A huge point of anxiety for first time and solo travelers is safety. It’s understandable and bad things definitely can happen. Areas that see a lot of tourism also usually see high amounts of pickpocketing and other scams. So instead of taking major cities off your list, so I’ve compiled a couple ideas to help you avoid being a target of robbery (or something worse).
I’ve been all over, mainly by myself and have emerged relatively unscathed. Here are some practices that I’ve used to travel solo safely.
Blend in: It might seem impossible, especially in a country where you are not part of the main ethnic group. However, if you’re in a major city almost anywhere in the world, it’s very likely there is some diversity. If you look like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going it’s less likely you’ll be bothered.
Some research before embarking on your trip will also be really helpful. Learn about the climate and culture so you know how to dress appropriately. It’s a common misconception that all Americans are rich, so try to avoid looking like the stereotypical American tourist with overly casual clothing, fanny pack or backpack worn around the front, baseball cap, etc. You wouldn’t think I’d need to mention this because the internet exists and everyone should be aware of this stereotype. However, I saw tourists dressed like this throughout Europe.
Download maps and directions to your device before you wander out of the bounds of cell service if you don’t have an international plan. You might also want to go analog and carry a notebook with information and directions if you’re in a place where tech will make you a target, or just as a backup if your battery dies. Knowing a word or two of the language will also help– even just to say excuse me and thank you when interacting with people goes a long way.
Protect your important things: You’re probably going to be carrying important things with you while you travel. Think passports, cards, cash, tech– when you need to travel outside of the airport you’ll need to keep them safe. Whether you’re taking trains or buses, you’re probably going to be traveling around with lots of other people. Statistically, it’s likely that one of those people might not be nice.
Trans-European trains are a great way to travel, but long train rides can lead to naps and an overall reduction in vigilance. I like to keep my tech (like tablets) packed away in my bag for the whole ride. For entertainment, I prefer sticking to a paperback (when I finish it, I like to leave it in a station for another bored traveler). If you do want to use your smartphone or tablet on trains (many do have wifi after all) put it in a crappy looking case. A brand new case will make it look like you have the shiniest newest piece of tech. If I was going to rob somebody, I’d probably pick the newest and cleanest looking item. So if your case looks like it’s gone through a war, it will be less of a target.
I also like clothes with secrets. Especially in cold weather when I’m wearing a jacket, I like to wear a jogging wallet on my arm. That’s where I keep most of my cards and cash instead of in a purse. I’ve had one for a couple years, this one on Amazon is pretty similar to the one I use. For things like your passport, I also like to stash that as well because it’s a huge pain to lose one while traveling. Clever Travel Companion makes some shorts and shirts with hidden pockets that actually lay pretty flat against the body. I have the tank top version. I make sure that I wear it under another blouse or sweater though, because a tiny zipper on your stomach doesn’t really help with the blending in.
Stay alert: The one time I got scammed was in Rome. I handed a couple bills to a cabbie and he told me that I shorted him. I made the mistake of not being alert and paying attention. I knew I handed him a 50 euro note, but he swapped it with a 10 and made me pay him twice. If I had made eye contact and said, “Here’s 50,” he wouldn’t have done that. I was frazzled and running late to the airport, so it was the perfect situation for him to take advantage.
The lesson is that you have to keep your wits about you. I’ve never been pickpocketed probably because I’m a bit paranoid about people being to close to me. And because evidently I hide all of my stuff in secret pockets. Cross body bags are also your friend. Keep them zipped and in front of you. In certain countries, backpacks will work, but not your old Jansport, more “business” backpacks have come into fashion in recent years for urban workers.
Trust your gut: This sounds like ridiculous advice, but it’s true. If an alley looks dark, don’t go down it. If someone seems sketchy, get away from them. Don’t worry about being awkward or rude in this situation. Better awkward than dead. And if you are traveling alone, it’s best not to admit it. If someone asks, you’re going to meet your friend/significant other/colleague. Just let them know that you are accountable to someone and it will be noticed if you don’t show up.
And I know that we travel to have new experiences, but don’t let your reason go out the window. If you wouldn’t hang out in the club district until dawn at home, you’re probably not going to want to do that in another country either. And while enjoying new wines and beer is also a great part of travel, getting black-out drunk among a bunch of strangers isn’t great.
Prepare for the worst: Stuff happens even when you take precautions. Make sure you don’t have all your cash and cards in one place in case you do get pickpocketed. Some travelers I know will also carry a fake wallet with a few low denomination bills and a library card in case they get robbed.
Smaller setbacks are also bound to happen, especially transportation based ones. Make sure you have plan to get home if you miss the last train or bus. Know your options and stay vigilant with taxis.
Worrying about safety shouldn’t keep you from traveling, but taking a few precautionary measures will help keep you from attracting trouble along the way.
What about my other seasoned travelers? What are some of your favorite ways of deterring pickpockets and such while traveling?
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