One of the things you likely wish someone before a trip is to have “safe travels”.
It’s such a common thing to say that you likely don’t really take it to heart and think about the things that will help you travel safely. Amiright?!
In this article we’ll share some of our top tips to make sure you know how to avoid scams, pickpockets and dangerous situations. Plus, we're sharing what you can do to be prepared in case anything does happen.
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or are going on a solo trip for the first time, these tips will make sure you travel safe, no matter where in the world you may be headed.
An Important Note on Travel Safety
Let us start by saying that the media blows a lot of things out of proportion when it comes to travel safety. We’ve been traveling around the world for nearly 5 years, to some places that are called “unsafe” by the media, and truthfully we've only had a few times in all our travels that made us question our safety.
Bad things can happen anywhere in the world, even in your own home. So there’s no reason to be scared of travel. That said, you should always be prepared.
This article isn’t written with the intention of scaring anyone, but instead to arm you with information and tips that will make sure you are prepared, confident and less likely to be a target.
1. Don’t travel with flashy jewelry
Travel Safety Tips Don't wear flashy Jewelry
When traveling in certain countries, it’s not a good idea to wear flashy jewelry. In impoverished areas it can be a symbol of how you’re different from locals, and can negatively impact your interactions.
It can set you up for vendors to charge you more and even worse, could potentially make you a target of robbery.
The only nice jewelry we own is our wedding rings, so on some trips we leave them behind.
We still like the idea of wearing rings, but feel more comfortable traveling with one that wouldn’t be devastating to lose.
There are many brands out there, but we like our Enso Rings because the silicone material is comfortable to wear no matter if we’re scuba diving, rock climbing or backcountry camping. Plus, the design is classy and looks nice, but isn’t flashy.
Unless you’re traveling to Monaco or Hollywood, leave your nice jewelry at home!
2. Keep your valuables together
Being that we work on this blog during our travels, we have to carry quite a few valuable items with us. We travel with 2 MacBook Pro laptops, a high-end DSLR camera and a drone, just to name a few.
For anyone who doesn’t work online, we recommend leaving your laptops at home so you have less valuables to worry about.
But even if you leave your big items behind, just about every traveler has belongings they want to keep safe, like an iPhone, Kindle or a GoPro. Oh, and don’t forget your passport — that may just be the most valuable item you travel with!
To keep these items secure, we typically pack them all in one small bag (especially one with secret pockets) and all our other belongings, like clothing and toiletries in our larger bag. We always, always have our small bag with us.
When traveling by bus, we only store our large bag in he compartment below. We never put it in the trunk of a taxi or check it on an airplane. We always know where our valuables are.
3. Choose a super safe bag
Travel Safety Tips Have a Secure Bag
So what do we carry our valuables in, you ask?
We specifically bought a bag with anti-theft features, like this one from Pacsafe, to carry all our valuables. Features like lockable zippers and RFID technology make it nearly impossible for someone to get to your belongings. Plus, it has a layer of metal mesh beneath the fabric so it can’t be slashed.
This bag even has a special cable you can use to lock it to a non-moveable piece of furniture. This means you can leave the bag alone without worrying it will be taken.
4. Know the emergency number
Travel Safety Tips Cliff Jump
We both grew up in the United States, and kind of just assumed 911 was the emergency number everywhere in the world. WRONG.
Each country has its own emergency code, and a quick Google search or Wiki search will tell you what it is. Write it down and keep it in your wallet. Just in case.
5. Research popular scams
While most scammers don’t necessarily put your safety in danger, it’s a good idea to try to avoid them so you don’t get ripped off.
A quick Google search before visiting a new city or country can acquaint you with common scams travelers encounter.
Some scams are dangerous, while others might mean you lose a few dollars. Read about our time in Istanbul, Turkey and find out what scam we encountered (at the bottom of the article). It actually makes a pretty good story!
Simply type “common scams in [insert country]” and see what comes up.
A word of warning: don’t let this scare you or make you paranoid. We typically do this before traveling anywhere and we’ve only encountered one scam we read about beforehand. It’s just good to be prepared.
6. Know how to ask for help
Another helpful thing to know is how to say “help me” in the local language. This can be used in many situations. You can use the phrase if you are lost and need directions (translating "excuse me" also works for this) or you can shout if someone is bothering you and you want to alert passersby. You might also need it if you get hurt and you need someone to assist you.
You can certainly write it down, but you might not have time to grab your wallet in an emergency situation, so it is a good idea to memorize it. And if all else fails, shouting any word – in the local language, in English or in your mother tongue – will get peoples’ attention and can serve the same purpose.
7. Carry a decoy wallet
We’ve been carrying a decoy wallet in our bag for a few years now, and even though we’ve (thankfully!) never had to use it, I feel better knowing I could give this wallet up if we ever got into a bad situation.
Inside, I have a couple expired credit cards and a small amount of cash, and I keep it easily accessible on the outer pocket of my daypack.
