I love traveling to new places and exploring new things. Over the last 20+ years, I have learned a thing or two about travel safety as a solo female traveler, in groups, and as a couple.
Many of these lessons were learned the hard way, like the time that my passport and all of my money was stolen or the time that a tampered drink that could have been way worse. A little preparation and caution is worth it for your safety!
Here are my top 10 tips to stay safe while traveling.
- Have a designated check in with a responsible person not travelling with you. Determine how often you will contact and what method, via phone call, text, or email. Confirm when your next scheduled communication is.
- New travelers should confirm arrival at the destination. If there is a long layover and/or multiple transfers, add a quick email or text check point. Start with daily communication, then reduce to every other day or once a week as you are more comfortable. Communicate any changes to your return trip and any major changes to itinerary or scheduled locations.
- Experienced travelers should confirm arrival and communicate any changes to return travel. I still make a phone call and notify my contact person when my flight is cancelled or I decide to stay longer in a foreign country.
- Have a map and a plan. Know where you are going and how to get there. If you do get lost, go inside a clean, well-lit business and ask for directions. If possible, find a cafe or coffee shop and purchase something, then ask for directions. Sit for a moment, write down the directions, and make sure you know how far away your destination is. Consider having the business call a taxi cab, or use your smartphone to order an Uber car.
- Stay alert to be safe. Observe your surroundings. Where is the nearest exit or two? Observe the people around you. People are less likely to cause trouble or bother you if you are alert and not distracted. Watch the people, cars, animals, and the architecture – remember that ceilings may be lower, aggressive animals do not always wear a sign, and cars drive on the “wrong” side of the road, so pay attention!
- Situational Awareness – Avoid high-crime areas and neighborhoods with some research before you go, but also observe any area as you approach. This may or may not be obvious just from looking, so be aware of your surroundings including people, physical obstacles, and possible hazards. Of course you want to make sure your hotel is in a safe neighborhood (preparation) and has good lighting at night, but if you do end up in a sketchy neighborhood, stay calm, do not draw attention to yourself, and quietly move toward your destination or back to the safe area you just left. Walk with confidence, look directly ahead (never down at your phone or feet), pause to look around you, and stay calm.
- Pack Light – Keep your bags and luggage to a minimum, and keep it close to you (physically touching you, if possible, in your lap or across your body). Select seating or standing against a wall and avoid your back to the front door or high traffic walkways. When I was still a newbie traveler, my purse was stolen from the back of my chair while 4 of us ate dinner – it was a very expensive lesson!
- Watch your drink. Do not leave a drink unattended, if it leaves your sight, then that drink is done. Do not accept a drink from anyone unless you see it being prepared or brought directly from the wait staff. Do not drink any beverage where the seal is missing or broken. Carefully inspect the container or seal for any evidence that it not factoring sealed, when in doubt do NOT drink it! Tourists are easy targets for crime and horrible pranks. Mixed drinks are easy to alter, but non-alcoholic drinks and even water are almost as easy to tamper with. If there is any “wrong” or strong smell, do not drink it. If you start to feel woozy or ill, get to medical care (this is when travel insurance comes in very handy).
- Use the hotel room safe. Store passports and any tickets for travel that you do not need for the day. Separate your money and only carry small amounts (and small denominations) with you for activities that day. Small electronics and jewelry should be kept in the safe when not in use. I travel with a small jewelry case that immediately goes into the hotel safe, and stays there while I am out for the day.
- Keep your money out of sight. Quickly count your change, and then put your money and wallet away. Be able to reach your wallet and access money quickly, those silly travel tourist belts attract too much attention to reach and the excessive time to get any money out and should only be used for spare stash of cash & documents when the hotel safe is not an option. Pay with small bills as close to the amount as possible. Banks and the hotel reception can exchange large denominations for smaller amounts. I travel with a split wallet to keep foreign currencies or large/small denominations separated, this allows me to quickly make payments and put my money away without extended periods of time rummaging for the correct amounts. If you need to sort, separate, or count currency, do it in private and be discreet.
- Light the Way – Crime and accidents are far less likely in the light. Park cars under street lights when possible for evening arrival or departure. Walk in well-lit areas to avoid tripping in the dark. Most smartphones have a built in flashlight, use that for any areas where you need extra light, especially on uneven ground. It is harder for people and animals to sneak up on you in the light, the bad guys always lurk in dark alleys in books!
- Travel with pen and paper. You never know when you may need directions from someone, or get a great restaurant recommendation. Either way, be prepared to quickly write something down. In absolute worse situations, a paper note can be used to discreetly pass a message or signal someone for assistance.
Bonus Tip: Verify hurricane season and any predictable natural disasters before booking your travel arrangements. I still travel to the tropics during hurricane season, and I buy the travel insurance. I am prepared with back-up activity plans for bad weather and I have an action plan for emergencies.
Safety concerns should not stop you from travel, a little situational awareness and preparation is crucial for a fun and safe adventure!