El viaxeru d'Urculo (The Traveler of Urculo)Credit: By Astur (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Security is always a concern when traveling and it seems that we are always hearing horror stories. However, these are usually about the unfortunate experiences of inexperienced travelers and experienced travelers know that there are several common sense precautions you can take to minimize the risk and that traveling does not always have to be dangerous.

1. Be Low Key

Never draw attention to yourself by being a tacky tourist like the people in this photo.

Tourists between the stupas on the BorobudurCredit: "COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Toeristen bij de stupa's op de Borobudur TMnr 20027037" by Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Toeris

It is not a good idea to become a target by flaunting wealth anywhere, but especially in poorer countries. When it comes to valuables, most seasoned travelers do not take expensive items with them that might tempt a potential thief.  Keep your camera, cell phone or tablet hidden. Do not show off by wearing expensive jewellery or designer clothes. Sport a cheap ten dollar watch instead of an expensive designer timepiece, and wear plain clothing in subdued colors.

You can also keep your behavior subdued by speaking quietly and politely and by avoiding extravagant body language. And you know how absolutely everybody notices that loud and obnoxious drunk? You will obviously want to avoid being that person at all costs.

2. Be Knowledgeable

It is easy to get a wealth of information from the internet so before traveling to a new place do a little research.

First of all check government advisories to see if there are any major security concerns in the area you are traveling to. If it appears too dangerous you can always change your plans. A couple of years ago my favorite travel companion and myself were thinking of driving down the Pacific coast from Vancouver, Canada to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico via Tijuana. However, because travel advisories from the Canadian government classified northwest Mexico as extremely dangerous we decided to fly to Cancun instead.

The Return of a Hijacked Lufthansa Plane 1977Credit: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051866-0010 / Wegmann, Ludwig / CC-BY-SA [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

You should also become familiar with the lay of the land at your destination. You can easily download city maps, information about the local transportation system and even a GPS app for your cell phone. All cities, probably including your own, have neighborhoods which are particularly unsafe, so know ahead of time which parts of town to avoid.

Two specific pieces of information are particularly crucial. The first is the exchange rate for the currency at your destination. This will enable you to be a knowledgeable souvenir shopper and an expert haggler at the local market. The other is the contact information for your country's embassy or consulate at your destination, which could prove vital in an emergency situation.

Another thing to consider is to research the local culture and learn at least a smattering of the local language, including how to say "thank you" and to ask if someone speaks English. Communication is always a key issue so if you do not speak the language, consider getting a pocket phrase book or an electronic translator.




3. Protect Your Valuables

It is advisable to carry as little cash as possible, and not to allow strangers to see the contents of your wallet.

Money, credit cards and passports should be kept in a fanny pack or, better still, a thief proof money belt. It is also smart not to carry credit cards and cash all in the same place, but to split them up. Break cash into small amounts to conceal in various places such as inside your shoe or in a money belt worn under your clothing.

Valuables such as a camera or laptop should be kept close and in plain sight. When flying, valuables should be packed in your carry-on rather than your checked baggage. When traveling by public transportation or taxi always keep these things in plain sight; do not give them to the driver to store elsewhere.

Sculpture Lost Luggage Depot (2001) by the Canadian artist Jeff Wall, Wilhelminakade, RotterdamCredit: "Rotterdam kunstwerk lost luggage depot" by Wikifrits - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rotterdam_kunstwerk_lost_luggage_depot.jpg#/media/File:Rotterdam_kunstwerk_lost_luggage_depot.jpg

 There are many products on the market for concealing cash and preventing theft. These include money belts with slash proof straps, anti theft wallets, and body, arm and leg pouches.




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Many hotels provide a programmable, in-room safe. This is the most secure option for storing valuables at the hotel. If this option is not available front desk staff will probably be able to provide access to a hotel safe. In any event, never leave valuables lying in plain sight to tempt cleaning staff. If there is no safe at the hotel, or for travelers staying at hostels or other shared accommodation, a slash proof portable safe such as the PacSafe 100 is a possible solution. This is also a good option at the beach for swimmers although some water enthusiasts might feel more comfortable taking their valuables with them in a waterproof pouch or wallet.

4. Protect Your Passport

Before you travel take two copies of the inside page of your passport (the one showing your photo and passport number). Leave one copy behind with a friend or family member. Take the other with you, but keep it in a safe place separate from the original, and keep the original safe at all times, either on your person or securely locked away. It is also vital that you know how to contact their home country’s embassy or consulate while abroad (see number 2 above).

Czech passport 2000Credit: "Czech passport 2000 MRZ data" by Original uploader was Dan Lukes at cs.wikipedia - Transferred from cs.wikipedia; Transfer was stated to be made by User:sevela.p.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil

If you do lose your passport, you must report the loss to your nearest embassy or consulate, where diplomatic staff will provide invaluable advice. They can help you to file a report with the local police and obtain an interpreter if necessary. They can also supply emergency travel documents, and give advice on obtaining replacement visas.  Staff will need to see identification, ideally including a photocopy of the missing passport. Reporting procedures vary depending on your home country. Some embassies or consulates can be contacted by phone or online, while others may require the traveler to file a report in person.

Because of the potential value of a missing passport on the black market and the possibility of it falling into the hands of terrorists, authorities treat the loss of a passport as an extremely grave matter. Reporting a lost or stolen passport is therefore not something to be taken lightly, and every possible effort should be made to find it before doing so. When you do file a report it will immediately be passed on to customs authorities and possibly Interpol.

5. Be Alert and Trust Your Instincts

You should always be alert to what is going on around you, keeping your eyes open for suspicious behavior, and your ears free of headphones so that you will be able to hear suspicious sounds. Also, since every tourist is a potential mark for swindlers and scam artists, treat strangers with caution, especially if they approach with a sad story or an unexpected offer of help. Because alcohol will dull your judgement, drink in moderation unless you are confident you are in safe surroundings.




See How Easily You Can Be Deceived By a Pickpocket

Trust your instincts. If something does not feel quite right, there is probably a reason for that.

Fortunately, most people are honest and friendly.  A reasonable amount of forethought and commonsense when traveling will minimize the likelihood of your falling prey to those few people who are unfortunately not so trustworthy.