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The Best Ways to Stay Safe While Traveling

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Publication date24.01.2020
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Safety is always there as a flip side to the excitement of travel. As someone who spent a lot of his 20s traveling without much regard for it (hitchhiking and urban camping anyone?). I’ve come to greatly appreciate a bit more safety as I’ve gotten older. There’s something to be said for the peace of mind that comes with being prepared and having a trip go smoothly.

Truth is, as I’ve learned, you can have plenty of excitement and fun without sacrificing safety. These sections will explain how to do just that without the need to give up what makes your travels amazing.

Theft

Like many of the dangers discussed in this article, tourists aren’t robbed as much as we imagine. That said, it does happen (as I can personally attest). 

  • Straps: using a strap for your camera or smartphone will help prevent the “quick grabs” often done by people on motorbikes as you’re getting ready to take a photo.
  • Avoiding back pockets: the one time I was robbed just before boarding a bus in Odessa, Ukraine it was because I made this exact mistake. One easy way to make your wallet and valuables easier to fit into a front or jacket pocket is to leave all your wallet non-essentials at home. After all, what’s your hometown transport card going to do for you abroad?

You can also consider buying special equipment like an anti-theft body bag or even a simple bike lock to attach your bag to the table when you’re sitting at a cafe. But overall, the most important piece of advice to avoid theft is just to be aware. Pay attention to your surroundings and have backup plans in case something gets lost or stolen (like backing up your phone and keeping a spare credit card outside your wallet).

Food Poisoning

Every traveler’s worst nightmare is food poisoning, but ironically enough it doesn’t tend to come from the sources you think. The biggest piece of advice is to do like the locals do. To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, you don’t last long when you poison your neighbors. In other words, if a restaurant or food stall is bustling with locals, it’s probably not going to cause you problems later.

Connected to this is eating local. Local foods are more likely to be fresh and prepared properly. On the other hand, one of the most common sources of food poisoning is actually from hotels. Why? Because those hotels are likely preparing western foods with imported ingredients and recipes the cooks may not be as familiar with. In other words, more things can go wrong.

But in any case, you’ll always have a better shot if you eat foods that are stored and served hot (not lukewarm, but hot) and wash your hands a lot. Speaking of washing your hands…

Other Disease (Like the CoronaVirus)

Avoiding non-food borne diseases while traveling comes down to some fairly basic things. First is to wash your hands properly and often. That means at least 20 seconds with hot water. Hand sanitizer is great but is not a replacement for hand washing. Just as important is avoiding touching your face as this is the most common way for a virus to move from a surface to your hands to your body.

Other helpful hints are to always check the safety of the local water. If it’s not safe to drink or iffy, go with bottled water (or, to be more environmentally friendly, get a bottle with a built-in filter).

Lastly, this should go without saying but get the proper vaccinations for the place you’re traveling. The US Centers for Disease Control has a useful list of recommended vaccines for every country in the world.

Transportation

If you’re taking buses, planes, and trains then you’re probably fine as these are extremely safe forms of transportation. However, if you’re renting a car or motorbike, you need to consider how to be safe while traveling on your trip.

The first thing is to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road, official and unofficial. Many countries have a more freewheeling style of road sharing that could present challenges if you’re jumping right into it. Also, be sure to get some insurance in case something does go wrong (more on that later). But really, for the sake of safety, consider using buses or rail to travel.

Airbnb

As Airbnb has quickly become standard for many travelers, it’s ubiquity has also led to plenty of scams and dangers. Hotels will always be a safer bet, but if you’re going to use Airbnb then here are some tips for avoiding scams:

  • Avoid rentals that are too good to be true because they probably are. Remember, Airbnb is a competitive market in most places so if one listing stands out as being in a totally different class from the others, there’s probably a reason.
  • Check reviews. This is your best way to confirm a hunch. If you’re wondering whether a listing is too good to be true, check the reviews. A listing with many varied reviews is one that’s unlikely to scam you.
  • Be wary of host communication. If a host suddenly seems to vanish just before your trip, that’s likely an indication that something is wrong. At the very least, this points to a bad host.
  • Check the refund policy. That way, if something goes wrong, you know your rights.

Overall, it’s always wise to have a backup when it comes to Airbnb. 95% of the time you’ll be fine, but having the information for a nearby hotel where you could stay in an emergency doesn’t hurt.

Insurance

Let’s face it, most of us never really buy travel insurance. In my case, this was a habit from back when I barely spent anything on my trips anyway. What was there to insure? But if you’re going on a large and ambitious trip where you have a lot to lose if something goes wrong, you need to consider buying some kind of traveler’s insurance.

First, be aware of what coverage you already have. Homeowners or renters insurance might cover your valuables if they’re lost or stolen while your credit cards might offer financial protection for hotels and tickets you’ve purchased.

But if you do feel you need traveler’s insurance, be sure to read the fine print. These policies are very specific about what they do and do not cover. For example, you might be covered if your flight is canceled due to a medical emergency but not because your taxi got into a car accident on the way to the airport. So, be aware of what’s covered and plan accordingly.

Don’t Forget to Enjoy Yourself

Worries over what can go wrong can really derail a trip, so be smart and safe but don’t forget that the point is to enjoy yourself. So start planning your trip, save your money, and find the perfect destination today.

Ready for your next trip?

Publication date03.03.2020
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