Backpacking the world is one hell of a rollercoaster. 99% of the time backpackers are able to stay safe travelling the world but every now and again, something goes wrong. Again, 90% of the time it’s possible to avoid disaster if you think smart and act fast. Safety while traveling is often taken for granted but it really is pretty simple to keep yourself safe on the road and my top travel safety tip is simple; prepare yo’ ass.
So, how do you prepare yo’ ass for worst case scenarios?
First, you read my list of top travel safety tips below, scraped together from nine years of misadventures.
Top Ten Travel Safety Tips
1. Wear your fucking helmet
I’m actually not going to tell you to not drink and drive; because if you do drink and drive, you won’t listen to me anyway. I’m gonna keep this real simple – Protect yourself and protect your trip of a lifetime by wearing a helmet, especially when you have been drinking. I’m a good driver, I’ve driven in lots of crazy countries around the world. It doesn’t matter how good you are; if you ride or drive everywhere, you will eventually have an accident. I’ve come off a motorbike three times, on two occasions I was absolutely fine. On the only occasion when I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I cut my face up and had to get nine stitches above my eye. Wear your helmet, it could save your life. Traffic accidents are still the number one killer of backpackers.
2. Beware the mixing of intoxicants and water
The number two cause of death for backpackers? Drowning. Every year, on every continent some backpacker will get drunk or stoned out of their mind and then decide it’s a fantastic idea to go swimming. I get it and I’ve done it, being in the sea whilst smashed is great fun but you have to take some precautions. I don’t go deep or swim off beaches that might have currents I don’t know about. Be aware of the added risk when you are drunk and avoid swimming.
3. Hide your cash
This is especially important if you are travelling in countries with a high-crime rate. I’ve hidden money in all kinds of different places on my travels; once sewing hidden pockets into my jeans and another time hiding money in between two photos laminated together within a photo book. My favourite method to hide money is a simple belt with a plastic buckle, that can go through Airport scanners without setting them off, and a zip on the inside of the belt. You can pick one of these up here.
Usually, when you do encounter problems travelling, it is going to be focused around one thing – money. Yep, money is the root of all evil. Travel safety and money go hand in hand. Avoid flashing your cash and as well as hiding the bulk of your money in a special security belt, keep your wallet light so that if you do have to give it up you aren’t going to lose out on too much.
4. Know the exit
I picked this up from a Bourne Movie but it’s still a top travel safety tip – know you’re way out of a building. When I do feel like I’m in a dodgy situation, I’ve already mapped out a retreat plan. When I sleep in a new room, I make sure I know the options for getting out of that room in case I awaken to find the building besieged by zombies.
5. Act like a spy
One of the best travel safety tips I can give you is to blend in. Act local, look local, be local… This is of course sometimes laughably impossible but when I am travelling in countries like Pakistan or Venezuela I will dress like a local. If you decide to don the national dress, this can often work as a pretty good icebreaker. Sometimes, I pretend I am OO7 on a top secret mission to rescue a Norwegian (I like blondes) princess from a far flung land. All I have to do is avoid detection… In all seriousness though, blending in will help you be culturally sensitive as well and you will attract less attention. If you’re visiting a country that dresses conservatively even in the worst humidity and heat then suck it up, you need to respect the local customs and dress that way too. Wandering through the streets of Laos topless or in a bikini is disrespectful and you will stand out like a sore thumb. Doing this in somewhere like India (Goa ain’t India folks!) is just plain stupid.
6. Beware the sudden appearance of beautiful strangers…
Or even average-looking strangers. The world is full of truly lovely people but every now and again you meet someone who is just too damn nice. And sometimes these ‘too damn nice’ people are looking to make money out of you somehow. They may simply try to sell you something. Or, they may rob you. Keep your wits about you, especially if you are drinking, and keep an eye on your stuff.
