Travel safety is a big deal, yet something that is commonly overlooked by excited travelers. I get it… you’ve booked a sweet getaway and you just want to relax, tour around and take some time off. Getting super involved with safety measures, precautions and preparing for the worst sounds like a vacation buzz-kill. And it is – until you find yourself in danger or victim to a crime.
Travelers need to be 100x’s more aware and prepared than when they are at home. In your normal day-to-day life, you’re simply going through the motions with a very familiar routine. While abroad, there is no routine or comfort in the familiar. Everything is different. There are language barriers, unusual customs or laws and unfortunately, people who set out to prey upon unsuspecting tourists.
This travel safety blog is going to give you the knowledge and tools so you are NOT that unsuspecting tourist, but instead a super savvy jetsetter.
Travel Safety Tips
What to do BEFORE Your Trip
1. Check your Government’s site for travel advisories
Check your governments travel advisory site for vital information about traveling to the country you’re heading to. They post in-depth information about visa requirements, travel warnings, political instability, and many other safety topics.
Canadian Travel Advisory Site
American Travel Advisory Site
Australian Travel Advisory Site
British Travel Advisory Site
From another country? Just google “Travel Advisory site for (your nationality)” to help find your governments official site.
(Read More: Where Canadians Can Travel Visa Free)
2. Learn about laws, customs, dress codes and cultural faux pas
When you do research on your governments travel advisory site, they will commonly list out important laws and customs to know, but that might not tell the full story. Find out about what might be considered offensive, the proper dress codes, cultural faux pas, and other social no-no’s before you travel. What might be completely normal to you could be a huge disrespect to another culture.
Best places to find out more info on these can be found on sites like Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor forums, travel guides made by bloggers/influencers, and by asking expats/locals already in the area.
3. Research common scams in the area
Very easy to do– open Google and type in “(city name) scams” or “common scams in (city name)” If there has been a pattern of any kind of scam in that city, you’ll see more than enough results for it. Learn a bit about common scams in the area so you are a little more aware once your there in person.
Go easy on this one so you don’t talk yourself out of a particular city/country, as the internet is full of a lot of doom and gloom scare tactics. Use the info as a reference and not necessarily a deterrent.
4. Make copies of your passport
Make 2 colour copies of your passport. Leave one at home with a family member or friend and keep one with you in a different bag than your passport. (or one in the cloud!)
True story: I was robbed at gunpoint in Nicaragua and they stole my bags, including my passport. Before the trip I left a colour copy of my passport with my brother Cody, telling him it was for ‘just in case’. He teased me to NO end about it, until I actually called him from the Canadian consulate a few weeks later needing him to email it over to them. I had no proof of who I was and I was so thankful I had left a copy with him to expedite the process of getting an emergency passport issued.
5. Register with your Embassy
If you are going off the beaten path, or staying abroad for an extended period of time, you may want to register with your countries embassy. This way your home country will know you are in a particular country in-case of emergency, natural disaster, political instability or in the event you need to be evacuated.
6. Pack a small emergency kit
Some people will skip this step assuming that their hotel, homestay or hostel will have an up to date and complete medical kit on hand. I’m telling you that you would be SHOCKED at how many establishments don’t even have a first aid kit, let alone one that hasn’t expired or is missing crucial items.
You don’t have to travel with something massive, just bring a small first aid kit that has all the basics. You’ll want to ensure this step isn’t missed if you’re going to be doing outdoor adventure activities, specifically in remote areas.
7. Get the appropriate vaccines
Depending on your destination, medical history and planned activities, you might want to get certain vaccines when traveling abroad. Check with your doctor or travel health clinic to see what vaccines they recommend for your trip.
I’m tempted to throw a personal opinion in here and I can’t seem to hold myself back, so here we go: To date I have not gotten any vaccines because I haven’t been going to places (that in my opinion) where they are needed. Let me use Bali as an example. I have had a friend go to their doctor who recommended 4 to 5 different shots, all totalling over $1400 for their trip to Bali. In my (uneducated and stubborn) opinion, this was overkill. Her only intention was to stay at her 5-star hotel in Bali, shop for souvenirs and have a few spa days. It’s not like she was heading out to the depths of the jungle to trek for 3 weeks.
