Travel Safety & Scams
Traveling abroad does present certain risks, however it’s important to realize that risk abroad is very different from the armed robbery and drug-related crimes we hear about in the news. Physical assault is very rare when traveling, but opportunistic, non-violent theft is a concern and something that can be prevented. A traveler makes and inviting target, unless they are prepared and alert enough to avoid problem situations. Being prepared reduces your risk.
Throughout this site, you can read about ways to stay safe while traveling and avoid the dangers of unsafe situations, whether you’re taking the train, traveling alone or just staying healthy. But sometimes travelers find themselves in a situation that is quite unfamiliar, perhaps even scary in some sense. Other times, they don’t even realize what has happened to them, such as in the case of pick pockets.
Although your physical health is worth more than any money or equipment you carry, most safety issues are not physical threats but rather ones that result in theft or loss of money and/or valuables. Here you will find some useful (and some common sense) advice to help you stay safe and avoid some of the common scams or circumstances that have been experienced by travelers in the past and continue to happen even today. It is important to be aware of these occurrences so that you are prepared if you find yourself in a potentially hazardous situation.
Scams: It seems that each country you travel in has its own scam ‘specialty’, a favorite among the local thieves. It is true that some countries are free of scam artists and offer travelers nothing really to worry about. But other countries, like Egypt and Italy, have professional scam artists, people that make a living off of the unwary traveler. It is helpful to ask other travelers about popular local scams. We list some of the more common scams encountered by travelers.
Theft: Regardless of whether you are at home or on the road, theft is an unfortunate fact of life. By preventing the opportunity for a thief to prey on you, the risk is significantly reduced. Use some common sense and appear in control of what ever situation you are in: avoid looking lost or confused, pay attention to your surroundings and be discreet when using money or revealing your valuables.
Dealing with Touts: A tout is essentially someone, usually a man, hired to go out and recruit or bring in travelers to hostels or other sleeping arrangements. You might also find touts trying to convince you to come to ‘their’ stores, restaurants or market areas. They often hang out at bus and train stations, ferry docks and at some airports. While they can sometimes provide useful information, they are doing this for money, they get a commission wherever they take you and so you end up paying more money. When dealing with touts, your best bet is to ask many, many questions before agreeing to anything.
Accidents are the last thing travelers want to think about before embarking on a trip, but taking precautions long before departure is the best way to prevent a dream vacation from becoming a nightmare.
The best way to prevent most accidents from happening is learning as much as possible about safety and travel insurance before leaving home. After all, nobody wants to visit a hospital room or police station while on vacation!
Travel insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense, but a good policy can save travelers a lot of money in cases of unexpected disaster. A good travel insurance policy should cover the following:
- Trip delay or cancellation.
- Lost or damaged baggage.
- Terrorist acts, strikes, and civil disturbances.
- Medical and evacuation expenses, especially for those whose medical insurance doesn’t cover health care in foreign countries.
- Most travel insurance policies don’t cover injuries from bungee jumping, rafting, skydiving, climbing, and other sports.
Although vaccines are important, more tourists die from drowning and traffic accidents than the diseases they’re vaccinated against before their vacation. A vacation may be a time to relax, but maintaining common sense is always essential:
- Use bottled water whenever possible, and avoid using ice cubes or eating ice cream in places where the water is unsafe to drink.
- Make sure your meals are hot and freshly prepared, and avoid food which is uncooked or likely to be exposed to flies.
- Check the seatbelts, brakes, and insurance before renting vehicles, and be cautious when driving on unfamiliar roads.
- Never swim alone, and stay within safe areas.
- Avoid illegal drugs or drinking too much alcohol.
Crime can also be a concern, but again, the best way travelers can protect themselves is to use the same common sense they practice at home, as well as a few extra precautions:
- Don’t wear expensive clothing or jewelry.
- Keep your money, passport, credit cards, and other valuables inside pockets, a money belt worn underneath clothing, or a shoulder bag worn across the chest. Use travelers’ checks or credit cards instead of cash, and keep valuables locked in a hotel safe whenever possible.
- Never leave luggage unattended, and travel as light as possible. Put contact information on your luggage, and lock it, if possible.
- Keep prescription medicines in their original containers, accompanied by copies of doctor’s prescriptions and generic drug names.
- Leave behind your social security card, as well as other unnecessary identification or credit cards.
- Leave copies of your airline tickets, travel itinerary, and passport identification with trusted friends and family
- Telephone calling cards are the most convenient way to keep in touch with loved ones back home.
- Avoid narrow or poorly lit streets, as well as traveling alone at night.
- Maintain a low profile and avoid confrontation or divulging personal information.
- Be especially careful in subways, marketplaces, festivals, popular tourist attractions and other crowded public places. Don’t fight back after a confrontation; your life is worth more than any material possessions.
- Contact your nearest national embassy or consulate in case of emergencies.
Here you will find some useful (and some common sense) advice to help you stay safe and avoid some of the common scams or circumstances that have been experienced by travelers in the past and continue to happen even today. It is important to be aware of these occurrences so that you are prepared if you find yourself in a potentially hazardous situation and to avoid becoming a victim.
- before you leave, tell someone your general itinerary. You can even arrange to phone home now and again to make updates.
- beware of iron bars on hotel/hostel windows. If there is a fire, you could get trapped in your room.
- avoid wearing combat or military-type clothing or you may be misidentified as a soldier or the enemy
- be aware of a potential escape plan in case of a fire
- if you are riding a motorcycle or scooter, see if you can get a helmet to wear
- wear appropriate clothing (especially women) to avoid excessive attention
- don’t make hasty decisions, no matter what the circumstances are. Take a breath and think about your options first.
- avoid wearing obnoxious clothing that screams out “I’m a tourist!” This is particularly important for Americans, as anti-American sentiment is very strong in some countries.
- try to go on your own and avoid help from the locals, depending on where you are. Quite often people offering assistance have something to gain from helping you.
- small-town locals are usually more friendly than their big-city countrymen