Is your safety while traveling your biggest concern? It should be. You’re in a new environment and need to get used to new norms and cultural habits, especially when you’re visiting a destination a lot different than your home.
Safety is your top priority. You might not realize it at home because you routinely do many things and don’t think about them much. But when you travel to a new country, the environment and rules are unfamiliar. It might be a bit stressful when such a simple thing as crossing the road becomes a difficult task. And in some countries, it’s a very difficult task.
You will need to closely observe your surroundings. It takes time to figure out new rules and get used to the new culture. And day after day it will become easier.
Luckily there is something you can do before you depart to ease the nerves and travel stress-free.
This article will help you prepare for any issues you might encounter. It’s divided into 2 sections:
- How to prepare before you travel – documents & vaccinations
- How to stay safe while traveling – personal safety, protecting your belongings & insurance
How to prepare before you travel – documents & vaccinations
When you travel abroad, some countries require travelers to obtain visas. In some cases you need to apply months or weeks in advance, in other cases border control will issue them once you arrive. To get most up to date information about your destination visa requirements go to iVisa.
Have copies of documents
Some countries can issue their citizens more than one passport but most of them don’t. That’s why it’s better to make photocopies (or photos on your phone) of your travel documents and carry them separately from the originals. When you lose or someone steals the originals, it will be easier to obtain new documents through your embassy.
Tip: When going out, carry only copies with you and keep originals safe at your accommodation. Only carry an original passport when it’s required (when visiting Machu Picchu, for example).
Read travel warnings
Each country’s ministry of foreign affairs (or department of state) issues travel warnings. It is good to use your common sense when you read them. In many cases, your government suggests you not to travel to a country, which might have less crime rate than the average city in your home country.
It’s smart to follow them when you want to travel to a country with current war zone warning but it’s also good to find information from different sources such as other travelers. Make decisions based on your level of fear and experiences. You can reach out to locals through Couchsurfing group or Facebook travel groups (such as Backpacking South America, Backpacking South East Asia, etc.), it will give you a better idea about the situation in the country.
Check required vaccination
Call your travel clinic or pharmacy 90 to 60 days before you travel for required and suggested vaccination. If the vaccination is required, before you step foot into a new country, border control officials may ask for a proof of being vaccinated. You might be revoked entrance if you do not provide them with the proof. It is essential to check this requirement before you travel.
For example, you might be revoked an entrance to Colombia and many other countries of South America if you haven’t had a yellow fever vaccine.
Some vaccinations are rather just a suggestion. Make your research how common the disease is in the country you are traveling to, how effective the vaccine is and for how long. We didn’t bother with diarrhea vaccine because it’s not 100% effective, lasts only a few months and is very expensive. And if we got diarrhea, it would be cheaper and more effective to buy medicine in that particular country – domestic medicine for domestic illness.
Listen to the recommendations of your pharmacist and keep in mind that most vaccines require time to take effect or require more than 1 shot.
Before we left for our trip around the world, we got hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, typhoid, and tetanus. It was around 400USD per person.
Proof of onward travel
In many countries of Central America, South America and Asia, travelers are required to have a valid ticket for transportation (bus, train or plane) out of the country you wish to enter. This is easy to provide for short-term travelers who already have their flights booked but it can be very tricky for long-term travelers as they plans are open and not everything is scheduled.
We learned the hard way. First time when we came to Costa Rica we had to buy a bus ticket for 25$ to get out from Costa Rica that we’ve never used. We knew about the requirement beforehand but since our plans weren’t set in stone, we just had to buy the cheapest option out of the country.
Later when we flew to Venezuela, the airline staff didn’t want to let us board the plane before we show them proof of onward travel. We spend 1000$ on (what supposed to be)refundable flight tickets. Nine months later and we’re still fighting to get our money back. Avior must be the worst airline ever.
There are several solutions:
- Buy the cheapest option out of the country as close to your planned departure date as possible (or an open ticket if possible)and you might end up using it or losing little money
- Buy more expensive refundable fare and once you cross the border, return your ticket
- Find information about outgoing flights and modify any flight confirmation that you used in the past in PDF. (This worked for us several times as officers usually don’t thoroughly check information if it is legit, but we cannot guarantee it)
- You can use a service called Onward travel of FlyOnward. You will basically rent an onward ticket for a small fee so you have a legit proof. We haven’t used this yet but many travelers we know did and say nothing but praises.
Don’t let the weather ruin your holiday
It is always good to know the weather & news before you go on your trip. Especially weather warnings. We would recommend to check it one month and one week before your departure date. There might have been a natural disaster in your destination. Check before you go so you can find an alternative.
We met travelers that came for one month to Peru just a few weeks after we left. As they arrived in Peru, major floods started across the country, many roads and houses were damaged. So they bought flights to Chile and spent their holiday in a nice weather instead.
Think outside the box.
How to stay safe during traveling – personal safety, protecting your belongings & insurance
You protect your property
You are the only person responsible for your belongings. You are the person who is making decisions where you put your bags and how you store them. Whenever you are, don’t give anybody an opportunity to take your things. It’s a very important mindset to have when you travel.
Keep valuables on your body
When you visit an unknown territory you can become an easy prey for thieves. All valuables such as passport or money keep either under your shirt in a pouch or in your backpack inside inner pocket close to your body. Never leave your valuables out of sight. If you need to put them away, put them in your bag or purse and tie it to the table at a restaurant or around a palm tree when visiting a beach.