Do your own research in conjunction with the advice from health care professionals and come to your own conclusion about travel vaccines. Would I get them to go into the African jungle? You bet! To head to a resort in Mexico? No way.
8. Turn on 2-step verification
You are likely going to be using wifi at hotels, airports, restaurants and other unfamiliar places. Because of this, you might want to turn on two-step verification to important logins like facebook, your banking, etc. This way, if any of your login credentials are compromised, a ‘2nd step’ is sent to you, usually by text message or email, so you can verify it’s really you trying to log in. Only do this if you are going to have the ability to receive text messages while abroad.
9. Leave an itinerary
If you are traveling for an extended amount of time, or through places where you will not have internet access, leave a copy of your itinerary with someone who isn’t on the trip with you. Anything can happen. If there was a natural disaster, a coup, or if you drop off the map for longer than expected, you can still be tracked down and found based on your travel plans.
10. Let your bank know your plans
This one is a dying tip because banks are getting super savvy with their customer behaviour algorithms and start to learn your travel patterns. My husband’s bank on the other hand seems to still be using clay tablets because his cards get flagged nonstop when we travel.
To cover your bases, let your bank know which countries you will be in, and when, so they don’t flag your account while you’re abroad.
11. Get an RFID blocking bag or wallet
Does your credit or debit card have that little chip with the ‘tap’ feature? Pretty convenient, right? Turns out, it’s super convenient for scam artists too. They simply get within a few inches of you with a hidden RFID reader, and you just had your card compromised. This usually happens in crowded places like airports, shopping malls, conference rooms and sporting events. If your bag or wallet has a built in RFID blocker, these arseholes can’t get one bit of your information.I have been using my trusty Arden Cove anti-theft bag for 2 years now with no issues!
12. Join expat groups on FB
Expat groups are all the rage on Facebook. Not only is this a great way to learn more about your destination before you go, but it helps you meet new people who are already well versed in that particular city. I love joining expat groups and searching for common questions and insider info about the destination. If anything is going down (like natural disasters, crime, or emergencies) they are very fast at posting about it and giving each other up to date info.
Just search “(city name) expats” in Facebook’s search bar and filter by groups. You should be able to find one in almost every city in the world!
13. Get travel insurance 100% without a doubt
If I had to put one tip above all the others, it’s this one. GET TRAVEL INSURANCE.
DO NOT LEAVE HOME WITHOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE.
My friend recently wrote a guest post on our site about how she almost got stuck a $300,000 hospital bill during a trip to France. She and her husband were in a horrible car accident that resulted in needing to be air-lifted and required may surgeries. The total bill was over $300,000, which would have crippled them financially, if it hadn’t been for their travel insurance. The benefits kicked in instantly giving them the freedom to recover instead of being trapped by bills they wouldn’t have been able to pay.
If you have enough money to go on a trip, you have enough to buy insurance. Please, do not skip this crucial step. It’s just not worth the risk.
I have a TD Infinite Privilege Visa that gives me 22 days of full travel insurance coverage. If my trip is over 22 days, I top it up with either World Nomads or Safety Wing travel insurance.
World Nomads is better to get if you are doing any outdoor sports like skiing, hiking and scuba diving, but it comes with a higher price tag. Safety Wing is seriously affordable, but has lower coverage amounts to match. Depending on what kind of activities I am doing, I will pick between those 2 providers.
Safety Tips For Travel
Stay Safe DURING Your Trip
14. Always use the safe
I never used to use the hotel safe, until my brand new GoPro was stolen from my room at a very reputable hotel in London. The hotel will not take any responsibility for items left outside the safe, so I found myself SOL.
Now I always always always use the safe.
15. Be aware of your surroundings
The vibe of a room, the body language of others and many other non-verbal cues will usually tell the full story of what’s going on at any given time. Be very aware of your surroundings when exploring a new area.
Take extra care when entering large crowds, if a fight or event suddenly breaks out, if emotions of the people around you become heightened, etc.
16. Don’t give strangers too much info
Meeting people on vacation is FUN, but don’t get in the habit of offering more info than needed. Yes, you will encounter many locals and new friends who simply want to know more about you, period. But there will also be scammers disguised as well-meaning locals who are collecting all the info they need to take advantage of you. Honestly, these types of scams are even run by other travelers and expats that seem just like you.
