Safety First

For me, safety is not an option. This subject can be a little scary, but with a few tips I can make travel a lot safer.

Fortunately most travel places in Europe and many other places have a better safety record than their counterparts in the United States. Since I can handle Los Angeles or New York City, I find that I'll be fine almost anyplace else. Before I go, I check the advisories first.

Disclaimer: Be sure to exercise good judgment on anything that you find out. After all it's your trip and your responsibility to confirm the currency and validity of all information found on this or any other website and on your trip.

I check the safety section in my guidebooks and visit the Australian Gov Travel Safety Advisory for details or safety warnings for the country of interest. (The Australian site is considered to be more informative than an US State Dept Travel Advisories site.)

Use two guidebooks for a travel location.

I always get a least two guidebooks for the country and area I'm visiting. I always read the Travel Tips section at the beginning of each book, especially the tips on safety, culture and etiquette. This way I get the information I need from at least two sources. It's better that way.

I recommend such guidebooks as Rick Steves, Lonely Planet or Let's Go Europe, but almost any good guidebook will do. If I can't afford these books, I check them out from the library and bring them on my trip. I make sure to return them to the library in their original condition. (I remember that I can renew them on line at the library's web site from anywhere in the world. I check the library website for details and am sure to try out my password there before I go.)

The biggest safety problems in most places are theft and getting hit by a car. The traffic in Europe can be crazy, with scooters going through crowds, on sidewalks, and the wrong way down one-way streets.

It is a fact that more tourists die every year from traffic accidents than homicides, terrorism and natural disasters put together. The enemy is NOT a terrorist or a mad man or a hurricane, it's a drunk driver...

I teach myself to look both ways before crossing the road, and even a third time. Looking three ways is the safest way for me to cross any road. Every day and every place.

That way, when I get to places like England where they drive on the wrong (left) side of the road, I will be less likely to step out in front of a speeding car, like I've done. It's very embarrassing, when they call me "a stupid Yank (American)," after slamming on the brakes and saving my life.

Theft on the other hand targets travelers, especially Americans. I protect myself. I wear a money belt. These can be purchased online or in any travel store.

Watch out for pickpockets when  traveling.

A few safety tips I follow to avoid being pick-pocketed:

  • I leave everything of value, such as jewelry, at home. I don't bring anything along that I don't want to lose. I mean it.

  • I travel with luggage and things that are less expensive. I advertise the fact I probably don't have anything that's worth stealing.

  • I keep all valuables in a money belt, including passport, plane tickets, credit cards, extra money, rail passes, and travelers' checks.

  • I leave most of the contents of my wallet at home and use it to hold a few days' spending money.

  • I carry my wallet in the front pocket, with a rubber band around it. This makes it more difficult for a pick picketer to slip it out of my pocket. If he's sees me use one, he'll go try someone easier to pick pocket.

  • Female travelers I met, also wear a money belt for all essential papers, credit cards and bulk of money. They avoid purses and keep not essential things separate in small, easy to guard day pack or better yet local plastic shopping bag. Day money is kept in a separate small wallet or pouch hung around the neck on inside the clothes.

  • I purchase a T-shirt of the local soccer (sports) team. It labels me as an instant local who knows! And it's a great souvenir.

  • I'm on guard. "Safety first!" I watch out for Gypsies and the like masquerading as beggars. They are really thieves. I don't let them near me. The children are the real problem. They will try to distract me and block my line sight with sections of card board as they try to rifle my pockets. Shout and make a fuss. I yell "Police", if I can't shake them.

  • I dress down. No fancy clothes, jewelry or shoes. I don't say, "I'm rich! Steal from me!" with any fashion statement.

  • I act confident, walk confident; I try to look as if I know what I'm doing.

    Use a plastic shopping bag as a day pack.
  • I use a plastic shopping bag found locally as my day pack. Everyone ignores it, and I look like a local doing the shopping.

  • I wear my backpack in front of me when in crowded areas.

  • If I'm traveling with someone else, I make sure we guard the others one's pack. It's easier to watch his pack instead of mine own.

  • I don't bringing an expensive camera. A small $100-$200 Digital Camera is good enough for almost all travel photography. Don't let photography get in the way of a great trip. (Unless of course that's your thing.)

    Remove the whistle and clip the lanyard on your digital camera.