If we were ever to get in a sticky situation, I could pull that out and give it up without being too upset.
8. Be prepared on transportation
One of the most common places travelers have their belongings stolen is on transportation. Be cautious and pay attention to your surroundings. And like we mentioned earlier, always keep your valuables with you instead of in storage.
If you plan on sleeping on a crowded train, try using a travel lock with a wire to secure your bag to the luggage storage. That way, you can close your eyes without worrying.
Insider Tip: Between transportation is also a time people commonly get ripped off. So do a little research in advance and know how much a taxi should cost from the bus station to your hotel. That way, you can walk past all the people trying to flag you down as soon as you get off the bus and find the one with the most fair price.
9. Wear your backpack in front in crowded places
A small backpack is the perfect thing to carry around while exploring a city.
But in crowded places like markets, rallies and subways, wear your pack in front. Yes, you’ll look like a nerd, but you will avoid having your backpack rifled through while you are oblivious. Some thieves are so good you won’t notice until you’re out of the crowd. In some places you'll even notice the locals doing it too.
10. Hold onto your purse
While we’re talking about bags, let’s talk purses. Ladies, if you carry a purse, be mindful. Hold onto it in crowded areas and if possible, wear it slung across your body so it can’t simply be pulled off.
Also be cautious when walking near the street. All over the world, there are accounts of people on motorbikes driving past sidewalks and grabbing a loosely held bag or phone. Don’t let this happen to you.
11. Keep your wallet in your front pocket
For those of you who are used to keeping your wallet in your back pocket, change this habit now!
Ben started carrying his in the front when we started traveling 5 years ago and hasn’t gone back since. This makes it harder for pickpockets to target you and is a good habit whether your traveling or at home.
Plus, it's bad for you spine to keep a lumpy wallet under you butt all day. If you carry your wallet in the front pocket, your back pain might go away.
12. Know where you’re going (or at least fake it!)
We love wandering around a city and getting lost, but there are certain places in the world that it’s smart to have a bearing on your surroundings.
Standing on a street corner and obliviously looking around is going to make you an easy target. This is a good time for pickpockets to walk past you because you’re distracted. Plus, you’ll attract scammers or other vendors to approach you and rip you off.
In busy places, try to have a plan of where to go ahead of time. And even if you don’t know where the heck you’re headed, act confident and fake it. Most likely, this will deter anyone from hassling you.
And if you really need to look at a map, your phone is more discreet than a paper one. But know how to feel the vibe of the area you’re in. If you don’t feel comfortable stopping and taking out your phone, it might be a good idea to walk into the nearest café. You can get a pick-me-up and have some time to sit and look at a map. Plus, it’s a safe environment to ask for directions.
13. Memorize your taxi number
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Travel Safety Tips NYC Taxi Times Square
When getting into a taxi (especially if you’re on your own), it’s a good idea to take note of the taxi’s unique number. You can even snap a picture on your phone, record it in a note or text it to a friend (we met someone who does this each time they enter a taxi).
This isn’t just a good habit for your safety, but if you accidentally leave a belonging in the vehicle, you’ll know how to locate it.
14. Double-check your Uber
This is a good tip no matter if you are at home or traveling. If you order a ride from Uber or Lyft, be sure to double-check the license plate. Fake Uber drivers have been caught outside of night clubs and taken passengers away.
Also, ask the driver who they are there to pick up instead of offering your name right away. There have been cases of kidnappings all over the world where drivers target people looking for their rides. When you walk up the window and say, “Hi, I’m Katie; are you my driver?” they will of course say yes, and off you’ll go.
This is rare, and nothing to be afraid of if you take the proper (and common sense) precautions.
15. Lock it up
Travel Safety Tips Lock up your Bags
We always carry a few travel locks with us so we can store our bags in lockers when necessary. You can also lock the bag itself so nobody can go through it.
If you must leave your bags somewhere, like in an unsecured storage room in a hotel, you could lock it to a shelf or to your travel companion’s bag. It would be much more difficult to steal two bags locked together than just one.
We like these wire locks because they’re flexible and allow you more options than traditional travel locks.
16. Think before you withdraw
If possible, try to take money out from ATMs attached to banks, as they will have less chance of being tampered with.
Using the search function on Maps.me or Google Maps will let you see the nearest ATMs and whether they are near a bank.
And obviously, like anywhere in the world, make sure you cover up your pin and try to make withdrawals in the daylight and in safe neighborhoods.
17. Carry smaller sums of money
Travel Safety Tips Carry Small Amounts of Money
If possible, carry smaller amounts of money on your travels. Those pesky ATM fees make it tempting to withdraw as much as possible and walk around with a stuffed wallet. But this leads to a not-so-great situation if you get pickpocketed or lose your wallet.
There is a solution to this: Get a card that reimburses your ATM fees.
We have a debit card with Charles Schwab that reimburses all our ATM fees. Yes, it’s true! That means we don’t feel bad taking out small amounts at a time, and we can feel more comfortable knowing we have less cash on us.