7. Pack a first aid kit
When you’re in the mountains, it can be tough to find decent medical supplies and having a well stocked first aid kit complete with bandages, medicine and antiseptic wash is a really solid idea. I’ve always travelled with a first aid kit and although I only end up using it a couple of times a year, and usually for just minor cuts and bruises, it is well worth having in an emergency. Using my little first aid kit I have…
- Defeated a thousand blisters
- Made a sling for a friend who broke their arm in a rock fall, we then had to evacuate him
- Stitched up my own arm when I couldn’t get to a hospital
- Cleaned and dressed ten or more friends who have come off motorbikes (on separate occasions)
Honestly, a proper first aid kit is well worth investing in. You can buy a pre-assembled first aid kit – but be sure to pimp it out – there’s a full list of everything you should include further down.
8. Check in
You remember that movie – 127 hours? The one about the guy who had various delicious drinks stored in the boot of his car and then got his arm stuck under a rock. Yeah, that guy lost his arm. You remember that other movie, Into The Wild? The cult backpacker movie about a guy starving to death in a van in Alaska. Both of those movies have one thing in common; neither of the heroes opted to tell anybody where they are going. I get it – it’s romantic, it’s mysterious, they are brave mountain men walking paths nobody knows or could possibly understand. Except, it’s also fucking stupid. If you are going on a trek or off on an adventure, tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to be back – that way, if you are several days (or weeks) overdue somebody will eventually come looking for you. This travel safety tip might just save your life… check in when you’re on the road.
9. Know before you go
Knowledge is power… Planning a trip is exciting and it’s well worth throwing a quick bit of research into any specific risks you might encounter in the region you are travelling to. Don’t be a fool in thinking no research is a good idea. I get it, it’s cool to rock up somewhere new and be constantly amazed by new shit because you haven’t done any research and don’t know what to expect. The thing is though, arriving to a new country totally naïve or oblivious to the culture, religion, language and customs is just plain risky.
Before setting off on your adventure, hop on your countries foreign office page and check out the travel safety tips for the country you’re off to. Every country has different safety concerns, in South America, for example, a lot of robberies happen on buses whereas in Thailand one of the bigger problems is corrupt police planting drugs on backpackers. Knowing the scams and dangers before you arrive in the country will make you more confident to decline an offer that sounds too good to be true.
10. Buy some god-damn insurance
I’ve had to claim on my insurance a few times – once for $17,000 worth of medical bills – and every time it has been a life saver. My number one safety tip is, do not travel without insurance. There are lots of insurance options out there – I’ve summed a few of them up in this article. Personally, I recommend World Nomads.
How to travel safely
Travel safety can be broken down into two areas – protecting yourself and protecting your gear. Let me run you through some of my best tips for keeping yourself, and your stuff, safe.
Use your common sense: Keeping yourself safe while travelling is largely using your common sense. When you’re liquored up with a bunch of new mates it is so easy to be convinced to do something stupid – like climbing scaffolding, smoking outside a police station or swimming in a fast moving river in the dark. I’ve found myself in all of those situations whilst travelling and on those occasions, I’ve known that it is a bad idea. If you know it’s a bad idea, don’t do it – screw the peer pressure and just walk away.
Party Safely: There is a party to be had in every country. It’s hard not to get lured in with cheap local beer and depending on the country, some pretty cheap drugs. Before you know it, the room is swaying and you probably should have stopped drinking two Chang’s ago. Alcohol, drugs and staying safe while traveling do not mix well. Know your limits, when to stop and go home. If you are on a mission to get smashed then do it with someone you trust. Your new friends you just met at the bar probably aren’t gonna be reliable when you are wasted.
Self Defence: If you get attacked by someone fight back, hard. Your life could depend on it. Once you have them down, run somewhere public and get the heck out of dodge. If you’re touched inappropriately or feel threatened in public, make a scene and draw attention. Someone will always come to help or stand up for you, this is commonplace in many cultures such as India and the Middle East. If you have to fight, go for the throat and eyes.
Plan: The best way to minimise the risk while travelling is to plan. If you’re hiking in the hills for the day take your head-torch, if it gets dark you will need it. If you get lost hiking; stop, sit and wait. Someone will find you or cross your path eventually. Decided to head out partying? Arrange a place and a time to meet your friends if you get lost. If you are taking drugs or getting drunk write the address of your hostel on your hand or, even better, take a business card from the hostel front desk – trust me, there is nothing fun about wandering around late at night (or early in the morning) looking for your hostel when you have no idea where it is or what it’s even called…
How to build a kick-ass first aid kit
From bloody wounds to horrific hangovers, a first aid kit should be in every travellers packing list. Investing in a decent first aid kit is well worth doing and when you get your first blister hiking, you’ll be thankful you packed a first aid kit.
