Traveling is one of the best ways to broaden the mind. You see new things and open yourself up to experiences that are just not possible in other places. There is culture, and there is beauty everywhere that you go in this world, and none of it is quite the same. For these reasons, it is all too easy to forget about security. Who wants to think about kidnapping or muggings when they are on their way to Rio de Janeiro to soak up the sun with the world’s most beautiful people?
The wonder of all of the new experiences causes us to see other areas as pure and magical. The fact is, crime is everywhere you go. Crime does not take a vacation, in fact, it looms over your holiday. When you are traveling alone, you are placed at even greater risk. These eight security tips will make sure that the next time you are traveling alone, you can get the best experience possible while still being safe.
1. Don’t Say You Are Alone
When you are traveling alone, you are never traveling alone. Your friend has just stepped out of a moment or they are in the bathroom. If a stranger is asking you, then your friends are close by and they will be back any second now. If you ever feel uncomfortable in an interaction, you leave to go find your friend. Now, of course, there is no friend, but that is information that only you need to know.
The fact of the matter is that you are most vulnerable to victimization when you are alone. Extend that to an unfamiliar place where the only people that know you are thousands of miles away, now you are a target. Protect this information the best you can. Your friend can give you space. They can go back to the hotel without telling you, they can bail on a plan, but it is important that they seem real. As long as they are a specter that looms over your social interactions, you will receive some added protection. If you are a bad liar/actor, this ruse will be less effective, but still better than saying you are alone. Practice this trick before you take off to get more comfortable with the act.
2. Blend In
T-shirts with a big “I Heart [Insert City Here]” are a dead giveaway that you are a tourist. Just being near tourist attractions increases your likelihood of being victimized. The more local you seem, the less of a target you are. The chief reason for this is that travelers carry more money on their person. Getting the wallet of a person that works down the street at the record store. When this retail worker goes out, they know how much things cost, and bring the appropriate amount of money.
Tourists have a habit of having emergency money, and with good reason. It just means that someone has a good incentive to try and steal from you. The type of theft may depend on the country or even the specific area that you are visiting. You will avoid it all by blending in. The easiest things to do are dress like the locals (not in costume) and go to the hidden gems of your destination. This will almost always add to your enjoyment of the trip on top of keeping you safe. Just make sure that you are not being led into a trap as you divert from the popular path. Being alone is made worse if people can tell that family and friends are maybe a country away.
3. Do Not Use the Hotel Safe
Hotel employees have access to override codes for the room safes, but in most cases that method of entry is not necessary. The lightweight safes that hotels use can be bounced. Bouncing a safe requires one to deliver a jolt to the safe while turning the handle, which can be done with one’s bare hands. If a safe is light enough, then this will rattle the locking mechanism so that the safe can temporarily be opened. With the handle being turned, this instant is the only opportunity needed to access the valuables. It is better to hide valuables in an unlikely spot than it is to lock them in the safe the hotel provides.
Do not use your luggage even if you have secured it properly, because the bag itself can be stolen and opened at a secondary location. Add to this vulnerability the fact that those working in the hotel will know you are alone, and now you are at greater risk. The knowledge available to the hotel staff puts them in a position of power. In some hotels, you even need to call the front desk to request to use the safe. That goes on record and any morally reprehensible staff member now has information on where you are storing your property. Even in the event of a trustworthy hotel staff, if an outsider is to gain entry to your room, the safe will be their first stop.
4. Learn Key Phrases
Though English is a very popular language, not everyone around the world is going to speak it. For that reason, it is up to you to learn some phrases in the local language. There are all kinds of basic phrases that might help with your enjoyment of the trip, but these are meant to keep you safe. The most basic word you will need is “help”. After that, you will need to know how to ask someone to call the police/ambulance. In less severe cases knowing how to say, “May I use your phone?”, will come in handy. And a helpful phrase no matter what the predicament is, “Do you speak [Insert any language you speak]?” Knowing all of these words and phrases in the local dialect will ensure that you can get assistance in an emergency.
If you are renting a home or a car while traveling abroad, you may also want to be able to ask for locksmith services. A lockout emergency will put you in greater risk for robbery and bodily harm. Obviously, the more of the language that you speak, the better protected you will be. Fluency will demonstrate a certain sense of belonging. Even if an accent can be detected, your knowledge of the language will make you less appealing to criminals. Without being able to speak the language, you can still gain security by understanding what those around you are saying. This may help you to avoid scams or gain awareness of people that are conspiring against you.
