As a woman who has traveled solo to five continents, safety is always my top concern. I’ve had my share of mishaps – my purse was stolen twice (Thailand and Barcelona) because I was not paying attention—which were both good lessons that helped me stop a pickpocket in Buenos Aires and will hopefully help you as well.
Despite what the news says, the world is actually a safe place. Even The New York Times agrees, the leading cause of unnatural deaths for Americans abroad is not terrorism, kidnapping or Zika, but motorized vehicle accidents.
Here are a few tips about how to stay safe while roaming the globe:
1. Research Travel Warnings: Be aware of travel warnings for health, environmental and political concerns. American’s should check travel.state.gov and sign up for the STEP Smart Traveler Program, which provides free email updates. Avoid areas with military conflicts. Political gatherings and elections, even smaller elections that may not make international headlines, may also be a cause for concern so check in advance. Current editions of travel guides are also good resources. Don’t forget to check the weather to avoid dangerous conditions and always purchase travel medical insurance that provides emergency evacuation.
2. Dress appropriately: Nothing screams “rich foreigner” more than an Apple Watch. In high theft areas, avoid fancy jewelry and watches especially on public transport. Be sure to cover up in conservative cultures to avoid unwanted attention. Be respectful when visiting temples. Many places will make you buy clothes if you aren’t dressed correctly. Baggy harem pants are a good option for hot places like India. Plus, they are great for preventing mosquito bites! Choose a purse with a strap that crosses your body and keep your hand over the zipper on public transport.
3. Safe Transport: Avoid arriving late at night in countries with safety concerns like India, Central America, Peru and Bolivia. In these high risk areas, avoid local buses for long routes and pay extra for private buses. Cruz del Sur buses in Peru are a favorite because they have their own private bus stations with secure luggage claim and safe taxis available. Never grab a taxi off the street in these areas. Have your hotel, hostel or a restaurant call one for you instead. Most major cities have safe radio taxi companies like Meru in India, Tappsi in Colombia and EasyTaxi in Peru.
Research local taxi regulations to ensure a taxi is marked properly before getting inside. Guidebooks and receptionists are good resources. Also, never give the driver your phone to see the address of your destination. Instead, write it down on a piece of paper. Most importantly, there is no price for safety. Never risk your safety to save money!
4. Trust Your Instinct: Above all, use common sense. Would you walk around the rough parts of your hometown alone at 4 a.m.? Then, don’t do it abroad. Watch your partying. Nothing makes you more vulnerable to thieves than alcohol or drugs. If your instincts tell you something feels the slightest bit odd, get out of the situation immediately. Don’t worry about being rude. Leave immediately!
5. Ask the Locals: The best way to stay safe is the talk to the locals. The best resources are hotel receptionists, expats and local guides. Ask about locations you want to visit. Is it safe for a foreigner to go to certain part of town or take a local bus? If they don’t think you’ll be safe, then avoid the area or go with a group.