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.
Table of Contents
Before You Leave
1. Give your itinerary to family/friends
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
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
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
9. Clip keys onto something and inside a zippered part of your bag
10. Conceal and secure your valuables
Out and About
11. If someone approaches you, be wary (and probably ignore them)
12. Loop your bag through something when sitting in public spaces
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
15. Don’t flash valuables or continually keep them out in the open
16. Keep an eye on your phone, even inside restaurants
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.