Staying safe and taking precautions on your travels is an important thing to consider, as many dangers lurk and opportunists target tourists daily. We employ the below methods for safety, which include precautions both before your travels start, and most importantly those to think about whilst travelling.
Please know that none of these methods are foolproof, however over the past 10 years or so we have perfected the art of staying alert and utilising these will cut down the risks that you see some tourists taking in bad areas overseas.
Here are the 17 ways that we recommend to help you stay safe whilst travelling overseas.
1. Carry a Small Wallet That Is Separate From Your Main Wallet
Carrying around your entire wallet whilst taking in the tourist sites could be considered a safe tactic- you haven’t left your precious money and cards back in the hostel or hotel and because it is on your person it should all be safe… right?
However, all it takes is one incident and suddenly you are without your important cards, possibly identification, and any money you had stored away.
Buying a small wallet helps solve some of these problems, as you can separate and store your important cards in a locked area back at your accommodation, and only take what money you need for the day. By doing this, you are lowering your risk of loss and if you do end up being pick-pocketed for example you will have only lost a small amount (we don’t even carry identification with us anymore- it is unnecessary).
2. Take a Fake Wallet With You in Case of Emergencies
This is a similar tactic to the above, however in addition to your new small wallet, you can have a second one as a distraction for thieves.
If you get approached by thieves, simply throw or provide your fake wallet to them instead of your actual wallet. This works best if you put in a few expired cards and a little bit of cash to improve the authenticity.
This method may not be for everyone, and it is on the more extreme side of being safe. Simply being sure to have as little money as possible on you should be enough!
3. Don’t Keep All of Your Money and Important Documents in One Location in Your Bag
It always seems so easy to keep your foreign currency in a separate area in your bag, complete with important documents that could range from passports, to immunisation histories.
Unfortunately this also allows potential thieves an easy opportunity to take everything if yours in one go. To try and combat this, we recommend separating your important documents from your cash (at the very least), and having them stored in different locations either in the same bag or in different bags. You can also go one further and store money in different areas as well, though this may become confusing when trying to find the money!
This method works well especially as you aren’t always travelling with all of your luggage with you at all times. You could be taking chicken buses where your main bag is on top of the bus, or regular buses where the luggage is stored under the bus- all potential locations for theft to occur.
4. Always Use the Hostel Lockers or Safe
If you think that your expensive belongings are safe in the confines of your hostel or hotel room, think again. Obviously the majority of the time things would be fine, however we have read and seen many instances where computers, phones, and especially money have been taken by other guests or even cleaning staff.
There has also been many times when we have noticed other people staying in our dorm leaving very expensive computers and phones laying about… luckily we are trustworthy people
With this in mind, use the lockers and the safe if you have one, they are supplied for a reason! Also, always carry a lock with you for this very purpose, we never leave for our travels without one.
5. Always Keep an Eye on Your Bags or Have Them Attached to You (ALWAYS)
Bags in public areas are an easy target for thieves, especially in public places. All it takes is a little distraction and you’ll either have your entire bag taken or a pocket slashed without you knowing.
This of course isn’t the case everywhere but it is better for us to make you aware of what might occur so that you are vigilant (but not scared) of what is going on around you.
An example of this occurred in a hotel in Valencia, Spain minutes before we went to check out. The group in front of us had put their bags on the ground behind them to talk to the receptionist, and a minute later turned around to see their bags had disappeared. Yes- it can happen anywhere!
The solution is simple, when you have your day pack or bag, keep it attached to you. Are you sitting down? Put a leg through the straps or hold it on your lap. It’s that easy.
6. When I’m Busy Areas, Keep Your Backpack On Your Front
Sure you might think you look a bit like a dork, but carrying your bag on your front allows you to keep complete track of where your bag is at all times.
When taking busy public transport, walking through the rush of a market, or even when you just feel like you need to- walk with your bag on your front. We have had friends with slashed bags in busy markets where they were distracted by vendors and had their bag slashed, losing keepsakes and electronics.
Likewise on busy trains we have seen people’s bags taken just as the train doors are closing, all because they were on the seat beside them. Overall, it is definitely worth the extra effort to have peace of mind with your belongings.
7. In Busy Areas, Keep Your Phone and Wallet in Your Front Pockets and Put Your Hands in Your Pockets
This is a similar tactic to employ to having your bag on your front, and it has helped us countless times in busy areas. Pickpockets love nothing more than someone who keeps their phone and/or their wallet in their back pockets, as it is much easier to take when others are brushing up against you in busy places.
Having these in your front pockets instead and putting your hands in your pockets stops pickpockets from being able to access your things, and keeps you safe.
An additional method which works great for trains or buses is to put your phone and your wallet in one pocket so that you can still hold on (especially if you are standing).
8. Don’t Flash your Phone, Camera, or Money if Possible
Gringos often get out their phone for directions, their entire wad of cash to pay for a $2 item, and their camera at every opportunity.
Most of the time this is absolutely fine, however people are always watching and making some fine adjustments might be the difference between safe travels and making a police report for stolen items.
We recommend traveling as much as you can during the day, where using your phone isn’t such a bad thing. In addition, try to remember directions instead of using your phone constantly (something we are also guilty of!).
In regards to money, don’t take out more than you need from your wallet, so that you aren’t alerting anyone around you to how much you have (especially if you are carrying more than you need).
Lastly, try not to have your camera out and around your neck all of the time. Sure, in tourist areas it will be fine but in most towns just a few streets over are local hangouts and not everyone is honest!
Being oblivious to advice like this creates opportunities for others to pickpocket or take advantage of you.