Don’t give out info like: the name of the exact hotel you are staying at, how long you are staying away from your hotel that day, or any other info that might compromise your personal safety. When in doubt, play dumb! Be unsure. Make it sound like your plans change on a dime.
17. Don’t wear expensive jewelry
Leave expensive and flashy jewelry behind.
Let me paint this picture for you: Imagine you are traveling to an extremely impoverished and politically unstable area with your massive engagement band on your finger. Your ring might be worth $25,000 which is the amount of money a local might only earn after a decade of hard labour. A desperate person with very hungry children at home notices the life-changing paycheck around your finger. What happens next?
Now, I am a firm believer that most people you will encounter are GOOD, but good people might feel extremely pressured to do bad things in the face of adversity. Just leave it behind.
Depending on the area I am travelling to, I will wear a smaller and more humble wedding band. Truth be told, wearing a small ring also helps me barter at markets. Why in the world would a local be willing to come down in price if they meet someone with diamonds hanging all over them?
18. Get savvy about food safety
Nothing sucks more than getting food poisoning while traveling. Sometimes it’s just going to happen, no matter how many precautions you take, but there are some things you can do to lower the risk.
Have clean drinking water. If you’re traveling to places like Canada, discard this advice and feel free to drink from the tap. However, in places like South East Asia, even using tap water to do something like brush your teeth can make you extremely ill. Always have safe, clean and trusted water to drink and brush your teeth with. A lot of the time, this means buying bottled water, which isn’t the best for the environment. You can carry around a re-usable or collapsible water bottle and re-fill it when you find a trusted source, like a restaurants reverse-osmosis system.
Eat where the locals eat. Locals have jobs and important things to do, just like you, so the last thing they want is food poisioning taking them away from work and family. Just like we do at home, locals will usually eat at the same places each day because they trust the food and it tastes good. Take this as a huge clue when trying to figure out where is safe when touring a unfamiliar city. If one restaurant is empty and the one next door is full, I will usually follow the herd.
Well done please. You might love a burger with lots of pink in the middle at home, but out traveling you may want to reconsider anything containing under-cooked meat. My husband always orders his burgers well-done, especially in Asia where it’s not their native-type cuisine. Overcooked and a little dry is a lot better then spending the next two days in the bathroom.
19. Do you know how to call 911?
Until I started traveling I had NO idea that other countries used a different dialing system for their emergency services line. I just figured that 911 was universal and worldwide! Not the case at all! Different countries all over the world have very different emergency numbers to call.
United Kingdom 999
New Zealand 111
20. Learn a few words of the language
Chances are you’ll be heading to a place where English is not the primary language. In this case, take some time to learn a few words in the native language of that country. You don’t need to get all Rosetta Stone, but get familiar with some basic phrases, like:
You can save a small list of words/phrases on your phone, or on a small card inside your wallet. Don’t just rely on Google Translate.
21. Use a decoy wallet
A decoy wallet is a 2nd wallet you will carry, in a very obvious place (like your back pocket) that will distract thieves from your real wallet, usually hidden on your person somewhere. In your decoy wallet you will keep a few cards (like AAA, library card, expired points card) and a few bucks. This way, if a thief demands your wallet, you can give this one over to them with no worries. Most thieves/pickpockets are in a big hurry, so once they have the wallet, they will just make off as quickly as possible, leaving you with your vital cards and cash.
We have a friend that had a decoy wallet stolen from him in Prague and was happy he’d prepared himself with one.
22. Walk with confidence
I do this ALL the time. When I am walking through a new area, especially if it’s getting dark or it’s somewhere that seems a bit sketchy, I walk with swagger and confidence. I don’t look around from side to side with big wide eyes like a lost little deer. I just fake it till I make it. Granted, I tend to miss out on seeing a few interesting things at times, but I swear it’s kept me from being a target.
Sometimes all you need is a little confidence to get you through an uncertain moment, as many scam artists are watching for that hopelessly out-of-place tourist.
23. Just say NO
Someone wants you to eat something weird? Go on a ride you’re not feeling psyched about? Trek into the jungle at night without a guide? Take some pills? To follow them down an alley where they have cheaper souvenirs than outfront? Loosen up and have fun when you just feel like heading to bed?
