If you’re going away on a big trip, one of the greatest fears (for your parents if not yourself) is how safe you’re going to be. Unfortunately, you can never guarantee that everything will run smoothly. Muggers strike in unexpected areas; buses crash and earthquakes are largely unpredictable. But the chances of misfortune striking you are greatly reduced if you take a few simple precautions and apply common sense. Here’s a ten-step plan for cutting the risks.
Get comprehensive travel insurance
It’s all too tempting to see travel insurance as an unnecessary extra. But if anything goes wrong, it’ll cost you far more than the £80 or £90 you spend for fully comprehensive annual worldwide cover. The key things to look at are whether you’re covered for any dangerous activities you might try out whilst away (such as diving or climbing) and whether repatriation is included. This is for if you fall ill abroad and need to be flown back home – without insurance, the bill can come to hundreds of thousands of pounds. You should also check whether the value of what you’ve packed (especially expensive electronic gear) is covered if stolen and the excess you need to pay on any claim. roundtheworldairfares.com have a decent RTW policy here
Back up important documents
Make copies of important documents, such as your passport photo page, insurance policy and any visas. Then keep one copy somewhere safe in your bag, give another to someone you trust back home, and e-mail a version to yourself with a non-obvious name (ie. Give it the subject header ‘Bruce Forsyth’s False Teeth’ rather than ‘Copy of Passport’). The same applies to any bank and credit card cancellation numbers – write down the lost and stolen card hotline number so that you can call quickly if yours goes missing.
Double up on bank accounts
If you go away with just one card, you’re in trouble if that card goes missing or suddenly stops working. If you’ve two bank cards, it doesn’t matter quite so much if one is eaten by the machine – it’s a nuisance rather than a nightmare. It’s also an idea to have at least one credit card to pay for big things (flights, tours etc) on as this gives you extra consumer protection if there’s a problem. Having at least three different cards (some debit, at least one credit) is usually a good idea – and Visa or Mastercard are the most accepted.
Keep some emergency dollars and euros
In most places, you can take money straight out of the cash machine with a card. The era of needing to carry vast swathes of foreign currency and travelers cheques is over. However, if your cards stop working or you end up in a cash-only part of the world, an emergency supply will come in handy. It’s always worth having a couple of hundred pounds worth of US dollars and euros (the two currencies that are easiest to change/ use instead of the local currency).
Spread your cash and cards around
A common form of travel idiocy is to take all these precautions and then keep everything in the same place. It doesn’t matter how secure the special compartment of the bag that you keep your passport, cards and cash in is if said bag gets nicked. The valuable stuff is best spread around in three or four separate places if possible – your wallet, a couple of different parts of your backpack, your day bag, a zipped jacket pocket etc. With this in mind, it’s often worth investing in a couple of shirts that have passport-sized, zippable secure pockets. Things kept in open trouser pockets are often easy prey for pick-pockets, but they’d have to be extraordinarily talented to nick a card and a passport from a zipped shirt pocket.
Take a dummy wallet
If you're going out for the evening then take an old wallet with some old currency or some dollar bills and old credit cards (or old ATM cards). That way if you do get mugged you can hand that over (Tip courtesy of Murray Harrold)
Drugs - just say no
Really say no. If you get caught with a bag of drugs in Singapore you can get the death penalty. The same for heaps of other countries. My best advice is to watch Midnight Express before you go. A lot of prisons in countries you will be visiting make that particular prison look 5*. The high really isn't worth it. (Tip courtesy of Murray Harrold)
If you don’t want to lose it, don’t take it
Anything with extraordinary sentimental value (jewellery etc) is probably best left at home. The longer you spend away, the more chance you have got of losing something – and life on the road doesn’t exactly lend itself to keeping things in pristine condition. Any ‘best’ clothes you’re foolish enough to take with you almost certainly won’t be ‘best’ by the time you get back home. The same applies to day trips and jaunts to the beach. If you’re going to spend the whole day paranoid about losing your laptop or iPod, why bring it with you? Keep it somewhere secure in your hotel/ hostel.
Apply common sense
The dangers of some parts of the world – cities in particular – are often vastly overplayed. Often it’s a case of applying a bit of common sense as you would in any other major city. If you’d not walk through a slightly iffy part of London draped in jewellery and yabbering into an iPhone, then why be stupid enough to attempt it in an iffy part of Johannesburg, Los Angeles or Rio De Janeiro? If somewhere doesn’t feel safe, then take suitable precautions – stick to the main streets, don’t flaunt your wealth and avoid walking there after dark. The common same rules apply pretty much globally.
Listen to local advice
Almost every city in the world has some dicey areas. It’s part of what being a city’s about. How dicey they actually are varies – some can be genuine no go zones, others are probably going to be fine if you apply the common sense approach. Guide books can give you a decent idea of which is which (and they tend not to be overhysterical about it), but it’s a good idea to get local advice from a few sources and then make your own assessment. The best people to advise you are the people who actually visit the area on a regular basis (such as tour guides and taxi drivers) – not a paranoid old uncle who lives in a guarded compound in a posh suburb and doesn’t go anywhere near the rough areas because he’s heard you’ll instantly get stabbed.
Try and work out where you’re going first
Few things mark you out as a target more than standing on a street corner and unfolding a big map. And thus it’s best to work out which direction you’re walking in before you start walking. Take a look at the map on the bus or train, perhaps while you’re in the bar, restaurant or hotel and figure out your route in advance. It’ll stop you looking lost and – more importantly – give you that sense that you know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
Safety in numbers
You can’t guarantee everything with simple mathematical equations, but the simple fact of the matter is that Johnny Mugger is more likely to take on a lone tourist than a group of four. If you are going out somewhere that’s not exactly a quaint Cotswolds village, then teaming up with a fellow traveller or two is rarely a bad plan.