Traveling is an invigorating experience that can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Stepping into the unknown can be a thrill, but it can also be overwhelming. Tourist scams, personal safety threats, pickpockets, and thieves can quickly dampen any adventure.
Approaching your travels with a nonchalant attitude is not the solution. Tempting fate with the attitude of "what are the chances?" is not advisable.
Fortunately, there are many effective safety precautions you can take to protect yourself and your belongings while traveling. No matter where you go, taking a few simple steps can ensure you have a hassle-free and unforgettable trip.
This Ultimate Guide to Travel Safety guide will help you identify the most common safety threats you may encounter while traveling, where they are likely to occur, and how you can greatly minimize risks.
We hope you find this guide helpful.
What are the Personal Risks of Traveling?
Traveling exposes you to various safety risks. You don't need to visit a war-torn, developing country to be exposed to danger. Travel safety threats are everywhere, even in your home city. You are likely familiar with safe and unsafe places to walk alone at night, the dodgy bars and neighborhoods, and you probably don't walk around with a large backpack, fancy camera and pocketful of cash.
But when traveling, that's precisely what most of us do.
The most useful and empowering thing you can do is be informed. To this end, here are the most common safety threats travelers face:
- Personal security risk: Threats to personal safety, such as pickpocketing, assault, or kidnapping
- Financial risk: Loss of money and/or financial information due to theft or fraud
- Health risk: Illnesses due to inadequate food and water, insect bites, and unfamiliar diseases
- Legal risk: Inadvertently violating local laws and customs
- Communication risk: Difficulty understanding or communicating due to language barriers
- Weather/Natural Disaster risk: Unexpected extreme weather or natural disasters
- Local transportation risk: Unsafe or unreliable local transportation options
- Political risk: Unpredictable political or security conditions in a region
There are many precautions you can take before departing and throughout your trip to prevent unfortunate events. Planning ahead can go a long way in keeping you safe while traveling.
How to Keep Yourself Safe When Traveling
Your safety is your #1 priority when traveling, followed closely by the security of your most valuable items.
Here's a quick overview of the most common safety precautions you should adopt when traveling:
- Research your destination: Before you travel, research your destination thoroughly. Find out what areas to avoid, if there are any political issues or safety concerns, the local laws and customs, and check government websites for travel warnings or alerts.
- Stay alert: Pay attention to your surroundings and trust your instincts. If something or someone makes you uncomfortable, leave the area. Beware of people asking too many questions or trying to get too close—if they continue to follow you, contact the local authorities.
- Share your plans: Before you leave and while you're traveling, let friends and family know where you're going and how to contact you. Establish a routine check-in time to reassure them you're safe and sound.
- Monitor crime levels and safety advice: Keep an eye on local news and social media. Be up-to-date on news and safety messages from the embassy or consulate of the country you're traveling to.
- Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or carrying expensive items: Be aware that pickpockets and other criminals target travelers. Only bring the items you need and wear shoes and clothing suitable for walking long distances and weather conditions.
- Carry a mobile phone: Make sure you have a charged mobile device when you travel.
- Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with the local laws so you don't accidentally commit a crime.
- Learn a few basic sentences in the local language: Knowing a few words in the local language will help you get around, ask for help, and talk your way out of a sticky situation.
- Get adequate travel insurance: Ensure you have adequate travel insurance to cover any unforeseen medical or emergencies.
The Importance of Protecting Your Valuables
No one wants to spend half of their holiday chasing down an emergency passport or canceling credit cards. If you've ever had anything stolen while traveling, you know that taking preventative measures is a far better option than dealing with travel theft.
Aside from the obvious loss of your time and money, travel thefts can ruin a long-awaited trip. Who wants to deal with that kind of heartache?
Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, keeping your belongings secure is crucial. The following are the most common items routinely stolen from tourists around the world:
- Cash and credit cards
- Mobile phones
- Luggage (as in an entire piece of luggage goes missing)
- Identity (identity theft is a growing concern worldwide)
- Passports and ID cards
- Sunglasses and hats
- Handbags and daypacks
- Medication and toiletries
- Laptops and tablets
While you may not cry a whole day over a stolen hat (unless it's your absolute favorite), losing any other item on the above list can cause you serious grief.
The Most Common Places Where Travel Thefts Occur
Not all places are created equal when it comes to safety.
