Four Practical Tips To Keep Yourself Safe While Traveling

If you have been following the news lately, you may have noticed that there have been several high profile cases in Morocco, New Zealand, and Australia that involved violent crimes against people visiting from out of country. While crime is certainly a concern while traveling, there are also the issues of civil unrest and natural disasters that should be considerations when it comes to your personal security while traveling. Read on for some practical advice on things you can do while traveling to help keep yourself safe!

Stay Informed

One of the easiest things you can do to help keep yourself safe is to familiarize yourself with the destination(s) you are traveling to. The best resource for finding this information is certainly the Department Of State’s travel advisory section on its website. The State Department puts a great deal of time and effort into analyzing all facets of what goes on inside all the other countries out there and their advisories and crime reports are a great resource for giving you a general idea of the issues and areas to avoid in the destination you will be traveling to. While reading up on the advisories though, don’t let them dissuade you from traveling to a place just based off what they may note in the report. Although many of them may make some countries sound like you will be robbed as soon as you step off your plane, what they are really doing is simply noting everything that may be occurring in a certain section of the country and they are in no way all encompassing. For instance, if you look at Australia’s travel advisories for the United States it mentions the high rate of violent crime and crimes committed with firearms, and although there is a high instance of shootings in the country as a whole, this obviously varies from state to state and city to city.

Lowepro bag we use to keep our camera gear safe and secure. The camera zipper actually sites on the side that rest against your back! Hidden compartment.

Lowepro bag we use to keep our camera gear safe and secure. The camera zipper actually sites on the side that rest against your back! Hidden compartment.

Hone your situational awareness

If there is one intangible skill that I am very thankful that my time in the Army bestowed on me, it is the ability to analyze my surroundings and make informed decisions about what is taking place in that space. Both of us refer to this as our “spidey sense” - better known as situational awareness. This is one of your best tools for keeping yourself safe while traveling, but is also one of the hardest to teach yourself. If you are confused by the concept, ask yourself if there was ever an occasion where a situation or a person just felt…off. This is your gut instinct telling you something may not be right, and many people tend to dismiss that feeling as unnecessary paranoia. Certainly, there are times where that feeling can cross into the territory of paranoia but most of the time, these feelings are ones to pay attention to. The hard part of fostering this ability is that you have to truly be invested in your surroundings and not focusing on your phone, guidebook, map or anything else. It involves knowing what is “normal” compared to what may be abnormal. The best way to teach yourself is to practice at home, where you have the best idea of what is normal and can train yourself to see when things are “out of place” so to speak. With time, you will find that it comes much easier, and once you can recognize unsafe situations you can take the precautions to both remove yourself and avoid them altogether.

Black Rapid Camera strap we use for our camera to keep tethered to our bodies.

Black Rapid Camera strap we use for our camera to keep tethered to our bodies.

Don’t present a target

Another phrase that I live by from my army days came from one of my drill sergeants while I was going through basic combat training. As we were being put through an intense “corrective physical training” session caused by someone’s wall locker not being secured with the required padlock, he told us “there are no such thing as thieves, only opportunists” and truer words I have never heard. Flash forward roughly four years to when I was deployed to Kosovo and the Red Sox were playing the world series in 2007. I typically always locked my wall locker but during the game we had many more people than normal in our room and I had left my iPod out, thinking that I could trust everyone there. Well wouldn’t you know it but at some point during the game, someone swiped my iPod! The moral of this long-winded story is of course to never trust a thief not to take something you make an easy target. Had I locked up my valuables like I normally did, it never would have been taken. This goes the same for everyone else while traveling. Walking around with expensive cameras, jewelry, watches or with an abundance of cash on you are all bad ideas in countries that may struggle with extreme poverty. We always utilize a cross body strap for our cameras, and recommend always using both straps for your backpacks to prevent snatch and grabs which are usually the most common type of crime. The good news though is that most petty crime is perfectly preventable with foresight and common sense. Never leave any valuables out in plain sight and, if possible, store them in a secure area in your hotel room or in the trunk of a vehicle when on the road. Always asking yourself “how easily could I break into this if I wanted to” is a good place to start, and will allow you to take any precautions you need to ensure you can keep your valuables safe.

Have a plan

Ever check into a hotel room and take a look at the fire evacuation map that most hotels come equipped with? Yeah, probably not, right? Although we are guilty of not always paying close attention to that either, it illustrates a good point. There are a litany of questions you can and should be asking yourself when you travel to a foreign destination. Things like whether your hotel is in a flood or tsunami zone, whether it is in a place prone to earthquakes, or if there is political unrest and civil disturbances. At the very least, it’s always best to know where you can turn to for help while visiting another country and you should know where the nearest embassy or consulate is located in the event that you need their services. They are almost always your first point of contact if anything unexpected occurs and can give you further advice about what actions you should take.