For some reason travelers let down their guard while on vacation, somehow thinking we are immune to theft and accidents. We do things that we wouldn’t normally do at home, like not wearing a seat belt or walking around at night in an unknown area. Don’t allow yourself to fall victim to Vacation Brain!
Taking some simple precautions can help to keep you safe on your trip. We have done a lot of traveling with no theft or threat to our safety, including a fifteen month trip around the world. There’s no need to be paranoid, just be aware and take steps to minimize your risk.
Think About How You Are Portraying Yourself
- Think about the area or country you are going to and how you are portraying yourself. Whether unintentional or not, we often draw a lot of attention to ourselves. It astonishes me when I see people traveling to a third world country wearing expensive jewelery or watches.
- Even being toned down to the minimum you have to realize you are viewed as rich in many third world countries. No matter how much of a budget traveler you are. Just the fact that you had the money to get there makes you wealthy.
- While traveling in countries with extreme poverty I chose not to wear any jewelery. We both wear a plain band instead of our regular wedding rings. I would chose to wear no ring at all, but in some countries we are better accepted as a married couple.
- I’m not saying you have to dress like a slob while traveling, but consider how you look. You don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb or tacky tourist. This is the time to look ordinary and blend in as best as possible.
Carrying Money Around
- If you do get robbed never allow it to wipe out everything you have. Keep credit cards separate from bank cards and have cash stashed in several different places on your body. There are all kinds of items for stashing money and other valuables like credit cards. We used money belts, leg stashes, and had secret interior pockets sewn into pants and shorts. I also had a small pouch that could be attached to the front of my bra.
- Keep a small amount of cash for daily purchases in an easily accessible area. If you need to replenish it do so in a discreet place. Never pull out a large amount of cash in public.
- Jack carried a dummy wallet during our world trip. He would keep a few different local dollar notes in it and a fake plastic credit card and other pieces of paper to make it look like a legitimate wallet. If a thief is demanding your wallet in a hurry you can pull it out of your pocket to give to them.
- For more information see our post on Dealing With Finances While On The Road.
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings, look at who is around before using a bank machine.
- Use the buddy system. While one person is at the machine the other stands back to keep watch.
- Check the ATM for anything that looks out of the ordinary, like a fake card insert or reader.
- Be completely organized prior to going to the bank machine and know the amount you want to take out. You don’t want to be fumbling at the machine and prolonging your time at it.
- Keep your pin covered as you enter it.
- Use well lit ATM machines that are not in isolated areas.
- If someone suspicious approaches or a group of people starts to crowd you, leave and find another machine.
- It’s not a good idea to allow your credit card to leave your sight to complete a transaction. Insist on seeing the transaction taking place.
- Place a small sticker over the 3 digit security code on the back of your credit card so that it can’t be easily seen.
- Tell you credit card company where you are traveling to. There is a good chance your card will not work when you arrive if you don’t. If the card company suddenly sees charges showing up from another country they often suspend your account in case of theft.
- Your credit card should have a number you can call collect from any country to report loss or theft. Make sure you ask for it before you leave. The 1-800 on the back won’t work overseas.
- When we travel to foreign countries we have a Visa and a MasterCard. We have found instances where only one or the other was accepted for transactions. You want to have as much flexibility in accessing funds as possible.
Do Your Research And Take Local Advice
- Research before you travel. Knowing some background about your destination will not only enhance your travel experience it will give you some insight into challenges that you might need to be prepared for.
- Familiarize yourself with local laws and regulations, ignorance doesn’t work as a get off free card.
- A local is your best bet for advice on areas to avoid. Ask staff at your accommodation or retail clerks and shops owners, they are good sources of advice as well.
- Certain areas of cities are perfectly safe during the day but become seedy at night. Find out which places to avoid after dark.
- Avoid isolated areas.
Have Copies Of All Your Documents And Emergency Numbers
Have copies of all important documents. The ID page of your passport, drivers license, emergency contacts, numbers to call if your credit cards are lost or stolen. You can carry these copies in a separate location to their originals and have an online copy that you can access as well. We printed out all this information in small type onto cards and laminated them. You can see a sample in our Packing List.
Another good idea when traveling with a spouse or partner is to carry a recent picture of them and your children if they are with you. If anyone goes missing you will have a photo for immediate use to help find them.
Keeping Safe While Driving
- Keep your car doors locked and windows up when driving in crowded city areas.
- Rent a car with a GPS to help you navigate and to avoid getting lost
- Avoid driving at night if possible
- Keep all valuables out of sight when you park your vehicle.
- In some countries ploys against vehicles are a problem, such as carjacking. Be wary of someone hailing you to stop your vehicle.
Safety While Out And About
- Use the same common sense traveling overseas that you would at home. Be especially cautious or avoid areas where you may be an easy target. The professional cons and thieves look for tourists to victimize at busy train stations, subways, markets and tourist sites.
- Appear confident, don’t look lost or confused about where you are going. If you need to pull out a map don’t do it while standing out in the open or on a busy sidewalk. Duck into a cafe, shop or place out of the public eye.
- Look out for pickpocket ploys, usually it will be something to distract you like bumping into you, asking for directions or the time. In some places street children might even be part of the scam.
- Make note of the local emergency number.
- Find out if there are official taxis to look for and what their markings are. Avoid unmarked taxis.
Safety in Your Accommodation
- Keep your door locked.
- Use the safe if one is provided for extra cash, watches, cameras, laptops or anything else of value that will fit into it.
- If there is no safe hide your valuables in places where someone would not think to look. Don’t put everything of value in one spot. Some creative hiding spots are inside rolled up socks, make up containers, the room bible or even the remote control battery compartment.
- Make sure all zippers are fully closed on bags and suitcases, put locks on if you can. Turn the bags around so the openings are against the wall. Every little thing you can do to make it more time consuming or difficult can help to deter a thief.
- Keep all your belongings tidy and bags stacked together in your room. Unfortunately the housekeeping might be the ones to steal from you. If things are a mess the temptation to steal might be greater, thinking you won’t notice if something is missing.
- It’s becoming more and more common to hear stories of items being stolen out of checked luggage. I can’t believe the valuable items people put into their checked baggage, everything from laptops to jewelery and Ipods. Carry it on with you!
- Never put documents with personal information. If someone steals your luggage you don’t want them having access to sensitive data. Mark your bags for identification with your name and a contact number and destination airport, not your home address.
Consider Renting Or Buying A Cell Phone If Yours Isn’t Going To Work
- Check with your provider to see if your cell phone is going to work during your travels, and what the international fees would be.
- For a nominal daily fee you can often rent a cell phone to use during your vacation. Depending on how long you are traveling it may be worth purchasing one.
- We wanted to have a cell phone in the event of an emergency while self driving for two months in South Africa. We were able to purchase a cell phone for $50 CDN and purchase cheap minutes to use for the duration of our stay. Before we left we sold the phone to another traveler for almost the same price we purchased it for.
A Night On The Town And Large Quantities Of Alcohol Can Equal Trouble
- How many times do you hear a bad travel story where someone was taken advantage of, assaulted or got into a bad situation that involved alcohol and/or a bar setting. If you go to a bar and get stinking drunk you are just setting yourself up for trouble.
- Keep an eye on your drink at all times.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers, especially if you are a woman.
For more information see our post on Keeping Camera Gear Safe