Just Say No.
Exercise your right to say no to anything you don’t want to do.
It’s your trip and your life.
24. Don’t use your back pocket
Get in the habit of using your front pocket, inside pocket, or hidden pockets for items like your phone or wallet. Putting something valuable in your back pocket is all too tempting (and easy!) for your run of the mill thief.
25. Easy on the booze
I’m lucky that I travel most of the time with my husband, who is 100% sober, but it wasn’t always that way. I have found myself in some pretty sketchy situations when I was younger because of drinking WAY too much than I should have.
So many stories of scams, assaults, fights, robberies, accidents and other dangerous situations happen when there is alcohol present. When you drink while travelling, even if it’s just a few, you have less awareness of what is going on around you. And guess what, scam artists KNOW this and make drinkers a target for precisely this reason. They watch for people not paying attention, stumbling about, or worse – they look for an opportunity to spike your drink.
Of course you want to have fun, but remember to go easy on the booze, especially if you are traveling solo.
26. Mind your geo-tags
This travel safety tip is especially important for solo female travelers – watch your Instagram geo-tags. I get it, we all want to post our vacation pics to the gram, but maybe chill on the location tags in real time.
For example, let’s say you took a cute pic at the hotel you’re staying at in Thailand and you want to post it right away. When it comes to adding the Geo-tag, maybe just tag it as “Bangkok, Thailand” for now instead of “Oriental Heritage Residence Hotel”. You don’t need strangers to know the exact hotel you are staying at while you are still there….alone.
After you check out, change the tag from the vague city tag to the hotel location tag! Or better yet, save the pic for a few days and post it later. Same thing goes with Instagram stories.
Go easy on giving out exact locations in real time.
27. Wear your helmet & have the right licence
In many developing countries around the world, scooters and motorbikes are the main form of transportation. I mean, how much fun is it to rent a scooter for $5 a day and drive it through the rice fields of Bali? BUT, there are way too many tourists that aren’t used to the local driving laws and end up in major accidents. Where it gets heartbreaking is when they thought they were too cool to wear a helmet. Or they didn’t have the proper licence to drive and now their insurance won’t cover them.
If you are going to rent a motorbike or scooter, wear your dang helmet! 100% of the time. Also ensure you have the proper licence to operate whatever type of bike you end up renting to ensure your insurance WILL cover you.
28. Be careful taking pictures of locals without permission, especially children
I had never really thought about this until I started actively taking more pictures as I toured through developing countries. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks… wakeup call… not everyone wants to have their picture taken! It’s not a right and most definitely a privilege to be able to photograph locals in their communities, so get permission before you get all shutter happy.
This is especially true with children. Last year, a fellow travel blogger found himself in hot water in Chad for taking a photo of a young boy he was on a bus with. For some reason situation escalated out of control when the driver pulled over and started to assault the blogger and threaten his life.
Don’t be so scared to take photos that you come home with an empty memory card, but just be very aware of over-stepping your boundaries. A great way to quickly ask someone, no matter what language they speak is to point at your camera, then at them, smile, and nod. People will either smile back in agreement, or put their hands up to dismiss you.
29. Seperate small and large bills
I do this religiously where I am in Vietnam and it works so well. I have one inside (kind of hidden) pocket in my purse for large bills and I keep the smaller ones in an outside pocket with easy access.
When I am negotiating at the market or store, I can feel free to open up the outside pocket and flip through the tiny bills without fear. The last thing I want a shop keeper to see is a stack of large bills as I am haggling over the last dollar. I always want to look like I have less money than I do.
It also helps me keep foreign currency in check by forcing me to slow down. It’s SO easy to mistake a 500,000 VND bill ($21 USD) for a 20,000 VND bill ($0.86 USD), but if have them in separate pockets, I am way less likely to mix them up.
30. Stay hydrated
Seems like something so small and trivial, but it will have the biggest impact on your safety and health. It’s so easy to get distracted or caught up in a busy day of travel and forget to drink enough water – we’ve all been there.
