Most of the time, everything will go smoothly while you’re traveling. But being a tourist is never without its risks (especially if you’re visiting someplace where you are obviously not a local).
No one expects to be pickpocketed or scammed, or lose something valuable, but it can happen, even to seasoned travelers. You don’t have to be paranoid when traveling, but you should be prepared. You should take basic precautions to reduce your risk, even in places known to be safe.
These travel safety tips don’t guarantee absolute protection against theft, scams, and so on, but they can help minimize your vulnerability. These tips are general, and may not be applicable everywhere. In areas that are particularly risky, you might need to take additional precautions.
And if you’re a solo female traveler, I have some additional travel tips.
Even if you know most of these travel safety tips, it’s always good to have a refresher before you set out on your next trip.
Before You Leave
1. Give your itinerary to family/friends
No matter where you go, it’s usually a good idea to give your flight and accommodation information to someone you trust. Then someone generally knows where you will be when.
If something bad happens to you and no one knows where to look for you, your chances of getting help decrease. But if someone has your information, they can get in contact with your hotel/airline/whatever if they haven’t heard from you in a while.
2. Bring a padlock with you
It’s always a good idea to be able to lock all your baggage, especially when in transit. Locks make your bags a more annoying target for thieves. Suitcases these days often have built-in locks, but does your personal item (e.g. backpack, purse, tote bag) have a lock?
You should strongly consider bringing a lock for every bag without one built-in. This is especially important if you will travel on a mode of transportation where someone could potentially access your bag. This includes airplanes, trains, and buses, but especially anything overnight/where you will be sleeping.
You should be able to fit your lock through the pull tabs of your bag zippers. There are some locks with longer, flexible loops that can help with this. If your bag zippers have cord, ties, or whatever instead of normal metal tabs, you might want to reconsider taking that bag. Such zippers can be cut more easily.
There are also long security cables available that you can use to tether and lock multiple bags together at once. This can be useful when you are traveling with other people and want to fasten your bags together, or when you have multiple bags yourself.
A lock is also essential if you’re going to stay in a hostel dorm room. Most hostels don’t provide locks for the lockers in the rooms, or only have them available for rent/purchase.
3. Prepare a decoy wallet
If you are traveling someplace where pickpocketing is common, carrying an old or cheap wallet in an obvious spot for would-be assailants can help protect your valuables.
You can prepare a decoy wallet with a bit of money and some unusable cards (e.g. expired, fake; as long as it looks legitimate from afar and can’t actually be used for anything). Should a pickpocket happen to target you, they would grab the decoy instead of snatching your money and cards from wherever they’re hidden.
Just make sure you use a decoy wallet you don’t mind losing. Not that you will actually lose the wallet, but you don’t want to use one you really like in case.
4. Bring a wallet that you can clip to something
Maybe carrying around a decoy wallet is too much for you. Instead, you could consider bringing a different kind of wallet.
If you want a bit of extra security or are prone to losing things, you could purchase and use a wallet that you can clip to something. This means that the wallet has its own clip, or some kind of ring/loop to which you could attach your own clip. Then you can fasten your wallet into a zippered pocket, a belt loop, and so on.
5. Look up scams for your destination before you travel there
There are often crimes or scams common in specific destinations. For instance, there are many different methods that thieves use to distract tourists so that an accomplice can pickpocket the targets. Thieves may try to get you to sign a petition, shove an item in your face to block your vision, try to slip a bracelet onto you, et cetera. Pickpockets and their accomplices could even be children.
So, it’s always a good idea to look up scams, crimes, and safety tips for your destination before you go, and also be aware of scams common across the world.
6. Pack a first aid kit and medicine
You never know when you or a travel companion might get injured or sick. Carrying a travel-sized first aid kit and basic medication can save you a lot of stress should something happen.
Having some bandages in various sizes, alcohol pads, gauze, tape, and antibiotic ointment can help minor injuries. Even some basic pain medication and stomach medication (like Pepto-Bismol) can treat many common symptoms you are likely to experience while traveling.
Before You Go Out for the Day
7. Take out a bit of money for the day and leave the rest
This is probably one of the best travel safety tips I can give you that you wouldn’t necessarily think about. Before going out for the day, get out how much cash you think you might need for the day, plus a little more. The extra money is for unexpected costs, like if you find something extra you want to buy/do or something costs more than you thought.
Then, leave the rest of your cash in your room, hidden and locked up. If someone steals your wallet, they will only take a fraction of your money.
Additionally, if you have multiple credit or debit cards with you, you might want to consider not taking all of them with you and leaving at least one behind in your room. That way you still have a card available should something happen to your other cards.
It takes a little extra time and forethought every morning, but doing this prevents you from being totally screwed, should your cash and/or cards be stolen or get lost.