18. Separate your cash & cards
If you’re going to a busy area or will be trying to barter in a market, it is a good idea to put a smaller amount of cash in your wallet, and put the rest somewhere safe, like in an inside pocket of your daypack. This means when you open your wallet, you won’t be flashing tons of money, but you still have easy access to more cash should you need it.
This goes for credit cards too. Keep some in your wallet, and the others in your "valuables bag". That way if one gets lost or stolen, you don't loose them all.
Our thoughts on money belts
Money belts were designed with travel safety in mind, but truthfully, we don’t use them.
Way back in the day, I bought a money belt before studying abroad in Italy. It was my first time overseas and I thought it was what everyone did.
Well, after one day of wearing it and awkwardly trying to get money out when ordering a cappuccino and adjusting the strap underneath my clothing (what about when you wear a dress?!), I decided it would go deep into the depths of my backpack where I never touched it again.
I don’t think money belts really fool anybody, and they are so difficult to access in public that it isn’t a practical alternative to a wallet for me. That said, every person is different. Maybe for you, carrying big chunks of money in a money belt and smaller sums in your wallet makes you feel more comfortable. Great, go for it! But it just isn’t for me.
I do think this money-hiding scarf is a cute alternative to a money belt.
19. Share your route with a friend
It’s good practice to share your plans with someone at home. If you think your family members will worry too much, give your plans to a trusted friend.
Most likely they’ll never need to use it to try to locate you, but in case something goes wrong, you’ll be happy someone out there can track you down.
And if you don’t have a solid travel plan and are just winging it (good for you!), try to check in regularly with someone at home so if they don’t hear from you for a while they will know something is up.
20. Turn on your GPS
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Travel Safety Tips Turn on your GPS
Before your trip, download the Find iPhone app and turn on your GPS. This way you will have a better chance of tracking it down if you leave it behind in a taxi or it gets stolen.
21. Store all your important documents on the cloud
If you do one thing before your trip, make it this. (Well, actually buy travel insurance first and then do this.)
Take photos or scan all your important documents and upload them to the cloud or email it to yourself. They should be easily accessible online.
all credit cards you are bringing
travel insurance policy
receipts for any valuables you are traveling with (you will need to submit this to your insurance if they get lost or stolen)
Hopefully you won’t need to access this information, but if the situation arises, your life will be so much easier if you have records of all these documents. We use Amazon Drive to back up all our travel photos and important documents, because it is unlimited photo storage for Prime Members.
22. Stay in control
While you might go out and overindulge on a weekly basis at home, be extra careful when you drink on your travels.
You’ll definitely want to let loose with a local beer or a cocktail on the beach, but staying in control is important when you’re in new surroundings.
This applies more to certain situations, but let’s just say it’s not a great idea to get hammered before going clubbing on your first day in Rio.
Use common sense, handle your own drinks, and know how to get back to your hotel. (Memorize the name, carry the business card, and have it starred on your phone.)
23. Trust people, but be wise
If you stay in hostels on your travels, you will surely make new friends fast. It’s so much fun to be in a social atmosphere and be surrounded by likeminded people.
And while we think it’s healthy to open up and trust, don’t let your guard down completely. At least not right away. Keep your valuables in a locker and trust your gut.
We’ve made really good friends while traveling have never had any problems, but we have heard many stories about belongings mysteriously disappearing from dorm rooms or new “friends” taking advantage of a trusting person.
24. Know your limits
Travel safety isn’t only about looking out for pickpocket and scammers. It is also making sure you’re not putting yourself into situations where you could potentially get hurt.
Everyone is cliff jumping but it makes your stomach queasy? Don’t feel comfortable hopping on a motorbike? It’s okay to pass.
People often make it seem like traveling is the time to go crazy and face your fears. While getting out of your comfort zone is healthy (and fun!) be aware of your limits.
Some of the “innocent” things like cliff jumping and motorbiking can lead to accidents, so if you’re uncomfortable take a moment to think it over.
25. Wear a helmet (and a seatbelt)
Travel Safety Tips Wear a Helmet
When traveling in places like Southeast Asia, it’s popular for many people to rent motorbikes, especially in Vietnam. It’s a great way to get around and see the country, and it’s an adrenaline rush. We love motorbiking, but we ALWAYS wear a helmet.
In our travels of Southeast Asia, we’ve heard enough horror stories and seen enough accidents and injuries firsthand that we would never ride a bike without a helmet. And we don’t understand why people leave them off.
One of the most common causes of death in many Southeast Asian countries is motorbike accidents. And even if you’re the best, most experienced driver in the world, the other people on the road might not be.
Do not take this lightly. Drive carefully and wear a helmet. Oh, and please don’t ever drink and drive.
And while we’re on the topic, wearing a seatbelt is always good practice. We’ve been in many cars around the world that just don’t have them (what is this about?!), but when possible, buckle up. You never know the state of your driver or the others on the road.