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Nervous About Going Abroad? Safety Tips for Travelers

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Because you can be safe and not stress too much- it seems scarier in your head, trust me.

small boat floating through amazon jungle
Floating through the Amazon

For many potential travelers, the thought of taking a solo adventure sounds both thrilling and intimidating. The biggest apprehension I usually hear is, “Is it safe?” The answer is yes– with some common sense and adherence to some basic safety guidelines, you can drastically reduce your likelihood for encountering trouble while traveling alone (or with friends, for that matter)! So, I’ve compiled 13 key safety tips for travelers. While this is not an exhaustive list, they’re the ones I concentrate on the most when I’m traveling alone. And the best part? They’re mostly common sense, easy to do, and are good practices to use any time you travel- not just when solo!

1. NEVER tell anyone where you are staying.

Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how easily it can come out in casual conversation. People will be curious about you, and it can be exciting to make local connections- but you must practice caution! Have you seen the movie Taken? ‘Nuff said. One day in Quito, I had an impromptu conversation (in Spanish!) with a local man during lunch. In the process of small talk he asked me where I was living in Quito. He seemed kind and harmless, and I almost instinctively told him- but then I remembered this rule. I ended up saying “near La Mariscal”, which was the touristy area, and a very likely response. He didn’t question that reply, and I maintained my safety. Always err on the side of giving less information out!

2. If you don’t want to be pick pocketed, don’t look like a target.

Don’t wear flashy anything- jewelry, watches, purses, etc. And I know you want to track your steps walking around town, but be cognizant of the impression your Fitbit is giving out! I rarely bring my Garmin running watch with me abroad, but if I do, I bring my old one and cover it up with a wrist sweatband to hide it.

lost tourist with suitcase on streets of Paris
The “lost, exhausted, overloaded traveler” look- a thief’s dream!

3. Be careful of how/when you pull out your phone:

Basically: *not in the street*. Duck into a shop to check it, or preview walking the directions before leaving. Every time you pull out (and put back) your phone/camera/wallet in public, you show thieves what you have and where you keep it! This is especially true on public transportation. And NEVER use headphones walking down the street (or really ever in public)- you cannot detect potential threats without being able to hear! It can also distract you from vehicular traffic- and pedestrians frequently get hit by cars and careless drivers in other countries (I’ve seen it personally!).

group of tourists taking photos with tablets
Taking photos with your iPad is not exactly inconspicuous…

4. Never leave a purse, phone, wallet, backpack, etc. sitting on an empty seat or the floor next to you at a cafe.

Anyone can just walk right past and swipe it! Put your valuables inside your bag, and stick an arm or foot through the strap at all times so it cannot be carried off. Or keep it on your lap at all times. Also, side/front bags are more preferable to carry than a backpack, because you cannot see/feel a pickpocket on your back easily. Any bag should have a zipper closure!

5. Split up your money.

Only bring a small amount of money with you on each outing, and never bring all of your credit cards with you at the same time. Split large amounts of cash, and different credit cards, up among different bags, or purses, etc; in case one is stolen or broken into. Also, it’s usually better to bring a copy of your passport out and about with you, versus the real thing. Lock the real one up somewhere safe (room safe, front desk safe, well hidden in your dirty underwear and locked inside luggage, etc).

6. If you DO get robbed– DO NOT RESIST.

Stuff is just stuff- give it to them, and don’t risk harm to yourself. Don’t die for your phone or purse.

7. Consider your environment.

If you’re going to be in a sketchy area, consider not going out alone at night. When I was in La Paz, Bolivia, I knew there were some safety issues, and my hostel was several blocks from any restaurants. So each night, I got takeout dinner just before sunset and brought it back to my hostel to eat. Or perhaps you’re out with friends: some people want to grab another drink, and others want to stay out later: try to come to a compromise so that no one heads home alone. In Quito, my host mom told me to ask taxis to wait and make sure I got inside the house safely before driving off. While that may seem extreme to me, due to the nature of crime in Quito, this was apparently a common request. Whatever county you’re in, research which taxis (if any) are safe to take. Sometimes it’s only ones of a certain color, or only ones dispatched from a hotel, etc. And- this must be said- don’t drink much alcohol. Intoxication increases your vulnerability to danger of many kinds.

One of the absolute BEST resources for learning about the country you’ll be going to is the State Department’s Travel website: . You can view the country’s profile, on everything from safety and security issues, health facilities, entry and exit requirements, and cultural concerns.

