Most travelers aren’t very safety conscious. Oddly, they seem to leave their common sense back home when they step off the tarmac and on to the plane. The opposite is required of tourists and expats who spend any meaningful amount of time in foreign countries.
Most countries and big cities are fairly safe. However, just like back home, there are always a few bad apples. Being a foreigner in another country, it’s easy to be targeted as you’re likely to be traveling with valuables when arriving and moving around in an unfamiliar city. Care must be taken to avoid unnecessary incidents.
Here are a few tips on how to travel safely when moving through heavily populated cities.
Get Insurance Before Departure
Get the best expat health insurance before you fly out if you’re planning to stay a while and there is no state-funded healthcare. It’s not always possible to buy health insurance when you’re already on the move. It’s also more difficult to prove your address if required to supply a recent bank statement in paper form in the last three months and you’ve already been traveling for longer than that.
It pays to get insurance before you go. It offers peace of mind and confirms what activities and items are likely to be covered. For instance, extreme sports might not be extreme in your mind but might not be covered with the usual health insurance policy. Also, valuables like a smartphone, tablet or laptop may or may not be insured. Also, if you’re away longer than a few weeks, you’ll need health insurance and not travel insurance in some situations.
Become Situationally Aware
Become situationally aware of the people around you at all times. While body language differs from country to country due to cultural differences and behavioral norms, it’s still possible to spot a person who’s loitering where they shouldn’t be. As you spend more time in one place or a country, it becomes possible to see things that are out of place, for example, a person waiting in a place where other locals don’t tend to hang around or other behavior that looks suspicious.
Also, understand the difference between walking around in well-lit public areas in the daytime or early evening vs. walking in deserted streets that aren’t illuminated well. If the city is populated with motorbikes, scooters or bicycles, be cognizant of people who can ride up next to you, grab something of yours, and then ride off quickly. Separate yourself from the edge of the sidewalk to create a physical distance to avoid a snatch and grab situation.
Harden the Defenses
Take out only what you need to travel with and lock away other valuables in a safe or locker. If you’re moving around with a daypack, keep it in front of your body. This way, you can see when someone is trying to get at a zipper. Also, intentionally avoid crowds to beat the pickpockets.
Don’t walk with your smartphone in your hand. An unlocked phone is a valuable piece of kit, especially if it’s an iPhone. Thieves know what these things are worth. Never leave your valuables unattended, even for one second. Most theft is opportunistic. Take note that when traveling in poorer countries, some of the well-to-do people might surprise you with sticky fingers.
Make a note of the serial numbers of electronic goods and keep them in a safe place. Use a virtual private network to access the internet safely too. This creates an encrypted end-to-end connection, making it far more difficult to access your passwords.Lastly, if you want to feel safer, buy a PacSafe bag. It has a steel interior and more secure zips making it harder to get inside your locked bag quickly.