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Travel Safety: It’s Common Sense

Posted By in Travel Tips, What I've Learned | 4 comments

Travel Safety: It’s Common Sense

It didn’t take us long to learn that our current home in Takayama, Japan is the safest place that we have ever lived in or traveled to. It’s the kind of place where people don’t lock their cars or front doors. Children run in the streets after dark, and you could leave a bag unattended with the certainty that it would remain untouched. The idea of leaving my bike in the street without a lock, and not recounting when I receive change, caused me to start thinking about travel safety. It’s a major concern for many would-be travelers, but for the most part, I believe that travel safety isn’t all that different from safety in your own hometown. Here are a few common sense tips that I use to stay safe when I’m traveling.

Get Informed

get informed

The world is not a scary place, but it’s still sensible to get informed about the countries that you’re hoping to visit. I usually skim over Canada’s Travel Advice and Advisories (it’s useful for non-Canadians too!) before we plan a trip anywhere. This website covers everything from natural disasters to common local scams to watch-out for.  Regardless of how you do your research, reading about safety risks in a country can be an intimidating process. Don’t let it dissuade you from traveling to areas with a slightly higher risk level. It’s about being aware rather than being paranoid.

Know When to Invest in Safety

know when to invest in safety

Part of savvy budget traveling is knowing when to invest in something. When it comes to safety, I just suck it up and pay extra when it’s necessary. Some safety expenses, like travel insurance or pre-trip vaccinations, can be anticipated; while others, like paying for a taxi instead walking alone at night, will probably occasionally arise during the trip. In addition to personal safety, keeping my belongings protected is a relatively high priority for me. My laptop is easily the most valuable item that I travel with, so I’ll often pay extra to have it stored in a locker or safe when we leave our guesthouse for the day.

Trust Your Instincts

trust your instincts

Enjoying a more successful taxi ride

Once when I was traveling alone, I flagged down a cab to take me to the airport in Bangkok. As I was negotiating with the driver, I felt inexplicably uneasy.  But, he’d already stopped for me, and I couldn’t come up with a reason to turn him down, so I climbed into the cab anyway. When we arrived at the airport, he helped me get my bags out of the cab. I stood at the side of the road, and paid him with the only bill I had: 1000 Baht. As I waited, he climbed back into the cab, and instead of emerging with my change, he drove away – taking with him about 10x the fare I had owed him. Chasing after him would have meant abandoning my luggage, so I just stood there helplessly. The lesson? If a person or situation doesn’t feel right, then get away immediately. Your reasons don’t have to be logical or rational. It’s better to escape unnecessarily then to later regret not trusting your instincts.  Oh, and never get out of a cab until you’ve received your change.

Don’t Expect Bad Things to Happen

don't expect bad things to happen

Safety first when ziplining

I believe that, to a large extent, we bring the things into our lives that we focus on. The people clutching their fanny packs and staring around suspiciously are almost always the ones who end up being robbed.  The people frantically researching bedbugs are the ones who end up sleeping in a guesthouse infested with them. It even happened to us in SE Asia: We were scammed a few times, and then we increasingly started to worry about being ripped off and thought about the money that we had lost. What happened? We were hit with a stream of further scams and rips-off.  I’m not saying bad things never happen without warning, nor that it’s a good idea to enter into unsafe environments with a sense of invincibility. Yet, I think that choosing to feel safe when you’re traveling goes a long way towards making that the reality.

What are some of your best travel safety tips?

*Note: This post helps keep us traveling*



    • waysofwanderers April 2, 2013

      Great metaphor!

  1. lortz November 23, 2013

    I absolutely agree with you on paying a little bit extra to ensure safety, though normally we're pretty frugal with our money. We'll spring for a cab at night in a town where we're happy to walk around all day long. It's wise to ask the guesthouse owners about the neighborhood – "can I walk here at night?" They'll usually say "Yes!" but then qualify it with a "not after 8pm" or "not after 10pm" which gives you a better idea of what to expect. You can also ask about the neighborhood where your evening activity is. We've had hotel owners tell us where and when to take cabs. Wow — all of that just sounded really fearful! It's not, I promise. 🙂 I think the biggest thing you can do to be safe is to not look or act like an obnoxious, rich outsider. That may be harder in some places than others. But just skip the fancy clothes and jewelry and try to behave the same way the locals do.
    My recent post Leaving Art Behind

    • waysofwanderers November 23, 2013

      Very true! It's good to ask around, as well as to trust your instincts. When we go walking somewhere at night, I think we all have an innate sense of whether or not it feels safe.

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