Most of the time, I’m flying solo when I travel.
Sure, living in Philadelphia and Baltimore stepped up my street smarts, but as a woman, I take extra precautions to keep my eyes on my person, space and stuff. Knock on all hard surfaces that I haven’t had any issues abroad – all theft and muggings have taken place during daylight hours here in the good ‘ole USA.
I’m a little Girl Scout-ish in my travel packing habits, but I’m not a paranoid traveler – I just like to understand my surroundings and have systems in place in case something was to happen. Fear has never been a good enough reason for me to not do something or go someplace, but I also don’t want to knowingly put myself into a stupid situation (and if I do find myself in a stupid situation, I want to have the tools to get myself out stat).
When traveling abroad, here are the safety precautions I take to cover my you-know-what:
• Register with U.S. Department of State (here and if there’s high risk, at the destination). It takes two minutes to fill out the online form and if something newsworthy (and not in the good way) goes down in your destination, they’ll be the first to let you know.
• Watch your drinks. Okay, maybe I’m a bit paranoid about this one, but I’ve read one too many date rape stories for my own comfort. If I’m in a strange place and my drink leaves my sight, I toss it and buy a new one. I also don’t accept random drinks from strangers. This doesn’t mean I won’t get drunk in a bar and embarrass myself by singing karaoke duets with strangers.
• Be discrete when discussing where you’re staying and specific travel plans.
• Check in regularly with someone you trust. I may not speak to my significant other every day while I’m on the road, but I do shoot him a text every night letting him know I made it home safely. If I’m solo in a hotel, I’ll jot down the address of where I’m going and leave it on the by-the-phone notepad. Also, I leave a detailed itinerary, phone numbers and a copy of my passport with my significant other.
• Never carry more stuff than you’re willing to lose.
• Carry money in various locations (keep bulk in shoe, safety belt, etc.) and a few bucks in easy-to-reach pocket, etc. I have a friend who was recently mugged in Guatemala and while her purse contained her wallet and camera, she handed the thief a change purse with a small amount of money in it and it was enough to make him go away.
• Carry a whistle, pepper spray or personal alarm from Magellan’s. My pepper spray is pink. I’m not afraid to use it.
• Think about how you appear – jewelry, hemlines, low-cut shirts, etc. No matter how hard I try, I will never blend in a foreign country, but I also don’t try to draw unnecessary attention with my attire and accessories.
• Pay attention. I find it more difficult to draw cultural cues and identify the “bad guys” when traveling, especially when there is a language barrier, but shifty behavior and activity is universal.
• Listen to your gut.
• Use a bag with strong, slash-proof strap.
• Be mindful of time and place surroundings (example: night, alleys, crowded places like the bus, etc.)
• Make a note of emergency telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. My cell phone has international calling capabilities, so if I’m really on top of things, I’ll pre-program these numbers just in case. Otherwise, I jot them on the back of a business card and stuff ‘em in my wallet.
• Know a few phrases in the local language. In an ideal world, I’d have all the vocabulary necessary to get myself out of any sticky situations. If that’s not possible, I learn a few key phrases, like “Help!”
• Be aware of unmarked cabs. In most of my travels, I’ve found there to be a legit system of taxicabs and a not-so-legit system. I try to find out what qualities identify the legit cabs – whether it’s a sticker, a color, etc. – and compare the face of the driver with the one on his or her posted license.
• If your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police. Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims and as an explanation of your plight.
• Be aware of local photography laws. In many countries you can be detained for photographing security-related institutions, such things as police and military installations, government buildings, border areas and transportation facilities.
Travel safe, m'dears and if you have any other safety tips you'd like to share, please leave them as a comment or Tweet 'em!
Written and contributed by Charyn Pfeuffer