The following places are at higher risk of travel theft:
- Hotels and airports
- Train stations and bus stops (and crowded buses and trains, of course)
- Marketplaces and shopping malls
- Popular tourist destinations and tour bus stops
- Bars and nightclubs
- Rental cars parked on the street
- Luggage lockers and storage spaces
- ATMs and currency exchange centers
Identify the Biggest Threats
When traveling, personal safety risks are the most important concern. However, according to a study by the World Bank, pickpocketing and other forms of theft are more common than assaults and serious crimes against travelers. Here's an overview of the most common threats we face when traveling.
The problem: Pickpocketing can happen anywhere, from busy tourist attractions to crowded public transport and local cafes. Pickpockets often work in teams and use distraction techniques to steal your belongings. For example, one might bump into you, ask for directions, or create a commotion, while their accomplice takes advantage of the distraction to steal your valuables.
The solution: To protect yourself from pickpocketing, it's essential to be aware of your surroundings and take steps to keep your belongings secure. You can use an anti-theft bag with slash-resistant fabric and lockable zippers to make it more difficult for pickpockets to access your valuables. You can also keep your belongings close to your body, such as using a money belt or neck wallet to store your money, passport, and credit cards.
Theft from Luggage
The problem: Theft from luggage can happen at any point in your travels, from when you leave your hotel room to when you're waiting for your flight at the airport. Thieves may target your luggage when stored in a public area, such as the baggage claim carousel or an overhead compartment on a plane or train.
The solution: Using a TSA-approved luggage lock can help prevent theft from luggage. You can also consider using an anti-theft backpack or luggage with built-in security features, such as slash-resistant fabric and lockable zippers. If you're worried about your entire luggage going missing, you can use a luggage tracker. Luggage trackers use Bluetooth connectivity, GPS tracking, or mobile networks, and are usually paired with your smartphone via an app to help you monitor your belongings.
Theft from Hotel Room
The problem: This is one of the scariest and most frustrating types of theft because it happens in the one place where you should be able to finally relax. Nevertheless, know that all hotel staff members have access to your room, so it's best to never leave valuables like cash, jewelry, and credit cards lying around. Hotels usually can't be held responsible for your lost, stolen, or damaged possessions.
The solution: Use a portable door lock or alarmed door stop blocks to keep unwanted intruders from opening your room while you're inside. Make sure you read the instructions for the lock you buy and practice using it at home before you leave. You can also prevent hotel room theft by ensuring your most valuable items are locked away in the hotel safe or with you at all times.
What other safety precautions can you take when traveling?
In addition to the popular and effective travel precautions mentioned above such as anti-theft bags, door locks, luggage locks, and trackers, there are other ways to minimize the risk of theft while traveling.
Nowadays, many types of clothing have zipped internal pockets, where you can store your phone, wallet, earphones, passport or other legal documents. You can also create DIY "secret pockets."
Other wearables include money belts with RFID-blocking technology, which are thin and light enough to be worn beneath your clothes. You can also use neck pouches, as well as arm and leg wallets.
You should always make photocopies of your passports, credit cards, and other legal documents. However, printouts can take up space and can be misplaced or lost. It's better to scan your documents and save them on a USB drive, which you can tuck away in a hidden compartment in your wardrobe. Alternatively, you can buy USBs that come with a chain and can be worn as bracelets or necklaces.
Experienced travelers recommend carrying a decoy wallet filled with expired credit and membership cards and small cash. For your actual purse, go for slim and light RFID-blocking wallets.
Internet access is necessary for communication with family, friends, or business associates, accessing Google Maps or checking the latest news. To reduce potential security threats from using public Wi-Fi systems, invest in a travel router. It's like a pocket Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi modem. This way, you can protect your devices from hackers accessing your phone or laptop through public Wi-Fi. It also costs less than data roaming fees charged on your phone.
The Department of Foreign Affairs' Smart Traveller app provides the latest advice for every country, including possible last-minute risks. Keeping abreast of the news allows you to adjust your plans if necessary. The app has contact information regarding Australian embassies and consulates. You can also register your travel plans using the app so that the DFA knows where to reach you in an emergency or natural disaster.
Meanwhile, you can download the BSafe app to create a list of your contacts who will be notified when you tap the app if you get in trouble. Or you can use the app to inform loved ones of your destination location and safe arrival. Other apps with a similar function include Bugle and Watch Over Me.
While having a whistle or personal alarm with you is often recommended for travel in dangerous locations, you can now save space by using an app for the same purpose. It makes a loud, piercing sound that can scare off attackers or thieves or alert people around you to provide rescue or police assistance. Such apps include One Scream and SOS Whistle.
Remember that, when it comes to travel safety, taking precautions is ALWAYS better than dealing with theft and/or loss.
What steps do you take to protect your valuables while traveling? Have you ever used an anti-theft bag? Let us know in the comments below!