How to NOT get Pillaged and Plundered or the Art of Proper Vigilance when Traveling Alone
February 1, 2017
It’s all about Stranger Danger and Proper Vigilance when Traveling Alone
Guys this is serious, you need to have proper vigilance when traveling alone and if someone offers you some candy and wants you to pet their puppy, in their sound proof van, you run away. The alarms in you head should scream, “Danger, danger Will Robison. Abort.” Okay I am partially kidding because obviously someone will lure you into a van by asking you to pet their unicorn since they are all the rage on Instagram.
But let me set a scene for you that might be a bit familiar. So whether you’re traveling alone or riding a motorcycle or talking,
gasp, while driving, inevitably you are going to get an insomnia annihilating lecture from your parents. You know, the one that ends in the immortal words, “be careful”. And when you’re fifteen you’re like, “Pshh, I’m immortal. Screw you mom and dad. Don’t be so overprotective (insert angsty eye roll here, with the thought bubble, “God, why are parents so annoying?”).”
Been there have you? I know I have. I have gotten this lecture many a time but the most memorable one was when I told ye olde mom and dad that I was moving to Korea to teach English. No joke, it was a drop the mic moment, and not in a good way. They responded to this news about as well as if I had told them that I was moving to Afghanistan to become a drug mule and launder money for my pimp. So the short answer is that they totally lost it and went completely bananas. Now, I’m not gonna bore you will all the juicy details but let’s just say that my father ended the conversation with the immortal words, “Mark my words, you’re going to get sold into the SEX SLAVE TRADE!” And yes, that really did happen.
But the reason I reference this incident is not only because it’s funny but to emphasize the point that talking about safety sucks. I mean, who wants to be an adult and prepare for possible accidents by shelling out money to buy travel insurance or a first aid kit? Like ew, no one looks cool walking around with some alcohol pads and gauze. Or how about rolling up to a stranger like, “Hey, what kind of travel insurance do you have? No way, you get $100,000 in the event of accidental death by shark attack? I am so jealous of you right now.”
Yeah, that never happens because no one wants to think about all the bad crap that could potentially kill them. Except me. I
watch a ton of Investigation Discovery and the more I watch, the more I am amazed that I’m still alive today. I mean, with all the creepers they document, it is a damn miracle that I have made it to the ripe old age of, well I’m not gonna go there but think what you will.
So unless you are watching an episode of Law and Order, thinking about all the weirdos out there that could fillet you up and turn you into a Hibachi dinner is pretty scary and down right depressing. Makes you seriously wonder if Lord of the Flies was based on true story (poor piggy).
However, the older and more crotchety you get. the more life tends to wham, smack you right in the face. And because of all this ass kicking that life does, you’re kind of like , “Hmmm…Maybe my parents had a point when they uttered,’safety first.'” Yeah, you know you’re ancient when you start realizing that your parents were right about 99% of the things they told you. Like that time you decided to get a facial tattoo of Nick Carter because, “all the cool kids were doing it”, yeah maybe that wasn’t such a great idea, even though I would never betray BSB and defect to the likes of N’Sync.
So rather then ignore all the potentially awful things that can happen you us when you travel alone (You never know when an alien is gonna abduct you and conduct, “experiments” that we cannot speak of here because this isn’t that kind of blog. Stop it guys, this could really happen. I’ve seen it on X-Files), let’s put on our big girl (or boy) panties and discus the dreaded topic of (dun dun dun) solo travel safety or the art of proper vigilance when traveling alone.
1. Do your research and take travel safety warnings SERIOUSLY.
Have you ever watched one of those Locked Up Abroad episodes where the people are like, “Yeah, I knew the country was in a civil war and there were insurgents everywhere, but I still cannot believe that I was kidnapped.” I always want to smack these people and be like, “Really? Why didn’t you listen to basically everyone on the planet? I mean, if locals are fleeing the country as refugees then maybe you should, I don’t know, not visit?”