Unlucky travelers we’ve met in Nicaragua lost their bag with an expensive camera because they left it on an empty beach and went for a swim.
Unless necessary never carry bigger amount of money
Try to use debit or credit cards when traveling. Most of the cards have protection against unauthorized use. You won’t suffer financially as if somebody took your cash. Your bank will help you get your money back if you see an unfamiliar transaction on your card.
Also, the conversion rate on cash exchanges is usually worse than on card transactions. On the other hand, when you travel to Venezuela you will get 10 times better exchange rate on the black market than official exchange rate, but that is a rare example.
Stash your money in many hidden places
Traveling abroad requires carrying some cash so you don’t have to worry about finding an ATM when you arrive. It’s smart to split the cash, keep one part in your wallet and other parts you can put inside your backpack inner pocket, another in your socks in the luggage or any other place.
We often hide our money where nobody can take them – under the insole of the shoes. We don’t walk around with money in the shoes and only use this technique when in transport.
Just remember where you put it and you minimize the risk of losing everything in case of an unexpected accident.
Don’t travel with the most expensive gear
You know that feeling when you spent a fortune on your new jacket and you want to take it everywhere with you. Especially when you want to look perfect on your holiday Instagram picture. But consider the economic situation of your destination and the activities you plan on doing – are you giving any chance to steal your stuff? Are you traveling to a place where people cannot afford much?
Make research about your destination new place
If google street view is available, use it to research area where you are traveling. It will help you to see how streets looks, your accommodation from outside and neighbourhood in general. It will make you less vulnerable to be approached by scammers when you get off the plane/bus.
Take care of your electronics
Don’t look like a shop window for pickpockets. You might be used to walk with the camera on your neck and GoPro and phone in your hands. This is a strong magnet for people living in countries where a 2 months wage is same as the price of your phone. Try to keep your electronics at a minimum. Or put it away when you don’t use it. It pays out.
Protect your data
Nowadays it is probably more important to protect your data than actual physical belongings. All material things can be somehow replaced, but if somebody steals your computer or phone, damage could be much more than 1000$ to replace your computer. Set up your passwords for all electronics and use cloud services to export important data and documents. More often than not your belongings are stolen for their physical value, not for data, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Consider using VPN for your computer or phone if you have vulnerable data in them. Especially as you will use public WIFI to connect to the internet.
Drinking while traveling
Know your limit of drinking of alcohol when visiting bars so you don’t lose your vigilance. Travelers who got robbed were usually too drunk, walking alone or didn’t remember how to get back to the hotel. If you’re going out at night, only take as much money as you will need, carry a copy of your passport and take a taxi back to your accommodation.
Lock up valuables
Leave most of your valuables in a hotel if possible. Hotels and hostels usually provide either lockers or safe for secure storage. When you stay in dorms or shared rooms, use them. Use your luggage or safe when staying in a private room or hotel. We encountered a few maids who went through our stuff but luckily nothing was stolen.
During our stay in Peru, one of the maids used our cell phone that stayed in the room and we had to pay the phone bill. We found out about it three weeks after when the bill arrived. Luckily, it was just a short call.
Talk about safety with trustworthy locals
Get information from locals. Either on reception of your hotel or hostel. They will have the most relevant information for you – where not to go and what you should be particularly aware of. Keep in mind that you cannot trust everybody. When we are on the road, we also use Airbnb where people host you in their homes and these locals are trustworthy enough.
Download up-to-date navigation and dictionary to your cell phone. There are so many combinations of translators, you will definitely find one you need in your android market or app store, most of them work offline. For navigation, you can download a map of the area from google maps and then use it offline or download a GPS.
We use the free version of SYGIC maps on the phone. Once you download it with any maps of countries you need, it’s very easy to use. It turned out to be more reliable than google maps.
Buy health insurance and read the insurance policy carefully
Always travel with health insurance! Even small accident abroad can cost a lot of money. As an example, if you get sick and need to visit a doctor, your bill can be either 20USD or 200USD. Also, make sure you read the policy carefully; many travel insurance companies won’t cover the most common theft – when they rob you on the street or in the transport.
We got robbed on a bus in Guatemala and were quite shocked that this is not covered. We knew robberies on the bus are common and were very vigilant, but it happened anyway.
Based on our experience and experience of many smart travelers, we recommend:
- for US citizens & Canadians – use World Nomads
- citizens of European Union – for any traveler, use True Traveler, it offers best rates and best customer service
Find out if you have personal belongings insurance
If you already have household insurance or tenant insurance, it may cover some of your belongings in case it gets damaged, lost or stolen while traveling. These insurance policies usually provide better coverage in case something happens to your belongings. Most of the travel insurance policies provide some coverage but that is limited to usually 500USD per item (also refer to terms and conditions that in most cases your belongings are not covered).
We had a bad experience with our insurance provider World Nomads. We bought a tent and within one month when we were camping in Patagonia, mice bit through and made almost 40 holes in the tent. We claimed the damage and expected at least some coverage. Unfortunately, the policy states these cases are not covered. Lucky us – we bought the tent on our credit card and the credit card insurance covered the loss.
I sincerely hope these tips will help you plan your next adventure. Enjoy it to the fullest!
Safe travels and read more:
Do you have any questions regarding safety we haven’t covered? Let us know in the comments below.
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