30 travel safety tips for your next trip
In 11 years travelling alone and with others I've had my fair share of travel disasters. Yet, seeing the world is still the most incredible way to be inspired and just let go; just, ideally, not of your wallet. This travel safety guide gives you simple tips to reduce the chance of theft and loss so you don't need to be on high alert all the time. By finding the safety tips that actually work for you, you can fully relax and enjoy yourself on every trip away.
This safety advice covers simple vacation safety tips, theft proof travel products and good travel behaviours so you can enjoy your trip away safely every time you go abroad from now on. Use it to plan before your travel, keep on track whilst you’re away and check what worked for you when you get home. OK, let’s go!
30 travel safety tips
TRAVEL TIP Thieves and scammers choose easy targets, not hard ones. There's always someone who isn't looking after their belongings or money. Your job is simply to make sure it's not you.
1 Before you arrive, get a really good understanding of the local exchange rate. Test yourself how much a bottle of water, a coffee, a meal or a taxi should cost in the new foreign currency. This will stop you paying way over the odds e.g. at market stalls.
It often happens in the first days on holidays that new tourists don’t want to seem difficult and, when asked for an amount 10 or even 100 times too much, hand it over. Listen to the amount the shopkeeper asks, work out how much it is in your currency and make sure the amount makes sense.
Passport safety on the go
2 Give your passport a special status among your belongings when you travel. Without it, you can’t leave or enter different countries, not even your own. This is never more clear than the moment it disappears. Give yourself a reminder - in your phone's calendar, for example - in the final week of your travel that your passport needs a little extra care.
3 Depending on how you’re travelling - backpacking, cruise or city break - plan two or three go-to safe places where you can keep your passport for different activities e.g. when you’re at the airport, on the move, on a day trip or just out for dinner. The place should be close to your body and not in a jacket or small bag which you might remove or leave somewhere.
TRAVEL TASK "Where should I keep my passport when I travel?" Choose places that others can't see but you can access easily. E.g. Use a secure pocket in the backpack you are wearing on your back. The best high security backpacks are built with a flat pocket at the base of your spine, naturally protected by your back when you wear it. This is great spot for your passport or your phone. It can’t be seen or accessed by others, yet you can slide your passport in discreetly after airport security without even removing your backpack.
4 Always allow yourself two extra minutes before you leave for the day to calmly make sure your passport and other valuables are in a safe place. By doing this on the first few days, it’ll soon become the norm.
Make your backpack secure
5 When backpacking, travellers often have a smaller daypack to access items on the go as well as a larger backpack. This smaller bag often has valuables, cash and camera in it. Get in the habit of putting one strap of your smaller daypack (or purse) UNDER your main backpack strap. This way, you can still reach your quick-access bag but it can’t fall or easily be taken off you.
6 If you want to carry your belongings with you whilst you’re travelling, consider getting a high security backpack - with a backwards design - which can’t be opened by the person behind you. On these secure backpacks, all the zips are designed against your back and made to be comfortable. You don’t have to wear your backpack on your front - nervous tourist alert - you can carry everything behind and feel confident it really is safe.
7 Once you have found a new travel safety product that works for you, learn to switch off your concern levels. This may sound unintuitive, but here’s the thinking behind it. The point of being away on holiday is to relax and have an amazing time. If you’re building these good travel habits and products into your trip away, you are actively reducing the risk of theft or loss occurring. This means you can reasonably lower your concern that something bad might happen. Just buying the product isn't enough. You have to allow it to change your travel mindset positively too.
DISCUSSION: Is travel at home safer than travel abroad? Technically theft could take place anywhere, yet data shows us more theft and loss is experienced in tourist hot spots and on holiday. This is because tourists are more likely to have a wallet of cash, a camera and phone on them, at the least. Also, tourists don’t know where they are going, they are easily scammed due to lack of local knowledge and are in awe of the things around them.
An important difference between foreign and home travel is the impact theft or loss has. If you lose your wallet in your hometown the impact is likely to be lower: you are more likely to have a network of friends, colleagues and family who you can call on for help, you are more likely to be able to get home easily, the cost of fixing the loss is likely to be lower and there is less likely to be time pressure on you - such as return flights.
