Top travel safety tips

You have all your luggage packed, you have double checked you have your passport, tickets, travel documents and money. Your home is all locked up and you are ready to set off on your travels. From this moment on until you arrive back home again, the biggest risk to disrupting that lovely happy holiday you are so looking forward to, is if something happens to you and your loved ones or your possessions. If you use the following top travel safety tips as a guide you should return from your travels safely and unscathed.

Please feel free to add your own travel and holiday safety tips.

 

Ready to go, not so fast!

Tell family or friends your itinerary of where you are going and when you are returning, plus give them a contact number where you can be reached while you are away in case of emergencies. Take a photograph of your luggage with you standing by it using your smartphone. This can be useful as proof of ownership if your luggage does go missing either for the police, your insurance company or airline. Scan your passport, credit/debit cards and other travel documents then email the image files to yourself so you can retrieve these from any device that has an internet connection.

 

Watch your possessions

Watch your possessions

It’s an old trick but works well, tie a coloured ribbon to your luggage so you can instantly recognise it as your bag. Always use locks on your luggage, preferably of the combination lock variety so there is no danger of you losing the keys. Don’t leave your bags unattended at any time, anywhere. This includes day packs when out for the day. If you are in a public place with lots of people around make sure you can see your bag at all times. If you are sitting in a cafe or restaurant, put it down in front of you, between your feet and stand on one of the straps making it as hard as possible to steal without you noticing.

 

Learn the local customs

Local customs

It makes sense to familiarise yourself with various aspects of the country you are planning to visit before you go. This is particularly true if you are going to a country where the local culture is vastly different to your own. It can be easy to cause offence without even realising what you have done if you have not done some rudimentary research beforehand. The following UK government travel advice website has details on 225 countries and territories and is useful for everyone not just UK nationals. For each country you will find details such as current travel advice, safety and security, local laws and customs, entry requirements, health, natural disasters and more. It’s a good idea to buy a good guide book such as one of the Lonely Planet guides for the country you are visiting beforehand. You can also download free apps to your phone or mobile device which give detailed information for your destination to carry with you. Triposo is a free app available for iPhone, Android and Windows phones, it is free, works offline and once installed you can download guides for your planned destination before you go.

 

Money and valuables

Money and valuables

Only take with you the credit/debit cards you will definitely need and leave all others at home. Carry your credit/debit cards separately from your cash and keep at least one credit card in a separate place to all others, such as in your shoe. This way if you are robbed or lose your other cards you have a back up. Put the number in your phone that your bank gives you to ring if your card is lost and report it immediately you notice it missing.

I know it means more frequent trip to the ATM machine but only carry the cash you need for that day, this minimises the amount you can lose in one go. If you must carry larger amounts of cash use one of the cloth money belts you can hide under your clothes or put cash in various locations on your person. To avoid pickpockets don’t carry a wallet in your back pocket, always carry it in a front pocket preferably one that can be zipped or buttoned. Women should use a handbag with a shoulder strap that can be worn with the strap over the head, on one shoulder and across the chest with the bag in front of them.

 

Theft and other crime

Theft and other crimeDo not take anything that is either high value or high sentimental value with you when you travel, just leave them at home. Make use of hotel safes to store valuables you have brought with you and you are not using that day. Most modern hotel room doors are self locking these days, but just make sure your accommodation is locked when you leave for the day. If you have a car with you lock valuables in the boot or glove box out of sight.

Try to blend in with the locals and avoid open displays of wealth. Carrying an expensive camera around your neck and a flashy watch on your wrist or wearing other expensive jewellery is just going to make you a target.

Be aware of your surroundings and who is around you at all times. Avoid big crowds like demonstrations or marches and if you go to festivals or carnivals carry as little as possible and watch what is going on around you in addition to the actual event. When you are in a strange city check guidebooks or mobile apps for areas to avoid, especially after dark. If you do find you have wandered into an area with no other tourists, retrace your steps back to where there are more people and other tourists around. Avoid dark lonely areas of town. If you are unfortunate enough to get mugged, just give up your wallet or other valuables that are being requested. It is not worth arguing with a mugger as the consequences can be dire and if you have travel  insurance you can claim back for anything you have lost. Another reason for leaving items of high value or sentimental value at home.