9. Purchase an Anti-Slash Bag
This one won’t be for everyone as it may not be practical to always have one of these on you. However purchasing and using an anti-slash bag will stop thieves slashing your bag in busy areas.
Another option may be to get an anti-slash ‘rope’ or thread for females to attach to their purses, as a common tactic is for thieves to simply cut a purse or small bag from a female and run.
10. Never Carry Large Amounts of Money With You if Possible
It is an inevitability that you will at some point have to carry a lot of cash with you, whether it be in your bags when changing accommodations or after visiting an ATM to top up your funds. However you never need to do it all of the time, and it is best to only take enough money for the day when you go out.
When you are getting money out from the bank or moving around with cash (for example to pay for tours), return to your accommodation as soon as you can to store it safely. In addition to this, try to never get money out or travel with it at night as there are less people around and a higher probability of running into trouble (especially if you don’t know the city or town you are staying in very well).
11. Get a Gauge on How Safe a City is at Night by Asking Hostel Staff and Locals
Nobody knows the safety of a place more than the locals and the staff of your hostel or hotel (except maybe not the fresh volunteers at your hostel!). Asking them is an easy way to get a gauge on where to go, where not to go, and when to be home by to avoid trouble.
The old saying that nothing good happens after 2 a.m. rings true here, though usually if you are in a group you won’t run into any problems at night in most major tourist areas.
Once again though, ask around and find out what the people that live in the city or town think, it could keep you safe!
12. Don’t Walk Around Late at Night by Yourself
This definitely relates to the point above, as even in your home town we’re sure you’ve heard of some problems occurring in the early hours of the morning.
Being overseas is no different, and even though partying in another country is amazing fun and a great way to meet new people, you must also remember to try and be safe at the end of your night when returning to your accommodation.
The best method is to always travel in a group, as one or two people are easy targets for thieves. As above also, ask around to know where it is safe and until what time.
13. Don’t Fall for Tricks and Scams to Get Your Money
There are many tricks and scams that are employed, and they vary between different countries and cities. Most involve some method of distraction in order to get your money or your bag from you.
Some common ones that we have seen involve a team of 2 people, where one person distracts you whilst the other takes your bag. For example, we have heard many times of one person pouring a liquid that looks similar to bird poo onto you or your bag, and then offering to help you clean it off. Whilst you are distracted with either getting rid of them or taking their help, the other person takes your bag or pickpockets you. This often happens to couples where one goes to buy something leaving the other with all of the bags (too many to watch!).
We recommend always keeping your bags attached to you no matter where you are, but especially in points of transit such as bus or train stations. If your bags are attached it will be harder for the thieves to take your bags and run, so they may be dissuaded from doing so.
14. If Necessary, Carry a Small Pepper Spray With You
The majority of those we have seen employ this tactic have been female, but this definitely applies to both genders (we are both just as vulnerable, especially when alone). This method may also not be for everyone, as it can be viewed as a little extreme depending on who you are talking to.
In saying this, pepper spray or something similar is nothing to scoff about as it can be quite handy depending on the situation (and especially if there is violence involved). Many times around Central America and in other countries we have seen small pepper sprays for sale, with some being sold as key chains! So do not feel bad if you think that having something along the lines of pepper spray on you is a bad thing, it is probably more common than you think.
15. If Something Doesn’t Feel Right, Trust Your Gut Instinct
Your gut instinct can definitely get you out of a few sticky situations, and this can range from not purchasing something from a street vendor, or deciding not to go down the dark street at night.
Nobody should blame you for sitting something out based on your gut instinct, and you will sometimes find that others will agree on you based on what you are feeling at the time. There is definitely nothing wrong with saying no based on a feeling, and you shouldn’t feel any pressure to do otherwise if something does not feel quite right about a situation or time.
Your travels are for you (and perhaps a partner), don’t let them be ruined by a bad decision!
16. Make Sure You Purchase Travel Insurance
You would not believe the amount of people we run into that walk into a hostel and have some horror story to tell about their travels. Usually it relates either to an injury or being robbed, and once we have finished hearing their amazing tale we often ask – do you have travel insurance? The majority of the time we see a sad nod of the head, and the same phrase “no I do not”.
Every time we travel we purchase travel insurance, not just for peace of mind but because we actually have to use it from time to time! Sure it may seem like a waste of money, and that money could easily be put back into traveling for a longer period of time, though if we did that we would not be covered for any accidents along the way. Countless times we have had to use travel insurance, for stolen goods, injuries, even emergency visits to doctors and dentists.
We cannot stress enough to get travel insurance BEFORE you travel, it may well save your life (literally). Shop around to find a good deal (and a good insurer), and revel in the fact that if any of the above things happens to you, at least you’ll be covered and will get something back.
17. Not Everyone is Out to Take Your Money
Yes we have been painting a pretty bad picture of the world throughout this post, but not everything or everyone is terrible and they aren’t all out to get your money (one way or another). There are definitely great people out there who just want to help, no matter if you are a local or the next gringo coming into a tourist area.
We were once too paranoid and would ignore a locals pleas to help, thinking they would want money from us. It took one person to change our mind, when they stated that they just wanted to welcome us to their town and help us find our accommodation, nothing more and nothing less. This opened our eyes to what is actually out in the world, and that some people can definitely be trusted!
Don’t forget this advice when you travel, as some of the best friendships or conversations we have had have started with a stranger offering their own advice or help. And whilst it is hard to trust all, if you still maintain a wariness when traveling you will soon work out who to trust and who not to.
Overall, we hope that everyone reading this stays safe whilst traveling, and that this post can help just a little bit in being secure and not vulnerable to some of the perils of travel.
If you have any further tips or advice, please share it in the comments so that everyone can benefit! Thank you to all.