In a recent article about beating dehydration the Washington Post said:
“A lack of sufficient fluid in the body can temporarily cause confusion and put you at risk for falls. When severe, dehydration can lead to a rapid or irregular heart rate, low blood pressure, fainting and even death.”
Most of us will experience minor dehydration on travel days, especially with flying, so get control of it before it gets out of control. Drink water every chance you get! Carry a reusable or collapsable water bottle for extra eco brownie-points.
Staying hydrated can also help defend you from the cold/flu, which is a HUGE inconvenience while traveling.
Read More: How To Avoid Catching a Cold on a Flight
31. Buckle up
It’s weird, when we are in our own cars, most of us ALWAYS fasten our seatbelts, but for some reason when we travel we act differently. How many times have you gotten in an Uber or Taxi and not buckled up? I know I have in the past!
After seeing some brutal car accidents on the road, I now make sure I wear my seatbelt every time I get into a cab. If the cab or Uber doesn’t have a seatbelt, I will literally get out and hail another one. Aint nobody got time for that!
Same goes with on a plane. I will wear my seatbelt during the entire flight! Turbulence can come out of nowhere, and while it’s 99.9999999999% safe, it can throw you around the cabin in an instant.
32. Only use trusted, metered taxis
On the topic of Taxi’s, be sure you are getting in a trusted and metered taxi and not some un-metred rip off cab. For example, in Bali there are metred taxi’s called Blue Bird that everyone loves. They are clean, safe, cheap and metred. Since their popularity has grown, other (more shady) cabs are painting their cars blue and calling themselves things like ‘Blue Biro’ to try and trick tourists. The Blue Biro taxis are not metred and will usually have the driver asking for up to 10x’s the fare! Brutal!
Do a quick google search or look on a Trip Advisor forum to find out which companies are the most popular/trusted in the area you will be staying. When getting into the cab, check that it IS metred.
33. Triple check your Uber
If taxi’s aren’t your thing and you like to use Ride Sharing like Uber, Lyft or Grab, there are still a few tips to ensure you have a safe ride.
- First, double check that the licence plate of the car that pulls up matches the licence plate given to you in the app
- Second, take a look at the driver to make sure he/she looks like who is supposed to be picking you up
- Third, NEVER give them YOUR name upfront. I admit I have gotten into Ubers before while in a major rush and forgot to match the licence plate. I just said “Are you picking up Kashlee??”. Big mistake. Let’s say this wasn’t my Uber and the driver was a horrible person with ill intents. Of course they will say, “Yep, that’s right, Kashlee”. As I write this article (April 2019), another case of this exact scenario happened in the USA, with the female passenger killed by getting into the wrong Uber.
34. Check for hidden cameras
Yes, these are a thing. Both hotels and AirBnB’s have been under hot water about guests finding hidden cameras inside the rooms, pointed at the bed or inside the actual bathrooms. Hidden cameras in sensitive areas like bedrooms and bathrooms are 100% illegal, but that has not stopped them from showing up inside even reputable properties.
We wrote an entire guide on how to find hidden cameras in a hotel/rental and what to do if you discover one.
35. Inspect for bedbugs
When checking into your hotel room, the very first thing you should do is check the mattress for bed bugs. It’s a 3 minute habit that will save you months of hell trying to get rid of these painful and stubborn critters. Roll your bags into the bathroom (so they are on tile floor and not carpet) and take a good look at the bed. Check the sheets, under the mattress pad, and in the corners/fold of the mattress itself. If you find any bed bugs, fresh blood stains, or many small brown dots that look like collected excrement, LEAVE THE ROOM immediately. Head down to front desk and ask to be changed to a new room, or better yet, a new hotel.
There are a few other general cleanliness and safety things to check for. Read More: 10 Things Every Traveler Should Check In Their Hotel Rooms
36. Keep the door locked when your inside
A good rule of thumb when staying in a rental or even a hotel, is to keep the door locked when you are inside. Particularily in AirBnB’s you have no way of knowing who the past guest was, what activities they were into and who they met on their trip. Someone could come by the house and try to enter because they think their friend is still staying there, or for more dangerous reasons.
A lot of people only thing to lock the door when they are leaving for a while, but I believe it’s equally important when you’re inside as well.
37. Pile on the sunscreen and bug spray
If your vacation is bringing you to a tropical climate, you’ll be experiencing UV rays, heat, sun and bugs that you’re not used to back home.
