Despite what we might see on our Instagram feed, travel is not always as easy and glamorous as it seems. Sometimes unfortunate things happen, including money mishaps, digestive distress, and safety concerns. But it does not have to be all doom and gloom! As long as you do your research, you can prepare for some “worst case scenarios” and help make your trip go more smoothly! Here are some tips for being a savvy and safe traveler (for when we can travel again):
1. Avoid charging your phone at the airport and public places
I’ll be honest, I’ve done this quite often during long layovers. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered how dangerous this actually can be. Using public USB power charging stations in airports, hotels, and other public locations may contain dangerous malware. This act is known as “juice jacking,” where criminals load malware onto charging stations or cables they leave plugged in at the stations. The goal is to infect phones and other devices of unsuspecting users and then hack their data. This is just an invitation for becoming hacked!
One of the best ways to be prepared is to pack a portable charger. This has been a lifesaver for me when facing low battery where accessible outlets are few and far in between. Another option is to purchase a “USB data blocker”, which connects directly to the USB plug and weighs less than an ounce. A USB data blocker looks similar to a regular USB charger, but it has two data wires physically removed from its connector so that your device can be charged but won’t transfer any data. By slipping a USB data blocker over the tip of your USB charger, you will physically block data transferring and syncing between your device and the charging port. I personally have not tried this yet, but am planning to when it’s safe to travel again (if this damn pandemic ever ends!).
2. Wear a money pouch or belt underneath your clothes
I prefer to keep my cash and passport on my person, out of reach for theft. I tend to bring a money pouch to hide underneath my clothing (or to use as a mini purse for safer locations). I highly recommend wearing looser clothing if wearing a money pouch. There are also pickpocket-proof clothing, which includes pockets inside of the t-shirts and vests.
3. But don’t leave ANYTHING in your back pocket
In China, I foolishly left my hotel key card in the back pocket of my jeans. Well, after a full day out shopping in the crowded markets of Shanghai that hotel key was long gone. I didn’t even notice I had been pick pocketed until I got back to the hotel (luckily it was just a spare key and not a credit card!). Such a rookie mistake. I highly recommend leaving all accessible pockets free from any valuables, especially when traveling to urban areas.
4. Let your bank know when and where you’re traveling
The last thing you want to deal with during your vacation is to have the bank place a hold on your card, due to foreign transactions. Nowadays, most bank and credit card companies have an option to add a travel notification right on their app. Alerting them prior to leaving will make for a less stress-induced holiday.
5. And have emergency cash and funds ready (or a backup plan for unexpected expenses)
This goes along with #’s 2 and 4, but I highly recommend either bringing enough cash or having access to emergency funds in case of unexpected scenarios. Never keep all of you money in one place, but rather spread them in two or three different places so that if one of your stashes is stolen you aren’t left completely empty-handed.
6. Avoid walking alone at night
Unfortunately, this may be more of a “hard” rule for women than men, due to typical gender-based violence around the world. Since I’ve started traveling solo, I rarely go out alone at night. For me, I’m in a serious committed relationship and don’t feel the need to “mingle” and party all night. I’m usually exhausted after a 12-14 hour day of sightseeing that I prefer to head back to my accommodation and relax anyway! However, I’ll tend to go out a night or so when I’m traveling with my husband, friends or group travel experience. There’s comfort in numbers!
7. Travel light and invest in a solid bag/backpack
This may be a personal preference, but bringing carry-on luggage only can be a major stress reliever (who wants to wait 30 minutes for their luggage at the airport or worry about losing it!). Investing in a high quality backpack will be extremely helpful for both long-term backpacking adventures (it will be your home after all!) as well as shorter vacations and long weekends. Having a sturdy and durable backpack helped me “live” in it for a week in Tanzania without carrying too much luggage.
8. Purchase travel insurance
I didn’t start purchasing travel insurance until about two years ago, when I started traveling more often. But no matter the frequency of your travels, purchasing travel insurance can be a proactive method to prepare for worst case scenarios. From potential emergency situations to having your valuables stolen, travel insurance can help ease your mind and feel covered if sh*t hits the fan. I personally use World Nomads, which is a great option for short-term travel. Allianz Global Insurance is also a great option and covers unique countries, such as Cuba (one of the only insurance policies to do so for US citizens).
9. Write down important addresses, phone numbers, and emergency information
Nothing screams holiday ruined when you’re lost and there is no WI-FI or service available (or a dead cellphone) to access GPS. Don’t wait for a disastrous event to occur! Write down addresses and phone numbers of your travels as well as have a copy of emergency contacts.
10. Have a backup plan for uncomfortable situations
This also goes with #9, but always have a backup plan just in case! Create an emergency plan and write it down along with emergency contacts. Be aware of your surroundings and locate accessible exits, in case of uncomfortable situations. Also consider doing your research in advance to know what neighborhoods are safe and which areas might be a little sketchy (I wish I had done this for my weekend in San Francisco, instead I stayed in a very dodgy neighborhood…). For uncomfortable social situations, it’s okay to tell little white lies if it keeps you safe! I’ve had the occasional solo trip, where I’ve received unwanted male attention and share that I need to meet up with my partner/friends/family as an excuse to leave. Being mindful of your safety does NOT make you a rude person!
