Thursday, August 25, 2011

It IS Possible to Travel Safely

I am very lucky to be surrounded by people who support my decisions to travel.  Their enthusiasm energizes me even when last minute nerves and the stresses of packing get me down. Every now and then though, I meet an “anti-traveler.”  Beyond disapproving of the idea of travelling, these people actually try to dissuade me from going. For the most part they seem to believe that tourists are danger magnets.  I cannot tell you how many people out in the small town I grew up in are convinced I’m going to be assaulted, kidnapped, or at the very least pickpocketed in my travels.

One woman even insisted that I watch the movie Taken before backpacking Europe.  If you haven’t seen it, the film's basic premise is an American girl takes goes to Paris, and almost immediately upon checking into a fancy hotel, is abducted and sold as a sex slave.  This is pretty darn ridiculous:

Now I won’t deny that travelling, especially solo, has inherent risks.  Everything good in life does.  What’s important is that we stay informed, and do our best to exercise caution.

Here are some steps I take to protect myself, that may be helpful to you as well.

1.     Don’t carry large amounts of cash.  Even when I need foreign currency, I only bring a small amount. I’m sure to inform my banks that I’ll be travelling, and I visit atms to get more money when I need it- isn’t modern technology great?
2.     Keep valuables out of sight.  If I absolutely need to have something expensive with me, like a camera, I keep it tucked into an inside pocket of my jacket or bag.
3.     Choose hostels with lockers.  This way I don’t have to lug my stuff around with me all day, but I don’t have to leave it under my bunkbed either.
4.     Know what areas to avoid.  When you arrive, ask the receptionist at the hostel, or a school official (in my case), what places aren’t safe to walk in at night.  Then avoid those areas after dark!
5.     Trust  your intuition.  I believe this is the single most important thing for solo travelers to remember, especially women.  If you feel uncomfortable in a situation get out of it- call the cops, duck into a restaurant, yell “fire!,” do whatever you need to.  It’s better to be safe than sorry, and you should never be ashamed to ask for help if you think you might need it. 

There are tons more resources online about travel safety. Although none will give you a 100% guarantee against travel dangers (nothing will), these can go a long way towards minimizing risk:

The Indie Travel Podcast's Safety Guide
US Government Guide to Safe Travel
NY Times on Safe Solo Travel for Women

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