There are many myths, irrational beliefs, and misunderstandings when it comes to travel: traveling solo is unsafe, eating foreign food will cause food poisoning, and planes are just falling out of the sky. It can be easy to feed into the fears, but don’t do it!
Just in the past few years I have been to over fifty countries, taken hundreds of planes, dozens of trains, and traveled to countless places alone. The worst things that have happened to me are my phone being discretely swiped in Amsterdam (or misplaced-it is still up for debate!) and a case of mild food poisoning in Guatemala. Both of these incidents were unexpected nuisances, but not unrecoverable tragedies that would prevent me from ever exploring the world again.
Of course tragic things can happen, but that’s true whether you are in a foreign country or at home! You shouldn’t allow your fears to keep you from seeing the world, just know the facts and be prepared by taking normal precautions. These travel safety tips can help.
The Best Advice & Travel Safety Tips to Know Before your Next Trip
Coping with the Language Barriers
Many people have fears centered around trying to communicate with people from a different country (especially if there is an emergency). In my travel infancy, this was a big cause of intimidation for me, too! Of course speaking the native language of your destination makes things a million times easier, but what are you gonna do, learn the language for every country you visit? I can barely speak proper English! The good news is that in many larger cities it’s not imperative anymore because English has become the universal language of travel. You can usually find someone who will speak it, plus many major attractions, restaurant menus, and road signs will include an English translation.
Even without knowing a lick of the language, it is not a reason to stay home. There are plenty of ways to assist with the communication on your journey abroad.
TIPS FOR SAFELY TRAVELING WITH LANGUAGE BARRIERS
1. Download an App
Smartphones and translation apps have made it easier to find your way around, purchase a souvenir, or order a fancy cappuccino. Applications like Google Translate and iTranslate can be lifesavers, as they translate paragraphs of text, images with words, and speech.
2. Learn Common Words and Phrases
You don’t have to be fluent, but it is recommended that you learn a few words and phrases in the native language. Even if you get a laugh, most will appreciate your effort. Try to master how to say at least the basics: “Please”, “Thank you”, “Hello” and “Good-bye”, plus my most-used phrases, “Where’s the bathroom?” and “Can I have a glass of wine?”. You can also learn a few key safe words, like “doctor” and “police”.
3. Use Visual Forms of Communication
Even before new-age technology, I have traveled through a city solely by using gestures; pointing, nodding, and employing the universal thumbs up sign. It’s not the best way to get around, but it’s better than sitting home on the couch! You can also carry a notebook for drawing pictures or bring essential flashcards of items you know you will have to communicate about often (this is especially helpful for travelers with allergies). You can actually purchase allergy translation cards at Select Wisely or Allergy Translation.
4. Be Patient
Whether you are traveling or not, it can get frustrating when people are having a hard time communicating (just ask my husband!), so try to be as understanding-talk slower, instead of louder and try to use different, simpler words if the first ones don’t work.
Fear of Solo Travel
Every year thousands of people travel safe on their own without incident. Preconceptions about the dangers of a country can fuel your fear, but the world in general is a hospitable place. Letting fear rule my decision to travel solo would have meant missing out on feeding bananas to the macaque at the Monkey Temple in Thailand and never soaking in the warm thermal baths in Switzerland.
Don’t let the grass grow under your feet just because you are afraid of doing something alone, but also don’t travel solo being naïve, unprotected, and without having taken necessary precautions. A good starting rule of thumb is to follow the same safety guidelines in a different country as you would at home. Wandering desolate streets after midnight, getting sloppy drunk alone at a bar, or accepting rides from complete strangers is not safe at home or on the road.
Most importantly, listen to your intuition. We all have different comfort levels, obey yours.
Sometimes the fear isn’t about safety, but rather related to the embarrassment of just going somewhere alone, believing that people will feel sorry for you because you don’t have a companion. In reality, some will question it, but deep inside most don’t feel bad for you, they just wish they had the courage to do the same.