5. Research the Crime
Travel forums have all kinds of information about where to eat and what nightclubs are hot right now. Something else that they have are localized crime reports and scam warnings for tourists. A good example is the very specific Parisian criminal set ups. Paris is filled with so many different scams that it requires a bit of due diligence. But don’t worry if you have not researched this already.
With a simple Google search of your destination and “scams,” you will begin to get the picture. But the problem is not always scams. Some areas are just known for criminal activity. Once you know the type of relevant crime, you can take the relevant precautions. Personally, when I travel in areas that are known for pick pocketing I wear my special pants. The trick is deep pockets. My pants have a zipper which leads to secondary pocket, the bottom of which almost comes to the knee. If you put your wallet or other valuables in a pocket like this, there is no criminal smooth enough to remove it without your noticing. When you are alone, you need to look out for yourself. Because you can’t watch your own back, that means that you need to plan ahead.
6. Beware of Fast Friends
Not all the advice you get from locals is going to be in your best interest. If someone is overly friendly, then there is a need to pause and evaluate your situation. The research you have done on the types of crime will not prepare you for the basic human lie. A woman that is all too eager to get back to your hotel, or just get you to leave the bar, may be a setup. Someone calling you a cab could be more nefarious than you think. It comes down to being skeptical without shutting yourself off to potential life changing experiences. But when you are alone, you need to be warier of strangers.
As we have already talked about in Tip #1, no one should know that you are traveling alone. Constant inquiries into where your friends are, or trying to get you to leave your current location, should be red flags. However, this might be completely harmless. Just try to stay in public places and avoid getting in vehicles. When leaving with a “new friend”, go call/text your “friend”. What you actually do is call/text a real friend and describe what is happening. Maybe you get calmer eyes to reassess the situation, and if worse comes to worse they know where to begin the investigation. Kidding of course (but still true).
7. Beware the Stairs
When you are first getting to your hotel it may seem like a godsend that your room is right next to the staircase, especially if there is not a working elevator. A staircase means you will have a simple exit plan in the event of an emergency. Unfortunately, it also means that criminals have an easy escape route. Crimes against travelers are often crimes of opportunity. The easier it is to commit the crime and escape, the more likely it is for the offense to take place. Every step that the thief (or worse offender) takes after they leave your room increases their chance of getting caught.
Closeness to exits equals greater risk for victimization. This is something that you can prevent before you purchase your room, or directly after. Communicate directly with the hotel and express your desire. You may get some groans and condescension, but don’t let that keep you from protecting your property, and yourself. When you are in your room, you may be alone and vulnerable to a break in by several people. When you are away from the room there will never be a person protecting your belongings. When there is no one in your corner, you need to rely on strangers. The less time there is for a stranger to intervene or take notice, the worse off you are.
8. Research the Laws
When people think of staying safe, they often do not consider protection from the authorities. If you are a big gum chewer, then Singapore (where chewing gum is illegal) is not a safe place for you. Jail is often a dangerous place, no matter where you are in the world. Staying clear of it will provide you a great deal of safety. If you desire to travel with weapons such as pocket knives and tasers, it is important to know if you may get into trouble by having them. In a similar vein, knowing what you can have on your person can offer greater flexibility. For example, it is legal to carry switchblades in the Czech Republic.
If you are trained with a knife, this may be ideal for you (especially if your home country is Spain). But if you are headed over to Russia after you stop in the Czech Republic, you better toss that knife if the blade is longer than nine centimeters (approximately 3.5 inches). Being aware of the law gives your greater protection, as ignorance of the law is rarely an excuse. When you are alone, ending up in a foreign jail is definitely something you want to avoid. Not all countries allow phone calls, and legal systems may be complex or entirely ineffective.
I really hope that this does not make anyone paranoid. Just being aware of security will do so much to protect you. The fact that you have read this article means that you will be better protected than most. Don’t let the threat of victimization ruin your trip, but don’t let your disregard for the criminal element make you a victim.
Like everything else in life, security is all about balance. Do not let security negatively impact your mental health, but don’t use that as an excuse to be reckless. Be prepared, and you will be safe. Doing the research and preparation described above has a high likelihood of making the experience better even without the concern of security. Blending in, and knowing about your area is sure to give you a unique experience anywhere you go. Have fun, and enjoy your trip, but above all, be safe!
Ralph Goodman is a professional locksmith and an expert writer on all things locks and security over at the Lock Blog. The Lock Blog is a great resource to learn about keys, locks and safety. They offer tips, advice and how-to’s for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.