The most scary aspect of travelling is stepping outside of your comfort zone and away from the boundaries of normal life. It means putting total faith into the hands of strangers, if and when you get lost, and it also means sticking to your gut instinct and using your common sense. I’ve seen travellers get into trouble predominantly because they have let their guard down – either because they were so awe-inspired by their adventure and taking it all in, or they presumed their destination would be the same as where they came from.
As a young woman travelling alone, I have also had to use judgement in deciding whether or not its okay to go out after dark, who I hang out with and having the courage to say no to peoples advances. This sometimes means only having one glass of wine, instead of the three (or more) I would normally have on a night out on the town at home. But I haven’t been a complete prude – a Bridget Jones on the road. I have shared some wonderful nights out with people who were complete strangers at the beginning of the night.
So what do I do to stay safe:
I have a combination lock on my handbag. I don’t always use it. I have only had to use it whilst staying in hostels that did not have lockers. I have also used it in places reknowned for being pickpocket havens, such as Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Montmartre in Paris, and the Marrakesh medina in Morocco. It has been used while travelling on public transport – on the tube in London, but also on long haul bus trips (I have a tendency to be lulled into sleep on buses). And, I have also used it in places where I felt exposed as a tourist – walking to tourist attractions from my accommodation in Delhi, India and Rabat, Morocco. May I emphasise that in hindsight, this action was completely unnecessary – I wasn’t bothered in the slightest but the old adage of “better safe than sorry” rings true.
A money belt comes in handy when travelling in developing countries and when I may not be constantly requiring access to money. I have seen some tourists wandering around in India with money belts hanging outside of their clothing. Not only did they look a tad silly and unfashionable, but they were heightening their chances of having their stuff stolen by exposing where they were hiding it. The whole point of a money belt is to have your stuff “out of sight, out of mind”. When using a money belt, I have tended to fold it into my pants, ensure I am wearing a belt and keep the majority of my money in it, while also keeping any spending money in my purse in my handbag, and if the situation has called for it, using my lock on my handbag. I know I sound like a human Fort Knox! But I don’t look like it. I am discreet about how I keep my stuff secure.
When travelling to countries where I am unsure of how safe I am going to be, I lodge details of my itinerary on the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website called Smartraveller. It gives a bit of piece of mind to my parents, and should the unthinkable happen, such as a natural disaster, political riots, or a terrorist attack, I know that my travel details are lodged with people who can help me, when and if the need should ever arise. I also make a mental note of looking up if there is an Australian embassy in the city or country in which I am visiting. Again, its about peace of mind.
I also touch base with my family when “newsworthy” events occur in the country in which I am travelling. For example, I was in Granada, in the south of Spain when a tragic train accident occurred near Santiago De Compostela, in the northwest, in July 2013. I wasn’t sure of the extent with which or how the train accident was being reported back home in the news, nor of how well my parents know the geography of Spain. So, I just sent a quick email letting them know I was okay and nowhere near where the train accident was, to give them some peace of mind.