Knowing how to stay safe when you’re traveling is an important lesson I should have imparted a long time ago, as I get asked about it more than almost anything else. Bad conditions stem from two sources – people who mean to do you harm, and natural catastrophes. Here are a few ways to avoid the two.
Check the Weather
I’m not talking about the political forecast, I mean literally see what the weather is like. Bad weather can do more than just put a damper on your travel plans; depending on what part of the planet you’re headed to, it can be dangerous. People get used to the weather they’re acclimated to, and an extreme difference can be unhealthy. I’ve learned a lot of things from locals in extremely hot and cold countries, such as bundling up correctly in Iceland or just staying indoors during midday in Albania.
I’m personally not a big fan of hot weather, and I’ve come close to heat exhaustion more than once. One trick I use to combat hot weather is a homemade electrolyte drink known as switchel. It’s made with apple cider vinegar, honey, lemon juice and water (balanced to taste, but I like to go heavy on the vinegar). It’s also nice to add some ginger to it.
Then there are the real natural disasters – volcanos, earthquakes, tsunamis, et al. Obviously most of these can’t really be predicted. Then again, some parts of the world are more predisposed to these disasters. If you’ve never been in an earthquake before, be ready to drop, cover and hold when you visit Los Angeles. I wouldn’t particularly recommend booking your holiday to Disney World Florida during hurricane season, and there are about 30 active volcanos in Iceland.
Having said all that, don’t let mother nature scare you off from traveling. As much as the media would love to have us living in constant fear, these disasters are relatively infrequent. My best recommendation is to learn from the locals how they deal with situations. You can always take a short safety class for these disasters, or even watch a couple Youtube videos.
Wear Proper Clothing
One of the easiest ways I find to stay safe when I’m traveling is to wear proper clothing. Aside from garments for different temperatures, I also pay attention to security. Never wear a pair of pants or shorts that don’t have deep pockets, and preferably find some with zippers or minimally Velcro. One of my favorite brands is Craghoppers. Nearly all their clothing has zippers on the pockets, and many of their shirts and pants also have hidden pockets.
For ladies, invest in a purse with secure straps. If you can easily pull the straps off the purse, so can criminals. Speaking of which, I’d personally recommend leaving the purse behind and going with a good-quality backpack like an Osprey.
Avoid the Dodgy Parts of Town
Sure, this is a no-brainer, but what are the dangerous parts of town? We’re told to stay away from dark alleys and some parks at night, but I’ve walked through those dark alleys and felt perfectly safe, while I’ve been uneasy walking down a busy street in some cities. Again, this is a good question for the locals, not something to get from BBC or CNN. Find out what streets or neighborhoods the locals avoid and follow their directions, but also make sure their fear isn’t founded on a single news story (as I’ve found more than once).
One thing about criminals is they tend to band together, as perhaps in doing so they get to see themselves in others around them and feel more secure. A good trick to stay safe when you’re traveling is to avoid a part of town once you start to see signs of criminal behavior. While I’m all for street art and I don’t automatically consider every homeless person is bad, there’s a difference between art and vandalism, just as there’s a difference between someone who’s partner went crazy on them and locked them out for the night, and someone who refuses to work and only wants to subsist on handouts.
Many cities in the world have organized crime where locals (or foreign gangs) will try to lure you into a private residence, shop or other secluded location to take advantage of you. Istanbul, Los Angeles and Chiang Mai are three cities that come to mind where friends of mine nearly got into deep trouble by following an invitation that would not have ended well. Sometimes you need a sixth sense to be aware of evil intentions, but there are some subtle hints.
Pay Attention to Signs of Antisocial Behavior
Now we come to the crux of how to stay safe when you’re traveling. Some might have us believe that everyone in the world is bad, but I don’t agree. I think the truly evil people in this world comprise only about 2-3% of the total population. Unfortunately, through their vitriolic speech, insidious actions and subversive nature, they can affect quite a few people around them. I’d say probably 20% of the population bear their mark in some way and even start to behave like them. But that leaves 80% who are unaffected by them. Just think, billions of people around the world are truly kind, helpful and decent.
These antisocials are the people who come to help you in your travels but don’t have your best interests at heart. When someone approaches you with a smile that looks just a little too fake and gushes about how they’re your friend and only want to help you, beware.