8. Split up the money you carry with you
For the cash that you do carry on a given day, strongly consider splitting it up and storing it in a few locations in your bag/on your person. Yet again, if you lose some of it, you won’t lose all of it.
Besides putting money in your wallet, you could stash it in many different locations. You could hide it in another zippered compartment of your bag, a coin purse in your bag, in your bra, or in your shoe. Anywhere that a thief might not look or may have difficulty reaching is good.
You could also store money in a money belt or money pouch, which are zippered containers for valuables that you can wear underneath your clothing in some fashion, such as around your neck or your waist. This could be slightly uncomfortable depending on the materials it’s made of, the weather outside, and the duration you wear it. However, it’s the safest way to carry money on you.
9. Clip keys onto something and inside a zippered part of your bag
If you have a car key or an old-school room key, you definitely don’t want to lose it or have it stolen. So, you need to secure your key(s) somehow.
One of the best things to do is clip your keys onto something inside a zippered pocket in your bag. Some backpacks have specific clips for this purpose. If your bag doesn’t have such a feature, you could improvise with a carabiner.
But maybe your bag doesn’t have any zippered pockets or you aren’t carrying a bag at all. In that case, you could use a carabiner to fasten your keys to yourself somehow, such as onto a belt loop.
10. Conceal and secure your valuables
When traveling, people might have various valuables with them, including passports, cameras, laptops, tablets, or eReaders. You need to keep your valuables safe to avoid losing them or someone swiping them. This is especially important for your passport.
There are two schools of thought on how to best secure your passport. One is to always carry it with you, and the other is to never carry it with you unless necessary (like when in transit between destinations).
Many people carry their passports with them because your passport is your proof that you are in the country legally. You might also need it specifically as a form of identification. If you do take your passport out and about, make sure that it is stored somewhere that’s more difficult to get into and less visible.
If for some reason you want to leave your passport in your room, you should secure it like you secure your other valuables. The best way to do this is to put everything in a safety deposit box if your room has one.
However, many places don’t provide safety deposit boxes. If this is the case, you can conceal your valuables in your luggage, and then lock said luggage. It’s best to make sure your valuables aren’t visible by wrapping them in something, placing them underneath your clothing, and so on. You don’t want to make it obvious that you stored valuables in your bag should someone somehow try to get into your luggage.
If you leave your passport in your room, you should carry some form of identification on you, such as a driver’s license. In addition, it’s a good idea to carry around a photocopy of your passport while you’re out. On the flip side, if you take your passport with you during the day, it would be good to leave a photocopy or two of your passport in your luggage in your room.
You should make sure your valuables are concealed and secured every day before you leave your room for the day.
Out and About
11. If someone approaches you, be wary (and probably ignore them)
This tip isn’t necessarily applicable to every situation and destination, but it’s a solid general concept. The idea is if someone approaches you, they probably want something from you. If they just want to know the time or directions, you might be able to help them. But they also might want to sell you something, scam you, or steal from you.
In some popular tourists areas, there are scams where a person stops tourists to talk, and then an accomplice pickpockets the tourists while they are distracted. These distractions can actually include asking for help in some way. So not everyone looking for “help” can be trusted.
If someone approaches, it’s often best to just keep walking and tell them “no, thank you” to help avoid these scams. It might be uncomfortable for you to do this, as you may not want to seem rude. Maybe you think it’s more polite to politely engage them in a short conversation. But scammers can and will use this against you, and could become very forceful once you try to leave a conversation.
But what if you need help with directions, a machine, etc, and someone approaches you to help? Well, that could be a slightly different situation. In this case, you might look visibly distressed or be clearly struggling. Still be wary.
Either way, it’s probably better to seek someone out for help yourself (e.g. a train station employee if you can’t figure out the ticket machine). You’re more likely to encounter a trustworthy person by approaching someone, versus them approaching you.
12. Loop your bag through something when sitting in public spaces
If you are sitting outside somewhere, (e.g. outside seating at a cafe or restaurant, at a park), or even inside some restaurants, it wouldn’t be difficult for someone to steal your bag without you knowing. To help mitigate this, you can loop your bag through something, like your leg and/or your chair leg. What I mean by this is lifting up one of your chair legs, threading it through your bag’s strap, and setting your chair back down.
If you do this, someone can’t stealthily swipe your bag while you’re not paying attention. If they try, the bag can’t go very far due to the chair/your leg.
13. Walk along main streets, especially at night
It’s always better to walk between locations on main streets, where there are more street lights and more people. If you walk down poorly-lit side streets or alleys, you make yourself a better target for crime.