Now in fairness this is an extreme case but the truth of the matter is that no matter where you go, do your research before you visit. Find out what the country is like, what you should wear, what neighborhoods to avoid, when it is safe to walk on the street, what are the best modes of public transportation, etc. You don’t want to walk down the street and offend an entire nation of people because you’re giving everyone a thumb’s up and they think you’re telling them to eff off.
So embrace the bookworm within and read up storm so that you can act like a local, even if you don’t look like one. Kind of like me trying to blend in in South Korea. No one would ever mistake me for a local but I took the time to learn about the city and practice the same safety tips that locals use; not that there were many because Seoul is a super safe city.
Some of you are probably old pros at traveling and have lived in a yurt, swam with great white sharks, and met the Dalai Lama, all for just $2.00 a day, but even you need to remember to research a country before you visit because every country is different. Sure, hailing a taxi in New York City is totally fine, but when you head to Lima, Peru, doing that could get you into some trouble. So even the travel gurus who have been to 100 + countries, via hot air balloon, need to remember the fundamentals of safety so that you don’t find yourself carrying a pair of shoes that are actually stuffed with heroin (This actually happened to some girl who was paid thousands of dollars to transport shoes. Then she was utterly shocked that they had drugs inside. Yeah, I kind of wanted to be like, “Well duh!”
2. If you’re buying a guidebook or reading a blog, make sure the publishing date is as recent as possible.
Like with everything in this technology and social media crazed world of ours, things change like that. Oh, you didn’t see that? Right, this is a blog and not a video. Gotcha. Well I snapped my fingers so things change super fast, like Forest Gump running fast.
So it makes sense that if you want to practice safe travel for singles, then you have to have the most up to date information out there. I mean, if I looked at info from the 1990s on New York City, it would have told me to stay away from Eighth Avenue, and for good reason. The area was a total dump and infested with hookers, pimps, drug dealers, and porn stores. So unless you wanted to become the next cast member of Orange is the New Black, you might want to stay away, just a thought.
But now this area is restaurant row and a great place to find 3 course meals for under $30, and they taste really good. So the moral of this sorted tale is get the most up to date information so that are not dodging bullets on you vacation. Trust me, it’s not as cool as 50 cent makes it look.
3. Buy travel insurance and make sure you have the ID card with you at all times.
Look, I get it, you’re young, dumb, and broke, no wait that’s a song. Well, minus the dumb part you’re young and broke and think, “Nothing bad could possibly happen. So I’ll just skip the travel insurance. Such a quick and easy way to save money. Why didn’t I think of it before?”
Yeah no, you have to think about travel and safety, not just the cool part, But brace yourself because this is the part where I act like your mother and remark, “Do you know what could happen to you and how expensive it will be to cover any medical treatments abroad? You could be in debt for the rest of your life if anything happens to you! Is that a risk you’re really willing to take?” Okay, mini lecture over, I’ll revert to being mildly cool and socially awkward Kelly.
But hey, I’ve done it. I’ve traveled without travel insurance and nothing happened. There was no apocalypse and my life didn’t come crashing down around me, but it’s not a risk I’m willing to take anymore because it’s not worth it. I want to, cringe, be a responsible adult and prepare myself for any eventuality. Well, maybe I don’t totally want to grow up. I may still even make an occasional poop or fart joke because yes, I’m 2. However, my days of traveling without insurance are long gone and I suggest you make this small financial investment for your own safety.
4. When not using your passport, keep it in a safe at the hotel/hostel. Make multiple copies and scan one to save in your email.
Look, I have been there. You set off to embark on your first foreign adventure and have no clue what the hell to do with your passport since no one ever tells you how to handle this situation in school. I mean, you know you’ll be screwed if you lose it but what do you do with it? What if you leave it in your room and someone takes it? This is a complete and total existential crisis for sure (Where’s John Locke when you need him. Yup, nerd alert).
The truth is, you should lock your passport in a safe whenever possible. Do not carry it with you unless you are on the run, I mean move, from one place to another (In that instance, stuff it in your money belt). Legit though, the only person who needs your passport is the custom agent and maybe the receptionist at the hotel . Anyone else is probably a scammer and should run, far far away from them.
