Staying safe while travelling is top of mind for everyone. Being prepared is your best weapon.
Here are our top travel safety tips.
Always get travel insurance
It’s one of those things you hope you’ll never need but will be glad you have if the worst happens. It’s not just about covering your luggage if it goes missing; travel insurance should also cover medical issues. Medical care in some countries is extremely expensive (especially for us South Africans) and you don’t want to end up with a massive bill that you can’t cover.
UPDATE FOR COVID-19: It is now a requirement in most places that you take out travel insurance due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Don’t tell the world your plans
Yes, we know it’s tempting to post on social media that you’re off into the wild blue yonder but, remember, you never know who is watching. You don’t want to return to a burgled house.
We also advise not being too open with people you’ve just met on your travels. This may seem like common sense but scam artists are surprisingly convincing. Would you tell complete strangers back home where you live or where you are going? Even admitting that it’s your first time in a place can leave you open to trouble because it shows that you may not be clued in on the dangers. If you don’t want to be rude (particularly with hostile individuals who will act as if they are very offended that you do not trust them), be as vague as possible; if you’re asked where you’re staying, say the area (e.g. central London) but not the specific place or hotel, and then make it clear that you will not discuss it further by walking away as if you are in a hurry to get to a meeting.
But do tell someone
This is especially important for solo travellers. Before you leave, share your itinerary with one or two trusted people. These days, it’s so easy to stay in touch when you are away. Just send off a quick message in the morning to tell someone where you’re going that day and when you’ll be back.
Make an arrangement with someone that you’ll always check in with them at a certain time – and be reliable about it. This way they know that, if they don’t hear from you, it’s time to be concerned and, possibly, alert the authorities.
Know your enemy
Head online to research the destination and what safety aspects to look out for. Aside from the obvious issues like muggers, some places have particular problems with things like kidnapping for ransom, drink spiking, terror attacks, taxi fraudsters, confidence tricksters, etcetera.
If you know what you may have to deal with, you can behave in a way that won’t put you at risk and know which areas to avoid.
The local tourism centre should be able to assist you with this and most countries have advisory pages on their websites. We like the US State Department’s detailed information. Also try TripAdvisor or simply do an internet search.
Plan for emergencies
Before you leave home, find out who to call and where to go in the event of an emergency. This means the police, ambulance, embassy, hospitals in the area, etcetera.
Make yourself a step-by-step ‘emergency plan’ to follow in case something happens and you’re panicking too much to think straight. Programme this into your phone AND make yourself a card with those details to keep with you at all times. This way, if your phone battery dies or your device is stolen, you still have the info. One of our team members is a big animal lover so she even notes down the numbers of who to call for animal emergencies.
Always know where your closest embassy is. For more information on South African consular services, please visit the DIRCO website.
Make copies of everything
Make copies of your passport, ID, booking info, visas, prescriptions, etcetera. Put them all on a flash drive to carry with you and/or email them to yourself at an address you can access from anywhere. Alternatively, upload them to a cloud storage service.
This way, even if everything goes missing, you can still get the information you need. It’s also a good idea to leave hard copies with someone you trust back home.
Check out our blog article, Be document savvy when you travel, for more information.
Squirrel away some cash
Make sure you have some emergency cash in the local currency in a place that’s challenging to get to. Good ideas include an empty lip balm or lipstick container, under the inner sole of your shoe, sewn into your jacket hem, or inside your hairbrush.
It may seem a bit like a bad spy movie but, if you need it, you’ll be glad you have it. It’s best not to ‘put all your eggs in one basket’ – divide your emergency funds between two or three places.
Don’t skimp on safety
It’s tempting to try and save money by staying in cheap but potentially dodgy areas, or taking flights or trains that arrive in the middle of the night. However, your safety is the most important thing on a trip so we recommend going with reputable tour operators, travelling at times that won’t get you to a strange city when there’s not a soul in sight, and using accommodation that has proper security. This is particularly important for single travellers.
Hang onto your stuff
If someone really wants to nick something, they will but the average bag snatcher or thief wants a quick getaway – your aim is to make it difficult and time-consuming so that they decide to look elsewhere. Walking with a bag lightly slung on your shoulder, your phone in your hand, or your wallet in your back pocket is not a good idea. Don’t be ‘easy pickings’. Be aware that, in some places, including London, moped gangs that snatch phones and handbags are a real problem so be cautious even in busy areas while walking on side walks.
- Bags: Wear your bag cross-body style and keep it in front of you; rucksacks can also be worn on the front. If you absolutely have to wear a rucksack on your back, stay very alert about who is behind you at all times; it’s best not to wear it on your back in any crowded places, particularly public transport.
When you sit down to eat, don’t just hang your bag over the chair or put it at your feet; keep it on your lap or place the chair leg into the strap so you can’t grab it without lifting the chair. A great idea is to attach a snap hook (aka carabiner) to the bag and clip that onto your belt or the chair; you can purchase these at any hardware or crafts store. Make a show about your efforts to ensure that anyone watching knows that you are very well aware of your surroundings and your stuff is not going to be easy to nab.
- Luggage: If your carry-on luggage is going to be out of your sight (in the overhead locker), lock it. If your checked-in baggage doesn’t come with a lock installed, buy a padlock and attach this and/or use a luggage strap or even have your bag wrapped. It’s all about slowing down thieves so they look elsewhere.
- Pockets: The absolute worst place you can put anything valuable is your back pocket. The next is in outside jacket pockets. If you have to put things in your pockets, use the front or inside breast pockets. However, bear in mind that pickpockets are fast and very crafty, and can even snatch things close to your body without you being aware of it, so always be aware of your surroundings. Rather just don’t put anything valuable in your pockets at all.
- Money belts: If you have one of these, wear it under your clothes and don’t make it obvious that it is there. Thieves know all about them and it is the work of a few moments to cut the strap and grab the bag as it falls.
- Hidden money: Infinity scarves with hidden pockets or lightweight ‘invisible’ bags worn under clothing are useful but, again, it’s important not to make it obvious where they are. As with money belts, it’s easy to cut the strap around your neck and grab the bag, so try to hide it.
Don’t show off
Wearing tons of flashy jewellery, hanging an expensive camera around your neck or showing off your new smartphone, wearing revealing clothing in very conservative countries, flashing cash around, talking loudly about your plans or what you’ve bought – these can attract the wrong kind of attention. We should be able to wear what we like but the reality is that, in some situations, we do have to be careful.
Although it is not nice to have to limit yourself like this, it is better to be cautious than to risk ruining your trip.
Think of criminals as predators looking for prey. As with any predator, they’re looking for the easiest option and someone who looks nervous, scared, confused, lost, or not focused on their surroundings makes a good possible target.
Plan your routes in a safe place before you set our, rather than standing on the street looking in a guidebook. Walk with purpose (even if you don’t really know where you’re going), keep your head held high, be aware of your surroundings (without looking like a nervous meerkat!), and project confidence. Look like you know what’s happening and as if you are the type to fight back.
And always listen to your instinct. Chances are, if something feels ‘off’, it is
Do not be put off!
It may seem dire and scary that you have to look out for danger when travelling but don’t let that put you off.
Be sensible and take precautions… then go out into the world and have fun.