Safety was always something I took for granted, assuming I would always be okay. For the most part, this was true. Throughout the last decade, I’ve spent my time continent-hopscotching throughout 50+ countries, and thankfully I’ve only experienced a handful of nail-biting situations.
It’s not always easy to prepare for because as travellers, we have to give up control. We have to trust that the pilot will get us there safely, the taxi driver knows the best route to take, and the street food is cooked well.
This has probably been the hardest part of travel – surrendering to the adventure. With that being said, what has helped me reach this anxiety-free state, is planning for safety.
If you plan for safety, you can enjoy your adventure.
Know your limits… and when to push them
Travelling pushes us out of our comfort zones. Not knowing which way the road will bend, who you’ll meet and where you’ll end up is all part of the experience. But, it’s important to be honest about your limitations.
It’s okay to push yourself if you’re chickening out when you’ve paid for zip-lining. It’s another story if your gut tells you to not walk down that dark road, with a group of strangers lingering in the shadows. ‘Listen’ to your inner compass. If something feels off, don’t do it ‘just for the adventure.’
Trust your instincts, especially when travelling on your own.
Check Smart Traveller
This website does a good job of telling you all the issues, whether political, cultural or social, in the country you’re travelling to. It’s good to be aware of the disruptions that might affect travellers, but unless it’s a code-red warning, take it with a grain of salt. Don’t let mild issues stop you from visiting, but rather, use the information as a precaution.
Smart Traveller also provides a library of resources for your pre-travel education. This includes advice tailored to backpackers, female travellers, families with children, and people in the LGBTI community. Save the 24-hour consular emergency centre number for extra peace of mind as well.
Smart Traveller will give you the information you need on the country you’re visiting. Image: Brooke Cagle
Take certified transport, even if it costs more
Getting in a taxi and bargaining the price has always been a nerve-wracking experience for me. I vividly recall naively getting in a black cab, outside of the airport in Vietnam’s southern city, Ho Chi Minh. Five minutes in, we realised there was no metre and he was asking for $50 for a very short journey. Feeling uneasy, we asked him to loop back around to drop us off at arrivals, and we ended up losing the money.
The lesson? Always use certified travel partners INSIDE the airport. You’ll usually pay more but trust me, it’s definitely worth it.
Sometimes it’s worth the extra money to take certified transport.
Do you scream ‘TOURIST?’
There are countries where you need to be conscious of what you’re wearing. Egypt, India and the Middle East, are good examples. Females, especially, need to be wary of covering everything from the knees up, including your shoulders. Be respectful to the local customs and culture, even if the temperature is in the 40’s.
A hotel will cost more, but it will give you that extra peace of mind.
Don’t cut corners with accommodation
Hey backpackers, I’ve stayed 30 minutes out of the city, just to save $10 on accommodation per night. But, as I’ve matured as a traveller, I’ve favoured safety over price. Avoid any sticky situations and give yourself a real holiday, by staying in a nice Airbnb.
Pay the extra cash to stay in an Airbnb to avoid dodgy accommodation.
Tell your bank where you’re going
If you’re using your bank, not a separate travel card, make sure you inform them of the destination and dates. The last thing you want to happen is to be locked out of your card, after landing, without local currency.
Speaking of cash, don’t leave it all in one place. Spread it out between your day bag and suitcase, safe in your accommodation. If something gets stolen or the ATM swallows your card (yes, this has happened to me), you’ll still have money and a bank card in another location.
Tell your bank where you are going on your travels so your cards don’t get locked.
Food & water
With a hunger for street food, I’m all for exploring the local cuisine. In my experience, food stands that hug the street line are safe. Go for the ones with longer lines and do your best to watch how the food is prepared. If you can, choose vegetarian options, especially in Asian countries.
Be cautious when eating street food or buy packaged food for a picnic.
I’ve found tourists are more likely to get sick when they eat Western food, as the locals don’t know how to cook it, like they do their own oh-so-delicious food. Hello, pad Thai! If you’re not sure, you can always head to a store and buy your own packaged food for a picnic lunch.
Journey through your tastebuds and always buy bottled water. Always. Or, you can take a compact water purifier to avoid single-use plastic. If you’re going out for drinks at a bar, make sure you watch it being prepared as well.
If you go to a bar, be mindful of how your drink is prepared.
Use your common sense
And of course, the common-sense stuff – such as locking up your valuables, taking out travel insurance, emailing your itinerary to family, and having copies of important documents.
You can have safety in the back of your mind, without it hijacking spontaneity.
Have you ever found yourself in an unsafe situation when travelling?
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