Related Article: Eating Out Alone: Tips for Dining Solo at a Restaurant
SAFETY TIPS FOR SOLO TRAVELERS
5. Be a Planner
Make your itinerary and leave a copy with a friend or family member. Plus, plan your transportation from the airport to your hotel in advance. One of the most stressful times for me is when I first land in a different country. I am typically tired and not having transportation planned from the airport to the hotel would be stressful and possible lead to bad choices. It’s the one thing that I ALWAYS plan in advance.
6. Research the Transportation
Understand the transportation system in each city, so you are not caught in the bad section of town without a way to get out. You can ask the hotel concierge about buses, subways and other public transportation. Plus, have them recommend reputable taxi companies, ones that won’t overcharge because you are a tourist.
7. Make Reservations in Advance
Make your hotel reservations in advance, so you don’t get stuck at the last minute without a place to sleep. Plus for extra safety, stay in a centrally located hotel with a twenty-four-hour reception.
8. Book Group Tours
When you feel lonely or a little nervous about traveling around solo, book a group tour. You will not only meet other travelers, but may feel safer with other people and a local guide.
9. Know the Cultural Norms
Know the cultural norms of the country you are visiting and act respectfully. In some countries shoulders and knees must be covered to enter a religious site and in places like Japan it’s respectful to remove your shoes before entering a building.
10. Have Cash
Be financially prepared by making sure to always have a little cash in the evenings so you don’t have to hit the ATM after dark. Many travelers exchange money upon arrival, but I always bring a little foreign currency with me. Typically, I will exchange at my bank, but have also had success using the online currency exchange company, Travelex.
11. Have a Backup Plan
Plans change, things go wrong, so always have a backup plan. Be prepared for restaurants to be closed upon arrival, for ATMs to not work or subway systems to be shut down.
12. Use your Intuition
If your gut is telling you you’re in a risky situation, change your path.
13. Be Extra Cautious at Bars
If you venture to a bar, keep your eye on your drinks to make sure no one slips anything inside and don’t get so drunk that you will make bad decisions.
14. Don’t Share Your Itinerary with Strangers
Be careful when talking to strangers about where you will be when. It’s okay to give them a loose idea of what attractions you’d like to see or restaurants you want to try, but not exact times and days.
15. Don’t Share You Hotel Location
It’s common in conversations for someone to ask “where are you staying”, but be careful when sharing this information with strangers. And also keep your room keys hidden!
Fear of Getting Sick Abroad
Malaria! Yellow fever! Food poisoning! The fear of getting sick abroad crosses many people’s minds at some point. It stinks being ill while on a trip, just like it stinks being sick at home. But, unfortunately there are nasty bugs everywhere. By taking the recommended precautions you can prevent many ailments, like getting vaccinations and not drinking the tap water. When it comes to eating the local food, realize that the residents’ body systems are accustomed to the food and beverages, ours are not. Locals have a built-up immunity to some of the nasties! Trying different foods is part of experiencing the culture of the country you are in and most are safe as well as delicious, so just take extra care when choosing the foods you eat.
No matter how many safety measures you take, you may still get sick. Most of these ailments will be easily cured with common medications, but some will need a trip to the doctor. You may be afraid that you will be unable to get the same type of health-care you can at home and in some cases this may be true. But, believe it or not, most countries have a very good medical system that is not inferior to the United States. In fact, many countries are known for their medical tourism and accredited facilities. Plus, some medications are less regulated overseas and can be purchased at a pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription.
TIPS FOR STAYING HEALTHY ON YOUR JOURNEY
16. Be Safe When Eating Street Food
If your plan is to snack on street food, choose a stall with the longest line of locals. This is almost always a guarantee that it will be tasty as well as fresh since their product is being turned over quickly. Also select whatever is deep-fried and cooked right in front of you instead of opting for anything precooked that may have been hanging out and unrefrigerated for hours.
17. Bring Medications
Equip yourself with common medications prior to leaving, so you can avoid a doctor’s visit or having to try to find a pharmacy. I always carry an over-the-counter pain medicine (such as aspirin), anti-diarrheal medication, nose spray, antibiotic ointment, cold medicine, and allergy tablets. This travel first-aid kit has much of what you would need and this single dose medicine refill kit can be added to it for the perfect combination or protection!
