, this is the most heartbreaking experience on my trips: seeing the street children. They don’t have parents and live on the street.
To survive, they join gangs and are part of mafias. Some of them just ask for money. Others ask for money while trying to steal from you.
This happened to me in Manila. A few children walk in front of you and block your way while asking for money. Others are placed behind you waiting for an opportunity to take something from you.
You have to push them away. It was heartbreaking for me, but I had to do it. I keep my stuff in such a way that nobody can steal it unless they physically assault me.
At that moment I wasn’t alone, so I had to make way for us to leave.
Harassment On The Street
If you suffer harassment on the street, shout “Police!” and keep walking or start running to a safe place. Don’t stop. Again, the way you dress can make a big difference.
I have personally been harassed by Ladyboys and prostitutes on the street. The key, in any case, is to maintain your distance from them, even if that means pushing them away.
And shout if you have to – that freaks people out. It’s the best form of self-defense.
Some places can get crazy. As a man, I had a lot of harassment in Siam Reap, Cambodia. So much so that the next day I asked a female traveler to meet for dinner, just to avoid it.
Keep Yourself Safe Traveling
Wear a Helmet
You may think, “Of course, I’m going to wear a helmet. It’s mandatory in my country.”
Then you arrive in a country with hot weather where nobody wears one, and you change your mind. DON’T.
Not wearing a helmet is the number one cause of injuries and death for travelers.
Roads in some countries are full of potholes and have barely any street lighting.
Should I tell you to not drink and drive?
I have seen people riding a motorbike without a helmet on poor roads while drunk. They never make it. If they survive, they end up in a hospital where the medical attention is mediocre.
I have had three minor accidents. They were minor because I wore a helmet.
Nevertheless, in one of them, I got a quite big scar on my arm. Who knows what would have happened to me had I not been wearing a helmet.
Besides, I wore jeans and long sleeves. Which I also recommend if you ride a motorbike.
Safe Sex Traveling
Always take condoms, even if you are not thinking about having sex.
You probably don’t think about getting injured either, but you still need to bring a first aid kit.
Whether girl or guy, take some condoms!
If you travel for a long time, sooner or late you are probably going to have sex.
It’s not worth taking the risk of having sex without protection, because you didn’t have condoms at that moment, and “it just happened.”
Tourist Services Are Normally Safe
One thing you will notice in poor countries is that the safety standards on public transport are low or nonexistent.
In many cases, it’s worth spending a few extra dollars for a modern bus with a professional driver.
That can save your life.
First Aid Kit For Travelers
These are the items recommended to bring with you. A few of each will be enough. If you travel for a long time, you will use them. Anyway, it’s better to have them and not use them than need them and not have them.
- bandage tape
- small scissors
- after sun cream
- insect repellent
- medication for pre-existing medical conditions, if you have any
Carry these in a small, hard plastic container.
You need a travel insurance. Period. It’s worth the money you pay because if you have to go to a hospital, it will cost you hundreds of dollars for a minor thing.
And in the case of an accident, it would be thousands.
I have been lucky so far, as nothing serious has happened to me. But a friend of mine had a motorbike accident, and he was badly injured.
He got the best medical assistance possible, plus the flight back home when he was able to travel. That would have cost him more than 30,000 dollars.
I have never used it, but many travelers recommend World Nomads travel insurance.
Compare a few insurance companies before you choose one.
Trust Your Instincts
Not only traveling but in life, you need to trust your intuition. If you feel there is something wrong, act accordingly, and don’t doubt going your own way. Don’t let people push you into doing stupid things.
If they want you to do something dangerous, they are not your friends. So walk away and never look back.
Your instincts will improve enormously with experience. After five years traveling I can detect danger a mile away.
I also know if I can trust someone, sometimes even before they say hi.
Don’t Be Overwhelmed
After reading this article you may be thinking that it would be better to stay at home, but it’s not.
This guide is meant to give you the best advice I can.
When I started traveling I didn’t follow all these rules, yet I have survived.
Anyway, you are probably doing a few of these things already. It’s just that you don’t think about them.
If you are overwhelmed, read the article again and write a list of what you need. You will realize it’s only a few things after all.
Let’s do it!