For this reason, try to relax and not have fear of theft too much on the commute to work or on daily journeys at home. Even if something happens you can fix it. Relaxing too much on holiday - especially extended trips over 30 days - may mean we make mistakes which lead to an increased chance of theft or loss. So keep a healthy awareness of how safe your key belongings - passport, wallet, phone - are when you’re abroad and learn to relax on your everyday commute.
Cash safety on holiday
8 Have a simple system for splitting cash. A small amount - your budget for the day or until you return to your hotel room - should be separate and easily accessible by you. The main store of cash should be separate and deep in your luggage. Organise your cash in the privacy of your hotel room every day, not on the go in public.
TRAVEL TASK "How should I look after my cash safely on holiday?" Take two wallets when you travel. Take a small money holder with enough money for your next two meals or for the day which you can access easily in a shop or a restaurant. Keep the rest of your cash in another wallet - or any kind of folder - which is deep inside your luggage.
9 A simple way not to get pickpocketed from your trouser pocket is to use a wallet with a chain attached to your trousers whilst you travel. This might not be a style you would try at home, but for on a vacation, or longer travel, it helps to reduce the chance of your wallet being stolen or dropping it by accident.
TRAVEL TIP How the wallet and chain works: the best pickpockets don’t grab stuff from your pockets. They get their hands on to something in your pocket and let you walk away from it. This way you feel nothing but your own moment and you often don’t notice until it’s too late. The chain does two things: 1) If the chain is visible, the pickpocket will choose someone else who is easier to pickpocket. 2) If the chain isn’t obvious, the moment they realise they’ll drop it. 3) Or you’ll be alerted to the theft by feeling the tug on your trousers.
10 If you really don’t want to put your wallet away in a secure place - like a high security backpack - choose a front trouser pocket instead, not a back pocket. It is not as easily accessed or targeted by pickpockets.
11 When choosing which clothes to pack on holiday consider this: it is easier to steal a phone, cash or a wallet from loose fitting trousers without being noticed. If you really want to put your wallet into your trousers abroad wear tight fitting jeans. If you're wearing baggy trousers, consider moving your belongings into a secure bag of any kind rather than using your pockets.
Bank and Cash Machine Safety
12 If you have the option, use an ATM or cash machine inside a bank building rather than one outside on the street.
13 Take your time when withdrawing cash. Never feel you have to hurry.
14 Cover your PIN. It may seem like an urban myth, but it really is the case that teams of people work together to distract tourists near cash machines.
TRAVEL FACT Top distraction methods used at ATM cash machines: 1) Asking a simple question just after you’ve taken cash out e.g. what's the time? In the moment you break your flow, slow down and look down to check the time, another person can access cash or a wallet in a pocket. 2) PIN and shout: One person watches your PIN from behind as you enter it. You take out cash successfully. At the moment your card should come out a loud sound is made nearby. You are distracted and look towards it. In that moment, your card is taken and the PIN used immediately to take out cash. You think the machine has taken your card and walk into the bank to complain.
15 Put your cash away to a secure place not accessible to others before you walk away. You’ve taken out cash. It’s obvious you now have cash on you. Your job is not to give anyone opportunity to take it.
16 Keep focused on the task at hand when taking cash out of a cash machine in the street. Complete your task before responding to people or noise nearby.
17 If you can, consider travelling with a bank card from an international bank. If your cash or credit card is lost or stolen, your bank may have a local branch in that country or city. Your bank may be willing to communicate with its international counterpart and allow you to withdraw cash using just your proof of identity.
Camera, wallet and phone safety
18 Put your camera away after you've finished taking photos. Don’t hold it in your hand in public places for no reason. A camera, phone or small bag can be spotted from a distance and grabbed surprisingly easily.
19 Use your camera strap. Yes, you'll look like a tourist but it has a benefit. Not only are you less likely to drop it, if it's obviously around your neck or across your chest, you make the job of a thief more difficult. They will move on to choose someone else.