So there is no reason to carry your passport with you everyday because if someone steals your bag then you will be, well, you can just insert the string of expletives here. That’s why you can just make several copies of your passport and keep them with you. Or better yet, scan a copy of your passport and e-mail it to yourself. That way, you can easily access your passport if you need to get an emergency passport from your local embassy.
5. Carry only the money you need for the day and leave everything else in a safe at your hotel.
One of my favorite and most useful travel safety tips. That’s why I have mentioned it one before and I’ll mention it again. When traveling, don’t walk around with a $1,000 and 5 platinum master cards in your back pocket because you are asking for trouble (If you are this person then give me a shout out because trouble is my name. Call me). Basically, you’ll be screwed if you get pick pocketed. So to avoid this general awfulness, and to save money too, create a budget for the day and only bring that with you. This way, if something does happen, you still have a secret stash at home that you can use to get around (and no, I’m not talking about a stash of THAT, silly reader. Weeds are for whacking). Trust me, you never want to know the eternal joy (yes I am being sarcastic) of dialing epically long, international bank numbers, in the divine hope that they can cancel your debit/credit card without your identity getting stolen and someone buying a small island nation (Wait Kelly, you didn’t buy the Maldives on a recent trip to Sierra Leone? Nope random bank employee, that would be a hard no).
***A lot of rural locations only accept cash so its always good to have some cash on you at all times.
6. Blend in and dress like a local.
I learned this and many other traveler safety tips the hard way. Look, I am not saying you have to buy a whole new wardrobe. Just leave the Jimmy Choo’s at home. Those luxury items have a place, but it’s not on your trip to a developing country. Plus, all that stuff makes your luggage super heavy. So instead, be a super cool hipster minimalist and leave all that stuff at home.
And if that isn’t enough motivation for you to leave your Hope diamond at home, then remember that people already look at you as a, “rich foreigner” because you travel. So no need to add fuel to the fire. Try to dress in neutral colors and everyday clothes that draw as little attention to you as possible (No need to dress in any Clueless style hats).
I learned this the hard way. No joke, I wore a neon green fleece and a bright pink backpack when I traveled to Barcelona, Spain. And guess what? My stuff got stolen. I know, totally shocking to no one but me. However, I did learn my lesson and now try to blend in as much as possible. I mean, I am never gonna look like a local in Thailand but I also don’t want to basically have a neon, blinking sign above my head that says, “Take my money”.
7. Be mindful of your surroundings.
Travel is exciting and fun and we sometimes think that we’re immune to bad things happening on vacation. But just look at the folks on Giligan’s Island and they’ll tell you that travel is super serious. Kidding about the Gilligan’s Island thing but real talk, people like to take advantage of tourists because its like they are basically walking around like they’re in Never Neverland and like no evil can ever harm them. But sadly, we don’t live in a super awesome Disney movie where everyone breaks out into super catchy song and dance routines. That’s why you need to look over your shoulder and be mindful of that creeper who is 10 feet behind you and who has made five turns with you. Yeah, he might not be after an autograph and a free hug, just sayin’.
8. Always watch your bag or have it with you.
This is totally one of the more obvious of my traveling safety tips since they always have those announcements that are like, “If you see an unattended bag, please report it because it will be the end of the world and we’re all gonna die so kiss your ass goodbye.” Or some variation of this, I can’t remember the exact wording. But I never let my carry on out of my sight. I always have it within eye shot. And fi I am super paranoid about theft, i’ll even put my leg through a strap and place the bag underneath my table.
Now let’s pretend for a moment that chivalry is indeed not dead and some knight in shining armor offers to carry your bag for you. The answer is no, unless you want to get a good cardio workout and chase this man or woman down the road, to try an get your stuff back. Yes, some people are super nice, like the citizens of San Francisco who tried to help me with my bag and I yelled at them because I thought they were mugging me (oops), but it’s not a risk worth taking. I have lost my bag on vacation and it is really not fun and kind of ruins the trip. So set yourself up for success and always have your bag with you, okay i’ll stop sounding like a cheesy motivational speaker. I just really don’t want you to loose your stuff.