 

Road accidents

Road accidents

Road accidents are probably the biggest danger to you while travelling. Become familiar with local traffic laws. Never drink and drive and always wear a seat belt no matter what the local law is. Know what you need to do in terms of reporting an accident to the police if you are involved in one. Never travel in an overcrowded vehicle. Don’t use a mobile phone while driving. If you need to adjust the Satnav, stop the car to do so and then proceed. Carry backup paper maps in case your Satnav fails to avoid getting very lost. If you are tired while driving, take a break, get out and walk around, have some caffeine or just get some rest.

Unless you have experience of riding a motorcycle or scooter before your holiday, don’t make the mistake of hiring one when you get there. Learning to ride on foreign roads is asking for trouble and you may not be covered by your travel insurance if you suffer a motorcycle or scooter related injury.

It is all too easy to get distracted when wandering around a strange place and not pay attention to the road traffic around you. Make sure you know which way to look at crossings for oncoming traffic, this will depend on which side of the road the traffic drives on for the country you are in. Jaywalking (not crossing on the crossing when the green man signal says you can) is illegal in some countries so it’s worth checking.

 

Internet cafes

Internet cafes

If you are using a computer in an internet cafe or one for public use in a hotel I wouldn’t advise logging into your on-line bank accounts and I would treat these computers as not to be trusted. You just don’t know who is administering the computer you are using and it could have spyware or a key-logger monitoring your keystrokes. Your account could be emptied before you know it and then it’s too late. If you really must use your internet banking while you’re away, use your own laptop or other device over a trusted hotel wi-fi network and check with the hotel which is the correct one to ensure you don’t connect to a fake network. Then change your on-line banking login afterwards. Also if you do use public computers in internet cafes or elsewhere don’t buy anything on-line where you need to give bank card details and ensure you log out of any email or other accounts you have accessed while using the computer.

 

Local Food and water

Local food and water

Be careful about the local food that you eat. As a general rule I would be much more likely to trust the food in a restaurant that is very busy than one that has hardly anyone eating there. The higher food turnover means you are less likely to be served something that is past it’s use by date. Also I know when you are hungry, the smell of food coming from street vendors can be all too tempting but these are best avoided. I once picked up a very nasty dose of dysentery eating food from street vendors in the small islands of Indonesia. Not pleasant and it took a trip to the doctors and some serious medicine to get my digestive system back in order. It doesn’t apply in most western countries but drink bottled water unless you know it is safe to drink the local water. That includes not having ice in your drinks and using bottled water to clean your teeth.

 

Alcohol and drugs

Alcohol and drugsFor those fond of a tipple or two when on holiday there are a few things to consider so that you stay safe while still enjoying yourself. If you overdo it on the booze you are likely to make poor decisions regarding your safety and do something you wouldn’t ever do while sober. Not only that but you become more vulnerable and a target to be mugged, assaulted, arrested or even injured. While out and about drink in moderation. If you must have one over the odds, then do so at or very near to your hotel so you have only a short distance to get to your accommodation at the end of the night. Heavy drinking will leave you with hangover which results in you spending time recovering, eating into your precious holiday time. Don’t drink heavily in the hot sun, alcohol dehydrates you and the sun just exacerbates this, at worst leading to sun stroke. If you are in bars and clubs beware drinks that have been spiked with harmful substances. Never leave a drink you have bought unattended and never accept drinks from strangers, if you are unsure if the drink is safe, leave it and order a fresh one yourself.

Using drugs while on holiday might seem like a fun thing to do at the time, but there are all sorts of dangers associated with being anywhere near illicit substances in a foreign country. Some countries are very intolerant of anyone caught with illegal drugs, even for small amounts and often carry death penalty sentences for those caught dealing or smuggling.

