Travel should be fun. Even business travel, if we dare to admit it. While we may laugh at things that go mildly wrong (some now, some only years later) being a victim of crime is decidedly unfunny.
If you have money taken, well, it is only money. If thieves take your camera or knick-knacks that you have bought then it is worse than just the financial loss – they are stealing your memories.
Tourists are more vulnerable than business travellers because when we tour we are more likely to get to places that could be troublesome.
Here are a some suggestions on how to keep safe and thus have happy memories of your travels. Included in the list below are precautions for not unwittingly getting on the wrong side of the law whilst travelling overseas.
- Don’t dress like a tourist. Do some Internet research on your destination to see what average people are wearing this season. Try to dress to fit in. For instance, in Turkey, nobody wears shorts in the cities, more especially women. If you do, then you will stick out. Stripy golf pants and sports shoes, or baggy track suits, go down fine in the States but mark you as “not from here” most other places in the world. Hanging cameras from your neck says “mug me”.
- Take maps with you and avoid having to stop to ask for directions. Asking for directions tells the person that you don’t know where it is safe. You may find it useful to plan out the next day’s routes on the map the night before.
- Do not consult your maps in a public place – not only are you signalling that you are a tourist, but your attention will also be distracted. Go into a shop or go sit in a restaurant and have a cup of coffee.
- If you are lost, ask for directions. While this somewhat contradicts an earlier guideline, you do not want to be walking further into a dangerous area at dusk, for instance.
- Get local directions from the front-desk staff at your hotel. They will know safe areas to catch public transport too, as well as the good routes.
- Make sure that all drinks ordered are opened and poured in your presence. Better yet, get them in a sealed container and open and pour them yourself.
- Avoid being flashy or ostentatious. Wear a minimum of jewellery, watches, etc. Being classed as a “rich tourist” is even more dangerous than just “tourist”.
- Walk in a self-confident way and remain alert to your surroundings at all times. Anticipate sources of trouble. As obvious as it may seem, avoid dark alleyways!
- Keep a firm grip on your belongings. Ensure that you do not have to put down your goods in order to use your hands. A messenger bag with a clasp may be useful (if it fits in with the locals). One of our correspondents travels with a messenger bag and a sports tog bag in his luggage. If the one does not fit in, the other generally will. If all else fails, get a plastic carrier bag from a local supermarket. (Please, not Harrods – that marks you as having an abundance of money. Get a Tesco bag and nobody will pay you any attention.)
- Don’t carry parcels for anyone when travelling. It would be very unfortunate if your holiday ends in an ugly jail for unwittingly being a drug mule. Carrying drugs is viewed in a serious light in most countries and carries hefty jail terms and even the death penalty in some places.
- Before travelling, check what medicines are allowed through customs in the country you will be visiting, as some may be prohibited from being brought through their borders. A common problem is pain-killers that contain codeine. They are legal in most places but banned in others, like the UAE (where a woman was sentenced to 4 years for having traces of codeine in her bloodstream). European travellers should not that codeine is also restricted in the United States.
- Be cautious about bringing medicines back with you. You may have bought medicine at a pharmacy for an ailment whilst travelling. It may be wise to dump what remains before returning to your home country – the ingredients could well be listed in a language that neither you nor the customs officials understand, and it may not even be in an familiar alphabet. Avoid the hassle of confiscation, which may make the customs officials more interested in scrutinising every nook and cranny of your luggage. Or indeed your own personal nooks and crannies.
The above are guidelines and can be practiced with different levels of caution depending on your destination. Having a beach holiday in the Caribbean for example is very different to going on a cultural holiday in Italy.