Staying Safe on the Road

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Safety concerns are among the biggest hurdles for new travelers to overcome, but as you venture out into the world, you’ll find that staying safe abroad is not much different than staying safe at home. A few common sense measures will keep you free and clear from pickpockets, tourist scams, and other unsavory situations.

Keep informed

Most guidebooks will have a section on safety measures, and these are well worth reading, but for even more specific, up-to-date information, you should consult a variety of resources. Online forums like Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree have loads of country-specific information where you can find tips on avoiding scam artists and realistic appraisals of a region’s safety. The U.S. State Department regularly issues safety warnings in the event of political unrest, disease outbreaks, or severe weather conditions, and offers an e-newsletter for new travel alerts. Checking the safety warnings of the U.K. or Australia can also be useful, as you may not find the same warnings on all three lists.

Blend in

Thieves and scam artists tend to target the easiest marks they can find, and the more you stand out as a tourist, the more at risk you are. Wear neutral colors and be sensitive to conservative cultures, which may expect clothing with more coverage, especially for women. Avoid flashy jewelry or other expensive accessories. Stay aware of your surroundings, walk with confidence, and only take out your camera, smartphone, or map – the international symbols of rich tourists – if you really need it.

Deter opportunistic crime

There’s not much you can do to stop a determined thief, but there’s plenty that will deter an opportunistic one. Keep your wallet in your front pocket instead of your back, or carry a cross-body purse instead of a shoulder bag. Don’t keep all your money in one place, and save digital copies of all your important travel documents and emergency contact numbers. If you’re carrying a backpack, make sure it has lockable zippers, and whatever you’re toting around the world, a small TSA-approved lock never hurts. Staying aware of your belongings is key to keeping them safe, and taking a second look at any place you’re leaving – be it your hotel room, a taxi, or a café – to make sure you’re not accidentally leaving anything behind could save your skin.

Be friendly – but not too friendly

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Learning a few key phrases of the local language and treating every taxi driver, hotel concierge, and waiter with respect will earn you kind treatment in return. Stay open-minded in regards to cultural differences. Refusing to speak anything but English or loudly insisting that your country does everything better can provoke an aggressive reaction. Most of your encounters will probably be with good, interesting people. But be wary of anyone who gets too close, too quickly. Many tourist scams involve creating a distraction and rapidly escalating physical contact. If you’re targeted by unwanted attention, be firm in saying no and keeping prying hands away from your wallet.

Most importantly, know the difference between caution and paranoia. Being prepared for the worst isn’t the same as expecting it, and staying safe isn’t the same as staying scared. The same common sense precautions you use at home, like remaining aware of your surroundings and double checking that your phone is in your pocket, are typically all you need to stay safe on the road.