 

Protecting yourself in the sun

Protecting yourself in the sun

Most people enjoy the sunshine, the warmth on your skin skin just makes you feel good, plus you get essential vitamin D from the sun. However, with climate changes and weakening of the ozone layer the effects of the sun are becoming stronger. Consequently everyone needs to take steps to help protect their skin and eyes from the harmful rays. Prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer. Ultra violet rays are strongest during the middle of the day, during the summer months, the closer you are to the equator, the higher above sea level you are and can still cause damage even when there is cloud cover.

To protect your skin use a high sun protection factor (SPF) cream or spray. As a quick guide use the following SFP: moderate climate (northern Europe) 15-30, hot climate (Mediterranean) 30-50, very hot climate (Australia, Caribbean) 50+

Reapply the cream or spray regularly, get a waterproof one if swimming and reapply after swimming. Don’t forget to apply to your extremities like ears and nose. Wear a sun hat. Be even more diligent with children, use a high SPF all the time, keep applying cream or spray every hour and use t-shirts and sun hats to provide protection even when swimming. At the end of the day apply liberal amounts of After Sun lotion to help keep keep your skin moisturised.

It is just as important to protect your eyes and the sensitive skin around them from the harmful sun’s rays. The sun can harm our eyes causing age related illness such as cataracts. To protect your eyes wear sunglasses that carry a label giving 100% UVA and UVB protection.

 

Don’t get lost

Download the Navmii app to your mobile phone. This is a free app that lets you download maps to your phone that you can use offline. Whenever you get lost in a strange town or city you can find your way using this app without any internet connection.

 

Travelling safely with children

Travelling safely with children

Looking after your own safety when travelling can be hard enough but when you have kids in tow, things can get much more challenging at times. Information on keeping children safe when travelling warrants a separate page to cover all the points worth mentioning, see our Kids travel how to guide and Child travel health and safety pages, but in summary here are a few things to note:

  • Travelling by air – tell your kids about the safety tips before getting on the aircraft.
  • Travelling by road – make sure their seat belts are fastened at all times.
  • Travelling by sea – never let your child out on deck alone.
  • When travelling write your mobile number on your child’s arm in biro in case they get lost
  • Carry your kids medications with you
  • Pack enough water, drinks and snacks for the day
  • Make sure they have enough sun screen on and wearing a hat
  • Watch them carefully near water and never let them near water alone
  • Take extra care when walking around busy city roads or places with lots of people
  • Never leave your child unattended

 

Hotel and other accommodation emergency exit procedures

Emergency exit proceduresWhen you get to your hotel check where the nearest fire exit is and ensure there is adequate illuminated signage to get you to the fire exit and out of the building should you need to do so during the dead of night when you are half asleep. Most people never read the fire precautions notice posted somewhere in your hotel room, but it is worth doing because it could save your life.

If the emergency exit procedures are not obvious ask the hotel staff for advice on where the emergency exits are and where the muster point is. If you are still not satisfied ask to be moved to a ground floor room where you can use the window to exit the building or move hotels. Don’t stay in a hotel room above the 5th or 6th floor, above this level the fire services have no chance of rescuing you using ladders if the floors below you are on fire.

 

Taxis and Public transport

Taxis and public transportTake licensed taxis only, those that display a proper license plate or credentials on display inside the taxi. If it looks like an unsafe vehicle it probably is so don’t get in it and choose another taxi instead. Sit in the back seat behind the driver. Don’t take a taxi alone at night, this is especially true for women. If there is no meter, agree a price for the journey before you set off. If you don’t feel safe in the taxi ask to be let out in a well lit area where there are other people around.

If you are travelling on public transport, plan your route beforehand so you don’t end up lost. In bus and railway stations you are safest in well lit busy areas. On an empty train try to sit near the conductor if one is available or near the driver on a bus. If you feel threatened move seats or try reporting what is making you feel threatened to transport staff. When going out at night travel with someone if possible, especially on your way home.

 

Travelling companions

Make sure you know your travelling companions well and that you have like minded views on travel safety. If one of you is more gung-ho than the other they could lead you into situations you are very uncomfortable with from a safety point of view. Travel safety incompatibility might not crop up when you’re at home but can lead to arguments when travelling. The best advice here is stand your ground and if one of you feels unsafe doing something then don’t do it.

