No one wants their trip to be ruined by something going wrong that could have been avoided. Safety was a key consideration of my first year long trip. As I begin planning my next trip (to Vietnam), I find myself thinking about it again and thought I’d share some of the things I do to stay secure…
As soon as the flight around the world was booked for my first trip, I began to get nervous about the safety aspect of travelling solo as a female. Searching the internet frantically for tips, I came across horror stories and began to think the worst. I started question myself and wonder if it was too dangerous… Anyone recognise that feeling? The thing is, it’s easy to scare yourself with tales of where things didn’t go to plan, but these are generally the minority of cases and shouldn’t be a reason to be put off living your travel dream.
After all that worrying, I ultimately didn’t have any problems during my trip.
It is vital to look after yourself, but with a little thought and care you can easily stay safe.
The following is not an exhaustive list of safety tips and you’ll find more advice in books and on other blogs. But here are some of the things I do to help keep me feeling secure…
PLANNING AND RESEARCH
I like being spontaneous when travelling, but knowing a bit about the place in advance; the potential scams and what to expect, not only made me feel more prepared but allowed me to stay safe. If I knew there were potential risks and dangers that could affect me then I could plan for this and take appropriate precautions. Travel guides will give good advice on safety and other people who have been there are potentially even more useful. Being a free spirit is great when travelling, but safety planning is something not to scrimp on.
SENSIBLE BUS BEHAVIOURS!
I think being a Londoner prepared me for being super vigilant with my belongings on buses and in public places. I was particularly pleased about this in Costa Rica, which is so beautiful that it’s easy to feel like nothing could ever go wrong again while being there. However… I was on a bus where a couple’s bag got stolen from the overhead shelf and heard many other similar stories – most notably the one where the couple’s entire wedding plan and journal was inside! Don’t let your guard down on buses no matter how long you are on them. Here are some things I did to ensure the safety of me and my stuff…
Never use the overhead shelf
“Oh my hammock’s been stolen” said the lovely American on arrival in Medellin, Colombia. He was such a nice man, that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was very silly for putting in the over head shelf while he went to sleep. Never use this shelf for something you want to see again. It won’t be there in the morning.
Never show your valuables on the bus
“My laptop just wasn’t there anymore” said the beautiful Norwegian lady on arrival at our hostel in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador. Using a laptop on the bus before putting it your bag to go to sleep is asking for trouble. Pickpockets around the world are highly skilled and you probably won’t feel them take your things even if the bag is between your legs… so don’t let them know that you have lovely things to take in the first place. In fact, taking as few valuables as possible with you on your trip will help set your mind at ease while you rest on a bus journey. Do you really need that tablet?
Sleep with everything attached to you
I was comfortable with amazing amounts of stuff attached to me while I slept on long bus journeys around South America. I had my bag straps right around my knees, camera round my neck and body with a blanket over the top and cash and passport locked around my tummy. Sometimes I also attached things while sleeping in a dorm bed when there wasn’t good locker systems. Thieves are clever so there is a chance they will still get stuff but nothing was ever taken from me yet.
Fake bum bag/ money belt and money stashing
I made an extra bum bag filled with various things that didn’t matter if I lost them so that if someone were to steal my bum bag, hopefully they would get the fake one and not the real one. In my fake bum bag I had a couple of out of date bank cards, some coins and notes, some random restaurant cards and my old, broken mobile phone. It made it look real and used. Some may think this is over kill, but it made me feel better on long bus journeys. I was never mugged or in any dodgy situations to test my theory but I liked the idea that I had some chance of saving my real possessions if I was.
It’s a good idea to stash money in different places in all your bags and on your person. It may sound obvious to some, but I know people who’ve been caught out. Putting all your money together in one bag could lead to you losing all of it with one theft, whereas having it in several places will hopefully mean you only lose a bit in a difficult situation.