Of course, it’s not always possible to use main streets only. To get to your next destination, you might have to walk down a side street. When that happens, try to know where you are going (so you don’t have to constantly stop to look at your phone or map) and get there quickly.
14. Pay attention to the route your map app suggests before you set off
Related to the last tip, some map apps like Google Maps often direct you down side streets because it’s the quickest way to a destination. So, look over the entire route that your app gives you before you set off.
That way, you have an idea if you’ll need to make some adjustments to the suggested journey. Your app will always reroute you.
15. Don’t flash valuables or continually keep them out in the open
If your valuables, including your phone and wallet, are brazenly out, you could draw attention to yourself in a bad way. Thieves will know you have something of value to take, and it makes your stuff easier to snatch, even directly from your hands.
This includes taking out your phone often to text or look at a map app. Try to limit how much you take out your phone while walking between locations.
16. Keep an eye on your phone, even inside restaurants
In some areas, it’s not uncommon for thieves to try to swipe your phone from the table at a restaurant or cafe. This can obviously happen when sitting outdoors, but it can also happen indoors!
This was actually attempted on my friend and me while sitting inside a dessert cafe in Soho in London. It’s an area known for thieves, and there are signs up in practically every establishment to watch out for them.
In our case, a group of would-be thieves had some kind of laminated paper they dropped on the table, obscuring our phones. Luckily, a cafe worker saw them and chased them out. Obviously, part of this scam is confusing victims, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect for this to happen inside an establishment.
It’s not that you can’t keep your phone on the table in a restaurant or cafe. But just be wary of all your possessions if random people approach you.
17. Be conscious of how you wear your bag
In higher-risk situations, it’s a good idea to wear your bag on your front. It may look a bit silly, but doing this can deter pickpocketers from trying to slip something out of your bag. It’s also easier to watch over your bag if it’s right in front of you.
Common situations to do this include when walking around in crowded or tourist areas and at night. This is easiest and best to do with backpacks, but it can also be useful for other kinds of bags like purses and tote bags.
If your bag has one strap, you should consider wearing your bag across your body. If your bag is worn cross-body, it’s more difficult to take than if you sling it across one shoulder. If a bag is only hanging off your shoulder, it’s easier to pass by and take it. This includes pedestrians, but also people riding by on motorbikes.
18. Store your money in a money pouch/belt when carrying all of it
When you must carry all of your valuables, you might want to keep your money, cards, passport, et cetera in a more secure location. A money pouch or belt is a good solution for this.
Since they are worn underneath your clothing, you would definitely notice someone trying to get into them. By wearing one, you can feel safer knowing that all of your money and cards are inaccessible to others.
Taxis and Rental Cars
19. Use a ridesharing app instead of hailing a taxi
Using an app like Uber, Lyft, or Grab to book a ride has several benefits. First, you can see exactly how much a ride will cost before you book it. No dealing with a taxi driver refusing to use their meter and trying to haggle with you over an exorbitant price. This is one of the biggest pluses of using a ride-sharing app in new destinations for me.
Second, if you’re worried about your ride, you can send the driver’s details to someone. Some apps even let you keep someone updated on your journey while in transit.
Finally, you might have less trouble booking the ride in the first place by using an app. Some taxi drivers might not want to pick up tourists because of language barriers, or they simply don’t want to drive to your destination. I have had plenty of taxis bypass me or refuse to drive to my desired location.
Using apps, you can input your destination address exactly, which mitigates language barriers. In addition, the driver can see your location and agree to the ride before picking you up in the first place.
As a bonus, if you are a new user on an app, the app may offer you discounts or a free ride. This is beneficial for you, especially if you only need one ride!
20. If you must take a taxi, insist on using a meter
In some regions, taxi drivers try to scam tourists into paying more money for rides by insisting on a flat rate instead of using their meters. Before you get in any taxi, ask them to use the meter. If they refuse and press you to agree to a flat rate, don’t get in. Find yourself another taxi driver who is willing to use the meter.
This isn’t necessarily applicable everywhere. It might be common to have flat rates instead of using meters in taxis in some areas, so you will want to research this before you go.
21. Keep someone updated on your whereabouts during your ride
If you have to take a taxi or rideshare and you’re anxious about it (such as if you’re traveling solo), you can always keep someone updated on your location during your ride.
You could just text someone when you leave and when you arrive, or a few times throughout your ride if you have a longer journey.
22. Take photos and/or video of your rental car before you drive off
If you are renting a car, it’s a very good idea to take photos and/or video of the outside of the entire car before you leave. This documents any damage that was on the car when you received it, showing that you didn’t cause it.
As such, make sure to take specific evidence of any scratches, dents, et cetera on the car. You don’t want to get stuck with a bill for something you didn’t do.
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