 

Sea, lakes, rivers and other water hazards

Sea, rivers, lakes and other water bodies

There are many different dangers depending on the type of water you are in or near. Whether it be a tidal sea, strong currents in rivers, deep water lakes, dangerous wildlife or a non-swimming child left unattended near a swimming pool,  to name but a few, there is no doubt that expanses of water can be dangerous places and command respect.

The sea is probably the most dangerous of all in the wrong conditions. There have been many incidents in the past of adults who are strong swimmers getting caught by dangerous currents and drowning. Only swim on beaches that have green flags indicating it is safe to swim or swim if the flag is yellow only where a lifeguard is present to keep an eye out for anyone getting into difficulty. Flags of red or purple colour, stay out of the water. Watch out for children in the sea, an adult will easily cope with a 0.5 metre wave but a 3-4 year old playing in the shallows could get tumbled like they’re in a washing machine, I’ve seen it happen!

Do you know the wildlife that inhabits the water you are about to enter. Some places such as Australia have some very dangerous creatures that can do you serious harm or even kill you. If you plan a trip it’s best to read up on the local wildlife so you know what you are dealing with and what to avoid. See the Watch out for the wildlife section below.

Rivers can be extremely dangerous are best avoided altogether unless the current is very slow, you can see the bottom or you are with someone with local knowledge who knows where it is safe to swim. In a river where you can’t see the bottom do not go in as it can get very deep suddenly and the current can be much stronger in different places. AVOID!

Lakes can be good to cool off on a hot day and at least the water is still, but again can get very deep very quickly away from the edge and you can’t see the bottom. Best avoided unless you know the location is safe.

Swimming pools are by far the safest except for non-swimmers including children. Take extra care to watch children playing near a swimming pool and never leave a non-swimming child unattended near a swimming pool.

 

High risk activities

High risk activities

There are many extreme sports and other high risk activities you can get involved with when on holiday. The list is long but to name a few – bungee jumping, white water rafting, kite surfing, surfing, jet skiing, parascending, rock climbing, high altitude trekking, scuba diving, shark diving, sky diving, heli and glacier skiing, mountain biking.

You need to ask yourself; am I capable of and/or experienced enough in doing the activity without injuring myself or worse in the process. If the answer is yes, make sure you check the safety record and the equipment of the provider and ensure you know what safety equipment you should be wearing. The story of a guy dying on a beach in Turkey, plummeting to the beach from several hundred feet while parascending, because the safety harness webbing was sun bleached and rotted springs to mind. If you need a guide enlist a good local one. If you can find someone ask others who’ve used them or check on-line for comments. Don’t try any high risk activity while under the influence of alcohol, this is the fastest way to an accident.

You need to check your travel insurance  to see if it covers the activity you are planning. Some of the high risk activities listed above will only be covered if you have asked your insurance company to cover them and paid the extra premium. Then there are those activities which will not be covered at all under standard travel insurance policies and you will need to purchase specialist high risk activity travel insurance.

 

Watch out for the wild life

Watch out for the wild life

Stay away from local dogs, cats and other animals such as monkeys unless you know the owner of the animal. Rabies is endemic on all continents except Antarctica, occurs in 150 countries or territories with the highest risk in Africa, Asia and South America. Despite rabies being 100% preventable by vaccination it continues to kill tens of thousands of people each year, mostly in Africa and Asia. 40% of deaths are children under 15 so warn your children about the dangers of strange animals too.

In some countries such as Australia, parts of Africa and North and South America learn about the wildlife beforehand as some native wild animals are very dangerous. It isn’t necessarily the case that you need to venture off the beaten track to come across some of these wild animals. For example the poisonous red back and deadly funnel web spiders can be found in or near human residencies in parts of Australia. Many of the world’s most venomous snakes also reside in that country, plus a variety of poisonous sea borne creatures and crocodiles. Africa has dangerous animals from the black mamba snake to the elephant, with hippos and water buffalo being particularly dangerous. North America and Canada have bears, wolves, cougars, rattlesnakes and alligators. South America has Anaconda, poisonous frogs, jaguars, piranhas. This list goes on and above are listed just a few, so worth consulting Google to find out what danger lurks out there before you go.