If you’re not wandering into the wilderness it’s likely you’ll get by on a basic travellers first aid kit, or what I like to call my ultimate first aid kit. Not sure what to put in your ULTIMATE first aid kit?
Never fear amigos I’ve put together a list, for what to pack in your ultimate first aid kit!
- Tape – for blisters
- Band-aids – for minor cuts
- Steristrips – to close up open wounds
- Gauze Dressing Pads – endlessly useful
- Gauze roll bandage – for broken arms
- Rehydration sachets – for heat stroke and dehydration
- Painkillers – Ibuprofen is best for reducing swelling
- Imodium – for the cursed travelers diarrhea
- Antiseptic cleaning wipes – get clean
- Antiseptic gel – keep clean
- Mosquito repellant – aim for 40% deet
- Antibiotics – I carry Amoxicillin
- Scissors, needle and thread – always helpful
Besides a first aid kit, the smartest thing you can pack to keep yourself safe travelling is a head torch. I’ve been carrying my head torch for years now and it’s saved my life on more than one occasion. Being lost in the dark is not fun and phone batteries die when you’re in the mountains. I recommend the Smarter Life LED Headlamp – it’s tough, bright, last’s forever and, best of all, it’s cheap.
Protect Your Stuff
Pack smart: Packing is one of those things you’re gonna get good at when you start travelling. It doesn’t mean that is easy to figure out what you should bring and what you shouldn’t. I mean, you probably don’t need your birth certificate and that family treasured ring passed down to you should probably stay at home. Do not take anything you cannot afford to lose. If you are mugged you should not have anything on you that is worth ‘fighting to the death’ for.
Protecting valuables: If you’re bringing valuables with you (cameras, phones, laptops etc) keep these on you while in transit as much as possible. Don’t leave your laptop bag to ‘save your seat’ while you run to the toilet on your overnight train – this might be fine nine times out of ten but eventually, your stuff will get stolen. If you are heading on a trip where you might be taking to the ocean or rivers, I recommend getting hold of a dry-bag and keeping your electronics in this at all times whilst you are on the water.
Prepare for the worst, insure your stuff: A lot of backpackers these days take laptops, cameras and other valuables on their travels and my biggest piece of advice for you guys is to properly insure your stuff. If you do get robbed it is crucial that you get a police report – this will make your insurance claim quick and painless rather than a massive pain in the ass.
The problem with insurance is that a lot of the policies out there offer awesome insurance for you but not such great insurance on your stuff; because insurance companies know that stuff is likely to get broken, stolen or damaged and this is where they are likely to have to pay out. The best insurance option for backpackers is World Nomads – they are not the cheapest but they have the most comprehensive insurance that’ll cover you for pretty much everything. You can add on additional cover for your gadgets (which you really must do if you want them to be covered) up to about $1000 per item.
Another option is to get your travel insurance with a travel insurance company like World Nomads and then to separately insure your valuables with a company like Gadget Cover.
If World Nomads doesn’t sound right for you, no worries – just get insurance from somewhere. Here’s a breakdown of other travel insurance companies worth checking out.
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For one month only, I can offer you guys an exclusive 5% discount with World Nomads Travel Insurance – these guys are hand’s down the best travel insurance company out there! Simply visit World Nomads through this link and then use the discount code BROKE5 – This is a limited offer that is only running till September 3rd! *Please note – This coupon code will unfortunately not work for US or Canadian travellers due to financial service laws. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members*
And so there you have it amigos, hopefully, my travel safety tips will arm you with the info you need to stay safe while traveling. Backpacking around the world is an incredible experience and you will have the trip of a lifetime, don’t jeopardise it with a foolish decision, get yourself back from your adventures in one piece, take necessary precautions to keep yourself safe and remember you have people who love you waiting for you back home.
Before you do hit the road, be sure to check in with a travel nurse to find out if you need any vaccinations.
Peace, love and happy travelling guys!
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