There are certain places in the world that will always have elements of uncertainty and even danger surrounding them. It’s the nature of budget travel but there are simple things you can do to ensure that your journey remains a safe and enjoyable one.
Travel Advisory Warnings
These primarily provide updates about security but often include practical information such as local laws, customs and visa requirements of travel destinations. Take note of the threat level and heed the warnings if they relate to something significant. Be aware however that they are often issued based on a potential situation rather than any current risk. The ultimate decision to travel anywhere ultimately rests with you.
Not obviously looking like a tourist will help avoid being targeted like one. Study a map and note landmarks to gain a sense of orientation before your arrival and walk with a degree of confidence. Dress conservatively and keep your money, camera and phone out of view as much as possible. Learning a few basic questions and phrases in the local language can help especially if you can understand the potential reply. My travel story On a Knife Edge tells of escaping an armed robbery on the streets of Rio.
It is critical when you are sightseeing in big cities to be aware of your surroundings. Watch for people who seem to be approaching you for no particular reason. They may just want to be friendly and welcoming so it would be amiss to deny them that opportunity. But do remember though that thieves often work in pairs so don’t get too distracted. Padlock your backpack zips together and wear it on your chest in crowded areas. In the same way, carry items in your front pockets rather than back.
Destination guide books usually give warnings about city areas that can be dubious during the day and should be avoided at night. Stay in busy and well illuminated areas after dark. No matter how friendly or charming they are, you can’t immediately trust anyone you meet on the street. Don’t take food or drink from strangers because there is a chance that it may be drugged. Also, be wary about accepting a ride from someone you don’t know because it becomes easy for them to abduct and harm you.
The most secure way to carry and take care of your cash, passport and bank cards is in a money belt. They are designed to be worn around your waist under your clothing. It is invisible to a casual observer but you always know exactly where it is. The key is to keep it out of sight so carry a small amount of money in your pocket and if you need to access the belt, do it discreetly. If there is securely locked storage in your accommodation then consider leaving the money belt there instead of carrying it with you.
As the name suggests, your confidence and trust is gained before you are tricked. They range from the predictable and relatively harmless through to the more sinister and dangerous. Be suspicious about anyone who seems overly friendly, especially if they start talking about an ’opportunity’ for you. If it sounds like it's too good to be true then it probably is, especially if your money is involved. Card games or other forms of gambling will almost certainly be rigged in their favour and it’s best to just walk away.
Don’t get caught out by bogus police who attempt to ‘fine’ you for an ‘offence’ or request to search your bag and examine documents, traveller cheques or cash. State firmly that you will only allow such a search to be done at a police station or by a uniformed officer. Even worse than those posing as police, are the genuine but corrupt police intent on bribery. It provides a very difficult situation and sometimes there is little you can do apart from reporting the incident to your embassy office.