 

Holiday safety tips – Travel smart

If you are looking for holiday safety tips for a specific country, World Nomads Travel Smart enables you to enter a destination country and returns tips, advice, warnings and alerts in the results. You can also choose worldwide to get the latest travel smart holiday safety tips on a global basis. Click the link below for more….

World Nomads Travel Smart

 

If you found the above top travel safety tips helpful, please share so others can benefit from the information as well or if you have any questions or tips of your own on travel safety, leave a comment below.

12 Comments

  1. Hi Neil,

    Great tips for travel safety. I am currently on a trip and have met most of your checklist except that I have also tasted a lot of local food, sold by stall vendors and haven’t gotten any diarrhea just yet 😛

    If I may add to the list, don’t make a big fuss about your travel on social media. Telling people where you have checked in or how long you’ll be away from your own home for example. Social news get passed around very fast and the last thing you want is to have someone break into your own home while you are away.

    Travel smart, folks!

    • Hi Cathy,
      Thanks for your comments and great tip. Eating street vendor food can be OK depending on where you are I guess and making an assessment of how clean things are and how fresh the food looks when you are there. I just had a bad experience so probably wouldn’t risk it again, but I’m glad you have had no ill effects.

      Not telling people when or where you are going away and for how long, with the exception of friends and family of course, is a great tip. I even avoid letting it slip that I am going away to local people like taxi drivers just in case, they talk to someone who talks to someone else and so on. This is a bit tricky if you get a taxi to the airport laden down with luggage and it is obvious you are off on your travels somewhere.
      Thanks
      Neil

  2. A very informative article!
    I am always careful in my belongings especially cellphones and cash while travelling. I don’t show it off in public and I make sure I don’t wear much jewelry in order to avoid attention from thieves.

    • Hi Keye,
      Thanks for your comment and I agree, just trying to blend in and doing (or not doing) anything to avoid attracting attention to yourself in some places is the best course of action. Displays of perceived wealth in some places is a sure way to attract that unwanted attention. Most things can be hidden easily except cameras. These present a tricky problem if you want to take photos when out and about, one solution is to only carry a small compact camera which can be hidden in a pocket for most of the time and taken out only to take the photos.
      Thanks
      Neil

  3. this site will definitely help travelers and I loved that you did bullet points on the keep your children safe part of this article

    • Hi David,
      Thanks for the comment. I’ll definitely be doing a more in depth article on travelling with children soon, keeping them safe and occupied which varies according to the different modes of travelling.
      All the best
      Neil

  4. Your tips regarding safe travel can assist anyone in avoiding a tragedy while traveling, many of which I had never considered until reading your information. You must ALWAYS be aware of your surrounding, but what do you think about using those reloadable prepaid cards as opposed to carrying cash at all? I have never left America but I plan to change that real soon, so these tips will help me in my travels. Awesome information.

    • Hi Christian,
      Thanks for your comments and great idea about including information on pre-paid cards. I’ll probably do a separate post on these to give more information on them but, basically they act like electronic travellers cheques. You pre-load the card with the currency of the country you are going to at the exchange rate given by the provider at the time you loaded the card. If you keep you eye on forex rates you can get a good deal on your exchange rate by buying in advance when the rate is favourable to you. The cards carry some fees so you need to watch out for those, but they are safe if you lose the card, you can get a replacement usually for a small fee.
      All the best and good luck in your travels
      Neil

  5. wow lots of great tips and advice here about traveling!!
    What a great read and load of information!
    It seems like you have really got a lot of experience travelling to many different area’s of the world!
    Keep up the good work!
    -Ryan

    • Hi Ryan,
      Thanks for the comments. I have travelled in many different ways including backpacking so I was interested to see your great resource on adventurebackpacks.com. I always found it a struggle to keep the contents of my backpack down to only what I needed as I collected items along the way. To keep the weight down I’d ship the heavier items home via sea mail (which was the cheapest way). The great thing about travelling is there is always more to see and people to meet than you can possible fit into one lifetime.
      All the best
      Neil

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