Top 10 Travelling Safety Tips When Backpacking Abroad
1. Take out some travel insurance – it is seriously not worth the risk of jetting off on a crazy care free backpacking adventure without it. There are all sorts of policies available from one-off short trips for perhaps a quick European city break to multi-trips for frequent fliers and adventurers. For longer term travellers there’s a range of annual travel insurance products available, most with special add-ons for skiiers, scuba-divers, adventure sport adrenalin junkies.
Some travel insurance policies include flight cancellations!
Some backpacker travel insurance policies cover you for medical evacuation, cancellations, lost passports, lost baggage, personal possessions – it’s unwritten rule of backpacking, don’t leave ‘Airport Departures’ without it!
2. Be wary of wandering around at night on your own (especially drunk and in possession of all your valuables!). No matter how ‘macho’ the local moonshine makes you feel, don’t take unnecessary risks. If you’re a solo traveller, it’s usually really easy to meet other people in bigger backpacker hostels and it’s nearly always safer (and more fun!) to waltz around your new surroundings with new friends sharing the sights, sounds and smells of a random market or a remote village in the backend of beyond.
3. Although it kind of goes against the whole purpose of jetting off to a foreign land for a spot of travel based escapism from conventional society, do keep the folks back home updated on your whereabouts. It’s very easily done these days, be it a simple Twitter ‘tweet’, status update on Facebook or low and behold a good old fashioned phone call, it will keep your loved ones updated and allow you the chance to gloat about the fantastic things you’ve been up to whilst they’re tied to the shackles of routine employment back home.
The modern day version of writing a postcard – wish you were here!
4. Don’t walk around with your £500 camera dangling around your neck. Aside from standing out like the proverbial sore thumb, eagle eyed local thieves will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of yanking or worse still, cutting that strap from your neck. This kind of tourist naivety should be saved for the safer, more secure confines of ‘fluffier’ leisure complexes such as Walt Disney World!
Don’t dangle your camera round your neck!
5. Use the hostel safe – any thief worth his own weight in ‘swag’ will know to look under your pillow or mattress when you’ve hit the town. The camera debate – ‘to leave or not to leave in the room’ is always a quandry, it could get damaged or lost, but then again, it could capture some brilliant memories of some unforgettable experiences.
6. Nearly every round the world trip involves a long distance bus journey and you certainly don’t want to be sitting with your 40 kilo rucksack on your knee for 12 hours plus! Coupled with the fact that the overhead shelf space will be full of chickens, goats and sacks of rice (I’m thinking more South America and India than Australia here to be honest) you will have to put your backpack in the ‘hold’ underneath the bus.
Room for a small one?
Try to sit on the same side of the bus as your backpack, if a grumpy bus driver hurls you bag into a space based on your destination, note where it goes and cast a cautionary eye at each bus stop when luggage is so indelicately decantered! It goes without saying, keep your valuables, documents and that all important travel diary you’ve spent hours filling in documenting your travels with you on the bus with you at all times.
7. Local customs should be adhered to! This is just exercising some basic respect for people of the land in which you travel. If shaking hands with your left hand is bad manners or rustling a child’s hair is considered disrespectful then don’t do it.
Adhere to local customs when travelling
Other local faux pas may include covering up knees and shoulders in places of worship (especially in Muslim countries), removing shoes in temples (a prevalent custom across Buddhist temples in South East Asia), asking a question without saying ‘excuse me’ or ‘good day’ in the local lingo first or perhaps photographing a local without asking permission first. The world isn’t a human zoo and people still have feelings in different languages! Basically, do some research first and you’ll be accepted much quicker into local society and make new friends very quickly.
8. Make sure you have a phrase book for emergencies but also if you’re keen to make an effort to learn about their culture. Locals really do warm to travellers who try to make an effort. There are some excellent pocket language guide books including Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Frommers and Berlitz to name but a few…buy one, they’re only a few quid and the benefits will be worth the hassle of pronunciation persistance!
9. If you’re lost in a foreign land with few other tourists around, try to discreetly survey your map so as not to look like a vulnerable traveller in a criminal’s lair. Read your map while your walking (especially at night), retreat to a place of authority and safety such as a train station booking office, have a quick drink in a cafe and figure out the general direction or dive into a shop or shop doorway to reduce the risk of having a bag snatched or worse. The common sense approach is to pick a landmark, get your bearings, refer to the map or if it’s a mega dangerous place then take a taxi!
10. No matter what unfortunate situation you may find yourself in when travelling abroad, there are a few international rules of backpacking engagement. a) If your instinct is telling you ‘this is dodgy’ it probably is, play the percentages and use some common sense. b) If you’re lost, agitated, angry, harassed or being incessantly pestered stay in control no matter what, centre yourself with 3 deep breaths and your common sense mode will usually kick in and remedy the situation. c) Remember the international language of ‘smiling’, if flattery gets you everywhere then you can bet your last Thai baht or Argentinean peso that smiling does the same in most scenarios – this principle applies even if you’re struggling to buy a bus ticket, calming someone down, bartering on a market or negotiating a cheap deal on a hostel room!
So in summary, if you’re prepared, well researched, sufficiently equipped, exercise common sense (even when drunk!) and remember the fundamental international rules of backpacking engagement, you’ll literally go for miles!