9. Be mindful of public transportation.
Public transportation is like a double edged sword. Yeah it can be a cheap and easy way to get around, but it can also be a hellish nightmare if you are packed into a subway car with 200 people that you have never met in your life. No, I didn’t have personal space issues before but I sure as hell do now. And I’m gonna pretend like that hand I felt on my ass was accidental.
But when you’re on the subway, and looking at a map to try and figure out where to go, you can easily forget about watching your personal belongings. And this is where pickpockets swoop in like the government taking money from your paycheck to pay “taxes,” whatever those are. Then bam, you have no idea what happened but are now stranded in some random part of a city that you have never been to before . I guess dreams really do come true (oh and I have a letter for you that says you won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. But I think 12,000 other people may have gotten that letter too). So just keep an eye on your stuff and on any creepers lurking in shadowy corners, and you should be totally fine. Why? Because you’re awesome and you totally know how to rock these traveler safety tips.
*** I have been to cities where public transportation is scarce and taxis are questionable at best. If you’re concerned about taxi safety, go to a local hotel or a local tourist site and ask someone to call a taxi for you. Any tourist affiliated location will know a reputable taxi service that can take you where you need to go safely.
10. Don’t tell people you are alone and let the hotel staff know where you will be and when they should expect you (the buddy system is NOT dead).
This is one of my favorite solo travel safety tips. Now I know this sounds overly cautious and you
wanna be like, “Really Kelly? I’m a grown man, woman, gender neutral person and I don’t need someone watching my every move.” And I totally understand that sentiment since I am a pretty independent person too, but this safety tip will allow to play while keeping the creepers away (I should patent that).
See, if a bad guy like I dunno Jafar from Aladdin knows that you are meeting someone, he’s gonna be like, “Nah, I don’t want to hypnotize her with my crazy snake eyes. Someone is gonna notice she is MIA and call the police right away.” Now it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea huh? And the reverse works for your hotel. If you tell them where you will be back, and they notice that you’re not there, they will be sure to get in touch with the authorities, which is great since you don’t want to end up locked in someone’s basement for the next 8 years. I mean I am all about a blanket fort, but not at the whim of a mad man (and not the hot Don Draper kind).
11. If you do get mugged, let them have what they are looking for.
This is like female travel safety 101 but if someone wants your stuff, give it to them. You can always buy more stuff or make more money, but as far as I know, there is no known cure for a bullet to the brain. That and the verdict is still out on being cryogenically frozen like Walt Disney (yup, learned that fun factoid from a Daria episode on MTV). So yeah, if some whacko tried to grab your purse, throw it at them and run to safety or a police officer or Jamie from Outlander. I like the last one best. Le Sigh, but back to safety. Just do whatever you need to do to stay safe, even if that means giving up your stuff. Trust me, i don’t want to see you on an Unsolved Mysteries episode.
12. Verify an instructor’s safety credentials before you embark on an excursion.
Safety standards around the world can vary greatly, so it’s up to you to ensure that an excursion leader or instructor is accredited, has experience, and actually knows what the hell he or she is doing. I mean sure, we want a great deal, but if you’re going skydiving and the plane is being held together by Hello Kitty duct tape, you might want to pay a little more and go somewhere else. Trust me, in most cases the old adage, “you get what you pay for is generally true”.
At least that was my experience in Peru. I wanted to see the Nazca Lines from the air and went to a local tour operator to reserve the cheapest flight possible. The tour operator told me that there were three options, A, B, and C. He also mentioned that option C was the cheapest and when I asked why, he said matter of factly, “Those planes go out later in the day and crash
the most.” Needless to say, I put safety first and booked the most expensive, and safest, flight I could possibly get. I can save money on food, not my safety. Kind of like when you get a pregnancy test, not that I would know anything about that (Cough, cough, hope my dad isn’t reading). Is this something you really want to buy on sale? Exactly Invest the money to make sure your not pregnant, I mean stay safe.