  • I purchase a thin, black whistle lanyard that referees use (from any sports store.) I attach my digital camera to it, and stick my camera in my front shirt pocket, out of sight. The camera's ready for use at anytime. I can't drop my camera. And trying to steal it is almost impossible.

  • I don't bring a camera case. It says, "Steal me." I use a plastic shopping bag.

  • The easiest way to avoid petty thievery, is to simply stay away from big cities and places frequented by tourists. I like back roads, mountain trails, remote beaches, small cities and smaller villages away from the maddening crowds. Most cities and tourist traps I can cover in a few days. So I'm in and out of the worst places for pickpockets. It's cheaper and a whole lot less stressful.

  • I scan all my documents and email them to myself in my email account. Then they will be available anywhere in the world on a moment's notice.

Here are some safety tips on how to avoid scams and con artists:

  • If it's too good to be true, it probably isn't.

  • If someone approaches me and wants to exchange money or give me a free tour, especially in tourist areas. I say, "No. thank you." The operative word here is 'approach.' However, if I approach them with an open question then it's usually a better situation. Use common sense.

  • I find that most hotel and restaurant people to be good people, helpful and true. But some aren't. Be prepared.

    • I always check the restaurant and hotel bills. Sometimes waiters will slip in items not ordered. Hotels sometimes add mini-bar, long distance phone charges, and the like.

    • I don't use the hotel phones. I bring a cell phone (check the phone plans for cost making foreign travel calls.) or rent one at the airport on arrival. Or go to the post office that also acts as a telephone exchange in most countries.

    • I buy a phone card at a tobacco shop, and use a public phone. Or better yet ask around for an internet connection at an internet cafe' or public library and send an email. Emails are perfect for long distance communication.

  • Many guided tours will try and point me to shops that can have higher prices and a kick back for the guides themselves. Try to shop elsewhere. I carry all my souvenirs in my luggage. I automatically start buying less of them.

Take High Speed Trains in many countries.

e are some tips on safety and train travel:

  • I don't let any strangers in the train compartment see what I have in my luggage or money belt. If I have to get in there, go to the bathroom to do it or at least block their view.

  • I take the top bunk, the farthest away from people, close to my luggage.

  • I buy a cord and latch to fasten my luggage to the luggage rack or myself. Anything that slows down a thief will send him somewhere else.

  • At the train station, I store the luggage in a locker or stored luggage service instead of walking around with it. I buy food for a picnic from a nearby store so that I can walk around with the plastic bag and look more like a local.

  • I try not to sleep in public. My friend once woke up without his camera.

Here are some safety tips on how to avoid car rental break-ins:

  • I always hide things in the rental car out of sight, in the trunk.

  • I do this at the start of the day so that thieves will not see where things are located.

  • I never leave anything in the car over night as a safety precaution.

  • Ask the hotel if there's a guarded parking lot to park in. I did this all the time when I was traveling in Eastern Europe and Brazil and had no troubles.

  • I try to get a second key made and give it to my travel partner.

  • I remove rental tags and labels on the car and purchase a local soccer/football team sticker (Available in most big stores and pharmacies) and put it on my bumper.

  • I rent a smaller car. It's easier to drive and less conspicuous. I learned to drive a tiny Volkswagen Bug all over Europe and loved it. It's better than most roller coaster rides.

Talk to fellow travelers about their experiences including any safety issues. Ask Open Questions of the locals that can be trusted, such as a hotel operator or police officer. Such as: "Is there anything I should be aware of in traveling around here?"

What would you do if you lost contact with your traveling partner?

Click on Getting Lost.

What about Terrorism and safety?

Despite the terrible events like 911, I believe world travel is pretty safe. I believe that most terrorism is more a scary, political ruse than a real danger to travelers. After all, there a lot of travelers out there.

Yet I tend to avoid countries were Americans might get kidnapped for ransom. Life's too short, to deal with loser places like these.

What I mean is that with reduced tourist traffic (a real goal of Terrorism) come lower prices, less crowds, shorter lines, and more sympathy from the locals. In short, more travel opportunities.

I do my homework, weigh the benefits, and go!

Remember, blind fear is still blind…

Here are some important road skills:

Go to page on What to do about Lost Travelers

Travel Health

Motion Sickness and Sea Sickness

Diarrhea and Its Cures

Travel Money

The Euro

Travel Tips for Europe

Travel Phrases

Foreign Languages

Chinese Characters

Useful Travel Tools

Tourist Information

Electronic Travel Applications

Audio Tours for museums and cities

Travel Weather

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