8. Be as culturally appropriate as possible.

This applies to your clothing and makeup choices, and even actions. As a tourist, you are often granted some immunity from cultural restrictions. But just because you can do things a certain way, or because you see others doing it, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. You want to blend in, not call attention to yourself. In many conservative cultures, wearing heavy makeup, shorts, tank tops, or bikinis can be offensive- or simply an invitation for being bugged by locals (mostly the men!). Sometimes when I went out and about in India or Bangladesh, I’d throw a scarf over my head to reduce the amount of staring or random comments from passersby. Even though it was always harmless, it still gets annoying! Also, keep in mind that public displays of affection are seriously inappropriate, even between husband and wife, in some countries.

2 girls and 1 man in traditional moroccan wedding clothes
Just trying to blend in with traditional Moroccan clothing

old jerusalem sign holy place
“Holy Place” signage in Old Jerusalem

9. Get travel insurance.

Most will cover theft of valuables, lost luggage, travel delays etc. But coverage for medical evacuation and medical treatment is KEY if you’re going somewhere less developed! Without this, getting evacuated for proper medical treatment in an unfortunate situation could cost you $200,000 or more. Always read the fine print on your policy to see what you’d need to make a claim, and to know the exclusions. Often in the case of theft, you’ll need a police report and the receipt of purchase for the stolen item. Many policies state that they will not cover an accident that happens as a result of you being intoxicated. And if you plan to do any sort of extreme sport- and extreme is a loose definition in the insurance world- hiking above 10,000 feet, zip lining, rafting, scuba diving, etc- CHECK THE POLICY! Most insurances will not cover those without buying an extreme sports add-on! I will do a more in-depth post on travel insurance in the future.

InsureMyTrip is great for comparing policies and prices, and my personal favorite (it’s like Kayak, for travel insurance). World Nomads is popular, but expensive- yet the easiest in my opinion for finding extreme sports coverage with zero effort (I rarely choose it, preferring to spend time researching and get a better price). Trying to find insurance coverage for climbing Cotopaxi in Ecuador was nearly impossible, as “mountaineering over 19,000 feet” was above the limits of even most extreme sports packages!

10. Safety in numbers.

Hostel dorms over private rooms, buses over private cars, etc. If you are staying in a hotel, be cautious of who knows that you are alone: make sure the staff doesn’t emphasize that you staying in a “single” room when others are around the check-in desk. Perhaps even book a room with two beds and say that your companion is arriving later. Be wary of who gets in the elevator with you, who watches you walking back at night. If you’re in a hotel alone, consider leaving your TV on when you leave your room, to give the illusion that someone is inside.

11. Check in with others.

Let people know where you are staying, and where you are going- even if that person is at home. Virtually every corner of the globe has wifi that allows you to send a quick check-in to a friend or family. If you plan your trip in advance, send someone a copy of your itinerary. I usually text my mom when I land in-country, as airports usually have wifi. And then I text her again when I reach my final destination, so she can stop worrying about that part of my journey. I often send her a copy of my travel insurance policy too- just in case I am in trouble and cannot communicate with the agency due to a medical situation or connectivity issue.

12. Always pay up for safety.

The frugal side of me dies a little bit here- but I’ve learned my lesson (several times) taking the cheap route. Stay in a slightly more expensive accommodation if it is in a nicer area or has better security features or reviews. Pay for the airport pickup from your hotel at night. Purchase a lock at the hostel desk to secure your belongings. Take the nicer bus that costs a bit more, but doesn’t look like a rolling death trap. You know, buses really DO go off cliffs and have drunk drivers in many parts of the world. Save a few dollars somewhere else in your budget to allow for safety!

girl on bunk bed in a train in india
You get what you pay for- one of the lowest classes of seating on a train in India. Freezing cold, lots of random people sleeping on the floor, staring at you, and no secure place for your belongings.

13. If anything ever makes you uncomfortable- GET OUT OF THERE.

Trust your gut. Don’t worry about embarrassment or causing offense- just go! Your gut is almost always right.

I hope these safety tips will set you up to have an amazing trip! None of these are intended to scare you- only prepare you. I have done some extensive traveling, yet there have only been a handful of times where I had serious concerns for my safety. And (thank you Jesus!), I survived all of those situations without harm or major issue. Most of the advice in this post becomes second nature very quickly, and may be practices you already do at home.

Annnnnd one final safety tip that most people overlook:

When traveling with a buddy, don’t drop your guard just because you are no longer alone! It’s natural to ease up with a travel partner, but this can also distract you and give you a false sense of security. Try to maintain your vigilance- staying safe should always be a priority!

Want some running related safety tips? Check out my other post: 5 Things to Consider When Running Abroad!

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