13. Not everything should be experienced for the first time on vacation.
I feel like people go on vacation and all of sudden feel immune to danger. I fondly refer to it as Yolo-itis. You know, you act like you’re a super hero like Super Man or Super Woman or the Tick. Scratch the tick, I wouldn’t want to be him anyway. But the reality is that you’re not and if you do something for the first time, unless you’re Mozart or Micheal Phelps who races sharks for fun, you’re probably gonna suck it up. And that’s normal because you have no experience. I mean you should have seen me sand boarding in Peru. No one there could stop laughing because I could barely stand up. No really, they had to catch their breath because I was that epically awful.
But if you fall while sand boarding it’s not a big deal because the sand is relatively soft (trust me, it hurt both my ego and body). However, there are other activities that you might not want to try for the first time while you’re away on vacation because you could seriously get injured. My favorite example of this is renting a motor scooter in Asia. I went to Chiang Mai and everyone told me that I just HAD to rent a motor scooter.
Yeah well, I have never driven one in my life and I am the clumsiest person I know (not the clumsiest person on the planet because I don’t know everyone on the planet). Therefore, it seemed like a really bad idea for me to try driving a motor scooter for the first time in a mildly remote city in Thailand. I had visions of me crashing into a tree and being airlifted to a local hospital. Plus, I mean have you seen the drivers in some countries? Sure, New York drivers are heinous but even in some taxis and buses, I have said a little prayer in the desperate hope that I would get to my final destination safely.
So just remember that yeah you’re on vacation and want to have fun, but you’re also human and don’t want to totally throw caution to the wind. Remember, just because someone lets you try Peyote doesn’t mean you should (nowadays Youtube videos are forever. So travel safely before Youtube infamy).
14. Be careful when using independent ATMs, Wifi connections, and Internet Cafes.
Look, I am not a computer science major and frankly, any technical jargon usually intimidates me like no other. But, what I do know is that computer hackers are everywhere (Kind of like singers. Everyone thinks they’re gonna be on the Voice but no, you’re just another William Hung). They sit on their computers and contemplate the 10,000 different ways that they can separate you from your hard earned money. So don’t make this easy for them by using random internet cafes and ATMs. That’s why I try and stay away from internet cafes and only use ATMs that are affiliated with a bank. Plus, no one uses internet cafes anymore, they are like the beepers of the digital world. Now there are so many wifi hot spots that you just need to make sure that your are using a reputable wifi connection and not one that Frank the scammer setup for you so he could suck you dry. And sometimes it can be hard when you haven’t had wifi in a while and you get super excited for any connection, but be strong and use the force…wifi will power.
15. Before booking a flight, check the U.S. state department website for any travel warnings about the region or country you are visiting.
Look, I barely ever read the news because it can get rather dry, negative, and repetitive. Therefore, it is possible that I may not know about a civil war that is going on in the very country that I just happened to book a vacation to (Sad but true. Especially with all the Trump and North Korea hullabaloo. I get too anxious and need to avoid all news like a soul sucking plague).
Plus, that’s where the handy dandy state department comes in with all its covert CIA missions. They do all the research for me and are a great resource that details which countries are safe to travel to and which countries are better seen through an episode of National Geographic.
***Americans living abroad can sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so that you can receive e-mail alerts that are related to the country that you are living in.
Deep Breaths my friend, the World isn’t that Scary
So, I I know this post makes it seem like Apocalypse Now, but I swear, its not that bad. Nine times out of ten, nothing will go wrong. I am just solidly preparing you for that one time when fudge hits the fan (only I don’t mean fudge) and you are running like a total lunatic. I’ve been there, and its not pretty. There were no Instagram photos taken that day and it was a dark day indeed. That’s why , just use these safety hacks and you too can soar to the heights of Instagram fame and glory or have at least one more like on your photo, from someone other than your mom.
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