travel tips for a beginner…

Every once in a while someone asks me for advice on how to do this and I often think that I haven’t a clue. But as I travel there are little things I carry, little things I do, to help stay safe. Some I’ve always done, others I’ve seen other people do and learned along the way.

Above all travelling should be a state of mind not compliance with a tick list, but sometimes lists can give you ideas on how to make a start. This post gives some very practical tips on how to stay safe and avoid the obvious pitfalls.

  • Carry paper copies of key travel documents like tickets, insurance and your passport but also e-mail copies to a trusted friend or family member with yourself cc’d in just in case you are unlucky enough to lose the originals and the copies.
  • Make note of the card numbers for any visa or debit cards you’re carrying and the numbers you would need to call if they were lost or stolen in advance. Keep these numbers separate from your cards and consider giving a copy to that good friend back home as long as you’re sure they’re not a closet kleptomaniac…
  • Note in advance the telephone numbers of your embassy in countries you’ll be visiting  – high stress situations are not the time to be trying to navigate an inquiry service in a foreign language.
  • Check whether you need to carry your passport with you where you are – in many places a copy of the personal date page will do allowing you to leave your passport, and that awful passport photo, in safer place under lock and key.
  • When carrying your passport, keep it on you, not in that easy to snatch bag slung stylishly over your shoulder. Ideally it should be in a money belt or pocket under your clothes. Have a copy in your wallet  as well so you don’t have to do a weird wriggle show to extract the original every time you need the number for a check in or something.
  • Carry money in separate places to reduce the risk of losing it all – I’m a big fan of panties with pockets myself! Keep the bulk of what you have in tucked under your clothes or leave it in a safe place when you can. If you only carry enough money for the day in your wallet, you have less to lose and a lower risk of wild spending sprees sending you over budget.
  • Diversify – have different ways of getting at money. I carry cash in local currency, dollars in case of crisis, some travellers cheques (even though they are like dinosaurs these days) and two different cards just in case.
  • Sort notes in your wallet by value so you have less chance of getting muddled and giving the wrong note without noticing.
  • Ideally keep small bills and change in a separate compartment in your wallet, or even in a separate wallet, so that you don’t give people a glimpse at all of your lovely lolly you have every time you want to pay for something little.
  • Often cash machines give only high value notes. Break these in bigger shops and restaurants (where they’re more likely have change) to avoid stand off conflicts with taxis, small storeholders etc.
  • Keep a certain amount of ‘mugging’ money set aside in your wallet so that it is never ever empty. A mugger may be unwilling to believe you have just spent everything on a cute purse if you don’t have anything to hand over when threatened.
  • Don’t assume that items under your seat on buses are safe – thieves can and sometimes do pull things through from the seat behind.
  • Never put hand luggage containing valuables in overhead racks – particularly if you are likely to be distracting, sleeping, or out of the line of sight. Things walk when you least expect it.
  • On night buses secure your hand luggage to you to reduce the odds of it going walkabout whilst you’re asleep – a wire with a lock or cord with karabiner will do the job well. If you don’t have either on you, pass your seat belt through the straps of the bag before you lock it.
  • Lock your main bag if you possibly can – some rucksacks come with lockable zips that will at least slow down opportunistic thieves – maybe they’ll go for the bag that looks easier to open rather than yours.
  • Carry a few small padlocks with keys – ideal for locking up your bag but also good for door latches and lockers. Often no locks are provided or the locks given might have other keys you don’t know about….
  • A small combination lock can be useful for securing the part of your day pack with valuables in from quick fingered pickpockets. However, someone could still slash your bag so keep it in front of you in areas where there is a significant risk.
  • Try not to look more wealthy than you need to. Keep jewelry cheap and minimal. Keep your camera out of sight.
  • Have a head torch handy to avoid tripping in the street, getting lost looking for the toilet in the bus or taking half an hour to open the door when the power’s out.
  • A small rubber door wedge will make it harder for someone to open your bedroom door, without you waking up, in places where rooms cannot be locked or the lock is not secure.
  • Check that the door locks work as soon as you check in – problems like doors that only lock from the outside are much harder to solve when all the staff have already gone to bed!
  • When staying in dormitories remember that other travelers might also rob you – use lockers for valuables wherever possible, or consider carrying a portable locker like a pacsafe.
  • Never leave valuables lying around when you are not there – if you can’t lock them up, put them out of sight in your pack.
  • Be wary of leaving computers, cameras, phones etc charging in open view. Some hostels have special lockers with plugs inside so you can charge your electronics securely.
  • Fake a husband or fiancee at will if you feel you need to. I often claim a friend in the next town as a precautionary measure. I usually make him large and into martial arts…
  • Don’t be afraid to be rude if someone is giving you a hard time or proving a bit too friendly. I often try to be too nice for too long and I know other women suffer the same problem.
  • Be conscious of how you dress.
  • Ask locals for advice on risks – for example: where not to walk alone, where not to go or take buses after dark, where pickpockets operate, what scams are common in certain places.
  • Always try to walk like you know where you’re going, even if you’re completely lost.
  • Look up and around you – paying attention is one of the best things you can do to keep safe from everything from potholes to pickpockets!
  • Try to arrive somewhere new in daylight or if you can’t, have a good idea of where you’re going and how to get there.
  • Ask for help when you need it, don’t wait until you’re frightened and frantic. Even with just a few words and a lot of awkward miming, you will usually be able to explain what you need and there are many many decent people who will try to help.
  • Be smart, be wary, but don’t be fearful.
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4 Responses to travel tips for a beginner…

  1. rachwells says:

    These are great tips! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Excellent tips, many of which I would never have thought of! Email this to any friend of yours about to embark on future travels – they will definitely thank you for it.

  3. cuhome says:

    Wonderful tips!! Thank you!

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