I was told by lots of people that padlocking would make my bag look like there were valuables in it, but I ignored this and still use them along with a cable to really lock it up. My idea is that this will put off an opportunistic person who was just going to quickly dive into my bag and grab stuff – still haven’t had anything stolen from there yet…
AROUND TOWN (OR BEACH, OR LAKE OR WHEREVER)
Surely this is a no-brainer? But I still see girls in modest countries wearing the tiniest of shorts. I don’t judge their fashion sense as they usually look fabulous, but I’d say if you want to be careful and feel comfortable then cover up unless you are sure it is appropriate. In many places, this is just plain respect for the culture you are in as well, so think before you pack.
Learn the language
Learning the language really helped me feel safe. My Spanish isn’t brilliant, but I can have a pretty good conversation and I think understanding what people said to me helped me to feel more secure that they weren’t ripping me off or like I might be in some kind of trouble. People also like and respect you a lot more if you can say a few things in their language, so maybe this means there is less chance that they would want to rip you off (this isn’t exactly a fail safe rule though!). The language learning for me was a lot easier in Spanish and I’m nervous about Vietnam as the best I’m going to be able to do is going to be quite basic. This is still better than nothing.
Eating more during the day – or careful at night
If I was eating alone, I tend to eat more during the day and that way I don’t have to go out alone at night, when it could be more dodgy. This really depends on where you are and who you have met in the hostel – but there were some occasions and some places where it could be a bit less safe after dark. I planned my eating around this so I was never in a position where I was either going to be left hungry or have to go down a dark street late at night.
I only really created a fake husband in Colombia because someone said it would be a good idea in order to keep the hassle at bay. I guess they were kind of right and it could help in other places too. You could wear a ring or have a photo in your wallet. In some countries it’s just a bit unusual still for the locals to see a woman travelling alone and there is a chance you will get some unwanted attention as a result. They are more likely to respect the idea of marriage or that you might be meeting a boyfriend there. It’s worth a try if the unwanted male attention is something that bothers you.
Maps on a post it
Don’t obviously carry a map around like a lost tourist. I am constantly lost in London (where I’ve lived for 12 years) and I was really worried that when I was away I wouldn’t be able to find anything. However, I never showed this in my face or behaviour – and I wouldn’t in London either for that matter. Looking lost makes you look vulnerable and it’s best to be avoided. I got around this issue by writing clear instructions on a post it and carrying it secretly in my hand, so I could subtly look at it without anyone noticing. If I was totally lost then I’d find a private place like a toilet to go and look at a map, but the key is not to look like an idiot tourist if you can avoid it.
Don’t get drunk
I really didn’t drink as much as I do in my normal life while I was I travelling alone. I just know that when I’m drunk, I’m an idiot, will talk to anyone and probably trust anyone – and there is nothing more vulnerable than that. You don’t know who the people are that you are with even if they seem familiar so don’t risk it. And definitely look after your drinks. I’ll not be the sharer of bad stories but the one time I thought I might have potentially got in a bad situation, I’d drank a lot of beer, so just think about that when your partying. I had more money for adventures as a result and my liver is really healthy now too!
Go with your gut – if it seems dodgy then it probably is
I found this many times while I was away. For example the friendly man offering us a taxi as we left the boat from Isla Omateppe in Nicuragua. He seemed nice and we were tired so it just seemed easy to get in. But the car didn’t look like a taxi and his deal seemed expensive and so my gut just didn’t entirely trust it. As soon as we said no and walked through the port gate we found the real taxis and discovered he had been a scam driver and our actual journey was a fraction of the price. Thank goodness we listened to our gut feelings.
Listen to others, but not too much
Other travellers are a great source of knowledge on the road – arguably the best. They can tell you about what to avoid and what to expect. It’s probably useful to know about that scam in La Paz, however, it is also going potentially to put you off La Paz, which is a brilliant and exciting city to visit and the chances are your going to have an excellent time, with no problems. Don’t let others’ tales stop you doing stuff, but take the stories on board and let them raise your awareness so that you remember to look after yourself. Sadly bad things do happen everywhere in the world, but if you listen to this side of the story too much, you will never go anywhere or do anything.
You can take action to keep yourself safe, so do that instead. Be careful and cautious. Don’t drop your guard. But enjoy yourself and remember that there are usually a lot more good people in this world than there are bad ones!
What do you do to stay safe? and what are the key things to think of in Asia?