11. Bring any medicine you might need, preparing for the worst
I try to bring a pharmacy’s worth of over-the-counter medicine for some “worst case scenarios” but I admit, I’m not always as prepared as I should be. I highly recommend packing pain relievers (hello, migraines), allergy/seasonal medicine, Dramamine, Imodium, or Pepto, cough drops, and enough of any prescription medicine you may need to last you throughout your trip.
12. Share your location and itinerary with family and loved ones
If I travel solo, I always provide my flight information, locations and list of hotels or AirBNBs to my husband, Sean, as well as my estimated itinerary for the duration of my trip. If we travel together, we let our parents know where we’re going and for how long. We also check in with our families and friends from time to time. Better to be safe than to be mysterious and sorry! The last thing I want is to be in a catastrophic situation, such as what happened to Aron in 127 Hours.
13. But be mindful of oversharing on social media
I’ve had friends who’ve had their homes broken into and valuables stolen, due to sharing their departures on social media, as well as having their home address public. This isn’t to say you can’t brag about your adventures, just be mindful and avoid oversharing every detail of your excursions (and personal life for that matter). This can protect you in regards to personal safety and security from having your data breached.
14. Beware of local travel scams
My husband, Sean and I shamefully fell for one of Times Square’s biggest scams. Costume characters flock at all hours of the day and night, ranging from lovable cartoons, superheroes, and other eccentric characters. They often target and pressure travelers to pose with them for photos, with the expectation of a tip afterward. Poor Sean thought it would be cute and fun to have our picture taken with them, only to give us a hard time afterwards when we did not immediately give them cash. Even though tipping these performers is optional, they often become confrontational if you choose not to tip. It’s fine if you choose to take a picture with them, just expect to tip them or suffer potential pressure and harassment.
Another common scam around the world is the notoriously sketchy taxi driver, whose meter happens to be “broken” during your ride and charges you double. Or the bar scam, where a “friendly” local approaches you at the bar, striking a conversation and grabbing drinks, only to disappear and leave you with an expensive bar tab. Doesn’t matter if you’re traveling to Central America, Europe, the US, Africa, etc. you’ll find travel scams anywhere you go. Researching them will go a long way.
15. Blend in and dress conservatively
I LOVE traveling to exotic countries with cultures completely different than my own. I am not afraid of culture shock but rather welcome it. With that being said, I always want to make sure I’m being respectful of other cultures. The last thing I want to do is offend someone by the way I’m dressed. Best rule of thumb is to dress conservatively and try to blend in with the locals. For example, shorts, skirts, and dresses hovering above or at the knees are not acceptable in Tanzania for both women and men. Avoid wearing flashy (and expensive looking) jewelry, offensive clothing, and revealing attire (depending on the environment).
16. Keep digital copies and extra copies of important documents
Again, always prepare for the worst, but hope for the best! Have a digital copy of your passport, in the event it gets lost or stolen, this will make it much easier to have it replaced. This also goes for insurance cards, policies, and any other important documents you might need on the road. Keeping an extra copy (and even leaving extra copies at home) can save for additional headaches down the road for worst case scenarios.
17. Be mindful when drinking
I’ll admit, I enjoy splurging on the local beverage of my destination (hello, Bermudan rum swizzles!). But getting drunk or tipsy (especially for us solo female travelers) is just asking for trouble and unwanted attention. If choosing to drink, do so responsibly, know your limits, stay hydrated, do NOT drive, and do NOT put down your drink.
18. Learn at least a few phrases of the local language
I cannot stress this one enough. Do NOT assume everyone speaks English everywhere in the world. Learning a few phrases of the local language can be helpful for asking locals for advise. This will provide an opportunity to connect with them and ask for recommendations about which neighborhoods are safe and which are not so safe and mark places to avoid on your map. Not to mention you might make a few friends along the way that you otherwise would not have had the opportunity to connect with!
19. Pack a first aid kit!
It’s rare if I don’t dive into my first aid kit at least once during my trip (even if it is for a few bandages and Neosporin). Especially if traveling on an active vacation or traveling to a remote location, access to medical supplies might be scarce. Imagine various “worst case scenarios” and make sure your first aid kit has the supplies necessary to help you through. You can purchase a prepackaged kit to suit your needs or compile your own. Some of my essential items I include are:
- gauze and tape
- antiseptic cleaning wipes
- allergy medicine
- mosquito repellent
20. Have Fun! But always be aware of your surroundings
No matter where you travel to, it’s impossible to be 100% safe from any threat. But being prepared and aware of your surroundings will help reduce your risks significantly! Being prepared will also help you to feel assured and have a fun, safe adventure!