For the sun, you don’t want to give yourself painful burns and increase the chances of skin cancer, so wear SPF every single day, even when you think you don’t need it.
Same thing goes for bug spray. Zika, Dengue fever, and malaria are all very real nightmares that can happen from mosquito bites. Don’t take the chance and wear it every single day.
38. Know where the emergency exits are
It will take you 10 seconds to take note of where the emergency exits are on a bus, plane, mall, conference room, or hotel lobby. Just like you already scan your surrounding for other things (chiefly Starbucks), just add in exits for things to watch out for.
In a panic, you lose the ability to think clearly, unless you are already familiar with what you’re looking for. Knowing where the emergency exits are is kind of like buying insurance, you don’t need it until you do.
39. Blend in
This goes for both ladies and gents. Blending in is always a good thing. No, I’m not saying don’t be who you are, but know that with extra flare comes extra attention. Wearing skimpy clothing and incredibly flashy outfits will draw a big target on your back, no matter if that is your personal ‘norm’ or not. There have been many destinations I’ve traveled to where my husband had to remind me of this. While I might have thought a cute bright pink mini dress would have been appropriate on a summer day, we were in an area where that would have made me stand out in a very obvious way.
At home or in place you know well, being an individual is great, but save the “I’ll wear what I want” attitude for when you’re not exploring unknown countries.
40. After-dark rule
My husband Trevor and I have an after dark rule when we travel to a new place, meaning, we don’t go out after dark until we have our bearings in the area and until we have established that it is safe. We ask locals, consult guide books, and people watch to see what the other tourists do once the sun goes down. Some places (like in coastal Ecuador) we could go walking after dark in our town with no problem, but traveling by bus at night was a BIG no-no.
41. Trust your gut
If something feels wrong, it probably is. If you have a bad feeling about a person, a place or a particular situation, listen to that inner voice. We all have survival instincts that kick in when they sense something that could represent danger and it’s not worth putting those signals on silent.
When a spidey-sense kind of moment is happening, vocalize it to someone else in your group instead of holding it in. You might be on to something!
42. Make multiple stashes of cash
Bags get lost, wallets get stolen, people get separated. For this reason, never ever, EVER keep all your cash in one place. Make different stashes of local currency in your carry-on, checked bag, on your person, back at the hotel safe, etc. This way if your bag is snatched or you drunkenly make it rain all over a Las Vegas pool party, you have a backup reserve.
43. Don’t use outside ATM’s
If you find an ATM on the street that is open 24/7 with no security, don’t use it. Scammers can easily install card readers to these machines that can steal your information or expose your pin number. Try and use only inside ATM’s in reputable banks, hotels, and shopping centres.
Read More: How to keep your money safe while traveling
44. Use the cloud daily
Lost phones and damaged cameras happen all the time on the road. Whenever you are connected to Wi-Fi, get your precious photos into the cloud so you have duplicate copies. You can also back up videos and large files into a small external hard drive, but if your whole bag gets lost you’re out all those memories.
I have an iCloud subscription that allows me to upload all my pics from the day once I am connected to hotel WiFi. I love doing daily backups!
45. Don’t do secure things on unsecured Wi-Fi
There are few things in life that feel better than finding open, fast and free Wi-Fi when I’m on the road! However, some of those connections are super sketchy, so I don’t do shopping, banking, or any other secure action on them. If the Wi-Fi does not require a password, don’t do anything on it that could compromise your personal info.
Read More: How to keep your info safe on public wifi
DON’T OVERDO IT
Huge disclaimer here: If you let all of the above safety tips consume your mind, you will only have a trip full of paranoia and stress. While it’s good to be prepared and educated, you also have to go with the flow and let the adventure unfold in-front of you.
Have fun on your trip, get out of your comfort zone, take changes and grow as an individual!
Read More: How To Overcome Pre-Travel Anxiety
If you have any travel safety tips to add, we would love to hear them!
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Friday 19th of April 2019
Walking with confidence is my must kind of behaviour. I am trying to make sure that others see me like a strong person. About not taking pictures of locals, I really don't like when tourists take pictures of local kids without any problems, I think it is really disrespectful.