Top 10 Secrets for Safe and Secure Foreign Travel

16 Mar

Whether you plan on getting cozy in a resort, staying in a hotel or jumping from hostel to hostel this year, be smart about certain approaches to local customs.  Although these tips skew visits to second and third world countries, they can be applied anywhere.  Keep yourself safe, your money secure and your sanity in check by implementing these secret tips to deter you from landing in common sticky situations while travelling abroad.

1. Avoid Being a Tourist

 Even as I write that I picture the stereotypical tourist – frozen in the middle of the sidewalk, map upside down, appearing as though they’re new to the world.  Instead, they’re just new to the country.  Obviously and vulnerably new.  To avoid looking and acting like one of those I pretend I’ve been living in the country I’m visiting, for years.  With a significant population of expats in any given country these days, anyone could potentially be a local – including you.  Walk with confidence, don’t point and for heaven’s sake be discreet when pulling out your Lonely Planet, map or language dictionary.  Not following these simple tips scream tourist which increases your risk of being approached and taken advantage of by watchful eyes.  Another trick to avoid this is to…

2. Wear What the Locals Wear

Purchasing a few signature trends helps you blend in, making you less of a potential target.  It’s also imperative that you keep in mind any particular stipulations of a country such as those in the Middle East and some parts of Europe and Asia where modest dress is not only suitable, it’s expected.  Observe what the shops display in their store windows, or what women wear, for an indication of the country’s dress code.
 
3.  Learn Local Language
 If you plan on travelling to a second or third world county for your next adventure travel, learning their local “no” can come in handy.  I can count on all of my fingers and toes how many times I’ve been harassed simply walking through the local bazaars and markets – not just to buy, but even just to look.  Most of the time the shop or stall owners respect that you’re just passing by or browsing but if you happen to catch them on a day where sales aren’t doing too well, desperation can lead to aggression.  If physical contact is made or they block your way, a firm “no” in their local language makes you come across as an equal (not just a tourist) while demonstrating that you’re a force not to be reckoned with.
4.  Convert to Local Currency
This tip is especially useful for visits to second or third world countries.  There is nothing like the guise of Andrew Jackson or Benjamin Franklin that excites locals and turns them greedy (and in some cases, desperate).  With US money consistently worth so much more than their local exchange, everyone is battling to get their hands on it.  Dodge risky situations, such as getting ripped off or mugged, by shelling out their local funds.  Once they see you’re not handing out US money, potential dangers decrease.  As an added bonus for you, becoming acquainted with global currencies helps you become even more cultured.  Otherwise…

5.  … Memorize the Currency Conversion
If you choose to spend in US funds familiarize yourself with the currency conversion.  Whether paying for transportation, food, gifts or the like, at least you’ll have an idea of what the correct amount is in comparison to what the locals claim.  You don’t need to carry around a calculator or your mobile to do exact math.  Memorize the number to divide by and that should give you approximate cost.

6.  Don’t Ask Where the Bathroom or Washroom Is
Ask where the toilet is.  Yes, I said it.  Over 60% of countries around the world refer to public restrooms as the “toilet”; it is one word that every language understands.  Although it`s considered quite vulgar by North American standards I suggest you bite the bullet and just do it.  Otherwise, you may find yourself in a game of charades desperately trying to describe what you need with someone who just doesn’t comprehend.  In this particular case, you won’t want to play long enough to find out who wins.

7.  Take a Business Card
I can’t stress enough the importance of holding on to the hotel’s, hostel’s or bed and breakfast’s business card – usually at front desk.  These not only include the phone number and street address, but usually a mini-map and always the establishment’s name (for those late nights out when you’ve forgotten it completely).  Remember: no one can help you if you don’t know where you’re going, and I’ve had taxi drivers take advantage of that by driving up the kilometers (no pun intended). To that point…

8.  ….Negotiate Your Taxi or Tuk Tuk Fare
Too many times have I not done so and with more surprise than a jack-in-the-box, ended up getting charged out the wazoo on the grounds that “it’s what everyone pays”.  Similar to shop owners, taxi drivers are in the business to make serious cash off of tourists and will attempt sly maneuvers to make a little extra coin.  What else do they have to lose?

9.  Disperse Your Money
By distributing money around your person, you avoid losing everything should an unfortunate situation arise and all your funds were in the same place.  I tend to stuff a few bills in my sock, under my cap, in my front pocket and wear a money-belt (NOTE:  this is not the same as a fanny-pack).  A money-belt lays flat against your waist, beneath your clothes and comes in a neutral shade so it’s not evident through white clothing.  Escape announcing what you’ve got hiding and where by stepping out of sight to pull out cash when needed.  This tactic isn’t as convenient as simply reaching into your purse, pack or rug-sack but it sure keeps your money away from potential muggers.

10.  Photocopy Your Passport
Why?  Because it’s the next best thing to your actual passport, should you lose it.  Whether you use it for ID or need it to sign up for an excursion, avoid bringing your actual passport along.  Passport theft is common anywhere, but especially in second and third world countries to sell on the black market for huge sums of money.  You also don’t want to find yourself stranded in another country until the Canadian Embassy can generate a new passport for you.  What good are all these tips to ensure you return home safely if you don’t even have your passport to return home?

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