Now, before I go on, I need to point out that absolutes don’t exist in this universe, and there is no fact that applies 100% of the time. That doesn’t discount general truths. While I believe these attributes apply most of the time, it’s very true that anyone can react with moments of antisocial behavior, especially when connected to one of those truly evil people. The difference is that the 20% of the people mentioned earlier act this way on a constant basis. The following are simply facts I’ve observed in my own travels and life. I do not present them as dogma but as opinions to be accepted or rejected at will. As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” But I digress.
Some of the traits to look out for are in their physical appearance. The eyes play a key role. Individuals you’d want to be careful around either have shifty eyes and don’t like to maintain eye contact with you, or they hold that contact hard as if you were a target. This is different than the cheerful person who maintains eye contact with a comfortable smile, or the bored person who’s attention is just drifting about. In fact, it’s almost scary how similar the antisocial traits are to those of the social.
Another fairly simple giveaway is how they speak in generalities. Often this is connected to invalidation or reports of an alarming nature. When they say “everyone thinks” or “everyone knows,” question them on who everyone is. It’s funny how they often can’t name a specific instance, since the notion stems from their own delusions. Similarly, these individuals prefer to talk about the negative side of life. Gossip, hate speech or general complaints are their topic of choice. I’m not saying there aren’t things to genuinely complain about now and then, but these people take it way too far. To quote Shakespeare, who really spotted this one accurately, “The lady doth protests too loudly, methinks.”
There’s one saving grace for you and for them. I believe that at the core of humans, their nature is basically good. Even when someone is continually being evil, they innately seek to hold themselves back and stop others from being affected by them. They develop bad odors and bodily conditions which are easily seen. Their muscles are limp, their skin is dull and they prefer to move slowly. When they’re on their own, they’re quite often depressed, or found with their favorite self-destructive vice.
If you did manage to run afoul of one of these individuals, they would have no remorse for their actions. They can’t take responsibility, as in they can’t recognize their own role for their actions. Any lies they tell, they believe implicitly to be true. As they see what they do is right, they are viciously against anyone or anything which seeks to expose them, such as this article. I’m sure they’ll happily take my words out of context, twist them about and try to smear my name in an effort to protect themselves. Such is their nature.
Of course, the antisocial people will hate this article, as it does seek to expose them. I don’t write for them. I write for the other 80% of travelers who want to stay safe when they’re traveling. If you meet someone in your travels that you’re generally concerned about trusting, and not because an antisocial person warned you about them, be on guard. You can still associate with them, but don’t trust them.
Have a Backup Plan
Finally, it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. You can run into an antisocial character in nearly any circumstance, and you might need an escape plan. Maybe you’re Couchsurfing or even renting on Airbnb and your host is suspicious or dishonest. Have another place you can stay ready to go. Don’t be afraid to leave a tour if there’s someone tagging along who is causing you grief. Bus tours are a bit more tricky, but have the funds to get a taxi back to town if you need to bail. Things should always be worked out with communication first, but the antisocial person is rarely logical or rational and communications to resolve matters fail easily.
In my years of traveling, I’ve only been in a couple of situations where I felt unsafe or was in trouble. I’m always saddened to hear of a friend who’s had their property stolen or damaged or who has been harmed in their travels, as I lose my faith in humanity a little each time. But for every act of harm, there are hundreds more acts of kindness in every corner of the world. I’ll keep my attention on the social people, and I’ll always generally trust everyone, no matter how many opportunities antisocial people persuade me to do otherwise. I can only hope that you do the same.
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The safety of my fellow travelers is always a concern of mine. Here are some more articles about how to stay safe when you’re traveling in different parts of the world.
- 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Rent a Motorcycle in Thailand
- An Honest Review of Mobike Rentals in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- 5 Reasons Why Workaway Reviews Are Inaccurate and Could Be Improved
- Just How Bad Can a Bad Hostel Get, And How to Avoid Them
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
- 5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
- Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
- Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?
- Click here to claim your $25 credit with AirB&B
My thanks to Luis Martin Castell for the use of his photos!
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Great list of tips, thanks for putting this together. I always have backup plans when I travel, it helps to deal with situations that come up and it’s helped me many times!
You’re very welcome! This probably isn’t the usual list people think of, but I thought it would be helpful. Maybe I’ll make another list soon covering things like tick removers and such. You just never know what you’ll run into in your travels.