Bring backup documentation
20 Before you go, take 2 minutes to email photos of your passport, bank card and your visa to your personal email account. Also make sure your travel insurance policy is accessible. If you find yourself without any of your documents, you can access them at any internet cafe. If you are heading to a place with very little infrastructure, consider taking paper copies.
TRAVEL TIP: "Why think about safety before your trip?" The reason you plan to be secure is to make the most of your time away. When you are there you want to relax, feel confident to explore, interact and be curious about the new places you’re visiting. By taking half a day to plan how you want to reduce travel risk - thinking about good travel behaviours, getting the right travel products for your trip, planning how to carry your passport and cash - you can avoid a lost or stolen wallet, lost or stolen passport with visa, missed flights, losing money on tourist scams, travel anxiety or a trip with that niggling feeling that your belongings aren’t safe.
21 If you have another form of ID, keep it separate from your passport deep in your luggage. If your main passport is stolen you will still be able to identify yourself.
Staying safe when you go out
22 Wallets and passports don’t only go missing through theft when you travel. In many cases, travellers lose valuables on a night out where alcohol is consumed. Dreadful, isn’t it? If you’re planning on going out whilst you’re abroad, make sure your intoxicated self can’t put your valuables at risk. You can do this by having a plan: e.g. leave all important items at the hotel. Or don't take your whole wallet and cards. Take just enough cash for the evening.
23 In a cafe or restaurant remind yourself not to hang your bag over the back of your seat. Those bags disappear. If it’s small, you could keep it on your lap. If it’s larger, try between your feet. If you have sight of or contact with it, that’s the best case scenario.
24 Don’t leave your smartphone and wallet lying on the table for no reason. If you’re not actively using it, put it in a safe pocket. A pickpocket shared a great technique for stealing stuff from tables with me. The thief comes over, puts a magazine or map down over your phone and asks if you know how to get to a certain place - often a very obvious one. Whilst you’re showing off your local knowledge, the phone is picked up and the person thanks you and walks out.
25 Try to be discreet with your cash when paying. Don’t count through your large numbers of freshly printed notes in public. Ideally, just take from your smaller, separate daily allowance.
Good travel behaviours
26 Be respectful of the standard of living in the place you’re visiting. Walking around with expensive items, flashing cash, jewellery and cameras can draw attention. Travellers not taking care of those valuables may find they disappear.
27 Most people prefer to only think of the good when booking their holiday. In fact, a little of the opposite is actually better. If you’re travelling with others, take the chance to have a conversation about how you plan to be safe and secure before you go away. A shared conversation about what might happen if something goes wrong can bring up good ideas who can all do and leave you all prepared if something bad does happen.
28 Whilst we might prepare to be safe, if something does go wrong on holiday - a theft, loss of important document or cash - it’s a hard blow to deal with. It’s easy to panic and believe you'll never fix it. But I can tell you, as someone who has been stranded in Asia without a passport or visa after being robbed, none of my strong negative reactions helped. If you are able to, do your best to stay calm, go to the institutions that can help you - the police, your own Embassy, the Immigration authorities in that country - and together you will get through it. Try to remember, thousands of travellers lose their passports and cash every day. There are processes in place to help you get home.
TRAVEL TIP: If you, or someone you travel with, suffers from travel anxiety, know you are not alone. There are great online communities and travel bloggers who live with anxiety and share their travel experiences. Visit this great blog about travelling with anxiety covering preparing for travel, travelling and dealing with panic attacks whilst you're away.
29 If you’re with someone who experiences theft or similar problems when abroad, try to be empathetic and to support them. Theft or loss can have a deep impact on an individual. Try to support your fellow traveller in any way you can. This may mean simply trying to understand how they feel.
30 Being aware of your security when you’re travelling abroad is a good thing. However, being on high alert all the time may take away the pleasure, relaxation and benefits of your holiday. Prepare yourself with safe travel habits, a high quality travel bag that is actually secure and enough time to travel safely so that you can enjoy your holiday, really unwind and come home with more than you left. When you do those things, you are reducing the chance that bad things will happen and that means you deserve to to lower your alert levels and feel confident in your travels.