18. Have the Proper Health Insurance
Check with your health care provider to see what sort of International Insurance you receive while traveling. If necessary, get travel health insurance to be protected in case a visit to the doctor is in order. You can check out pricing areTravelex Insurance who protects for medical emergencies and trip cancellations.
19. Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize
Wash your hands frequently, but also be aware that many public restrooms around the world will be out of soap and/or paper towels, so always carry handy wipes and sanitizer. I like to travel with the Germ-X sanitizer!
20. Be Safe with the Water
If it is recommended to not drink the water, also be careful when it comes to the ice cubes in your cocktails and salads, as they are probably rinsed in water. Stop by a market to load up on bottled water or bring water sanitizer tablets or a filtered water bottle.
Fear of Getting Robbed
There is something about going abroad that leads travelers to believe that there are con artists on every corner scoping out your valuables, which is just not true. Of course in rare cases it can happen, so you should be aware that most crooks on the streets are looking for an easy target. Don’t be one of them.
Targets of robberies are typically those who are distracted, carrying expensive equipment, or who leave their belongings unattended, which is why tourists are at a higher risk. Crime can happen anywhere, but pickpockets are statistically known to be more likely to take place in the crowded touristy sections of town; these are the areas you need to be the most cautious. You can go out and purchase expensive anti-theft pants and money belts, but by using common sense and taking simple safeguards, your odds of being a target will severely lessen.
TIPS TO HAVE A SAFE TRIP
21. Be Alert
Stay alert, most petty crimes happen when people are distracted. Let’s face it, as tourists we can easily be distracted by beautiful attractions or the smell of street food. Enjoy the local sites, but try to stay aware of who and what are around you.
22. Have Backup Money
Keep emergency cash and a credit card in a separate location. This way if your purse or wallet gets stolen you will have backup. I always hide a little cash and a backup card at the hotel just in case! Thank goodness I’ve never had to use it.
23. Limit the Cash You Carry
Don’t carry a lot of money with you, just take what you need for the day.
24. Store Valuables Properly
Keep your valuables in zippered, hard-to-reach pockets. Many cell phones are stolen because women will keep them in an unzipped part of their handbag.
25. Be Careful with Jewelry
Flashy diamonds can draw the attention of thieves, so think twice about what you wear when on a trip. I always wear a simple gold band that I bought in Japan for $50, instead of my diamond wedding ring. Etsy has some really cute and economical bands.
26. No Back Pockets
Don’t keep your phone or wallet in your back pocket. This is an easy target for someone!
27. Use the Hotel Safe
Use the hotel safe for your valuables instead of leaving them lying around in the hotel room. It is there for your protection and there is definitely no guarantee that your accommodations will take any responsibility for stolen property.
28. Be Cautious in Restaurants
Don’t put your purse on the back of your chair or leave your cell phone lying visible on a table while dining at a restaurant. This is especially true if you are eating on the patio of a street-side café where someone passing by could easily swipe your valuables.
30. Be Confident
Walk confidently and stay focused. When you need to look at a map, find a safe location away from the crowd.
31. Make Copies of Your Passport
Leave one at home and take one with you, storing it in a different location than the original. You can also take a photo of it to keep on your phone. If you lose your passport, you will want to make sure to be able to prove your citizenship.
32. Record All Valuables
Make a list and take photos of the valuables (include make, model, and serial numbers) that you are bringing in case they need to be given to the police or your insurance company. It’s also helpful to take a photo of your luggage in case it gets lost at the airport.
MORE TRAVEL SAFE TIPS
33. Buckle Up
When a seatbelt is provided use it! I buckle up whenever there is an opportunity to do so, even when I’m on a bus.
34. Carry the Hotel Business Card
Either grab your hotels business card or record the address on your phone for taxi drivers. If there is a language barrier it will be much easier to show the driver an address then to speak it.
35. Set Credit Card Alerts
Inform your bank and credit cards where you’ll be traveling, so they are aware of what charges may occur.
Most importantly don’t let fear keep you from traveling and living your dreams. All these travel safety tips will help you to feel safer, but don’t obsess about things going wrong.
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