“Aren’t you scared?”
How many times have you been asked that same question about your travels? I know some people get annoyed when their parents or loved ones try to deter them from exploring out of fear. Maybe they aren’t worried. The truth is, I can get quite scared when I travel, which is one of the reasons I do it. One way I avoid soul-crushing anxiety is by keeping myself prepared for the worst and being (slightly) vigilant. I’ve written briefly about the time these tour guides were trying to separate my friend and I in Thailand. Not saying I’m perfect, but I’ve definitely picked up a thing or two. As we say at my Alma Mater, “It ain’t my first rodeo.” Okay, they might say that elsewhere, but I can only speak to what I know.
The point is…
Over 98% of my travels have been perfectly safe, and plenty of explorers never have a bad experience.
But there are some tips and tricks to the trade! This isn’t going a post regarding potential scams around the world, but rather specific concepts that come in handy when you’re alone or in an unfamiliar area. Having a wild trip doesn’t mean you have to get hurt or in trouble. Don’t get anything stolen, don’t end up in a hospital, and don’t get arrested.
In Ghana, a group of us (five North Americans under 30) were hanging out in Cape Coast a little late at night. It was the night before President Mahama was to speak in the city, and the drumming ban was lifted. Down the street, people were partying like crazy and we wanted to join! Before we even got within 50 feet of the festivities, multiple children told us we should leave before we get robbed. Having lived in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, I knew better than to be hanging around in an area after I’m told not to. My best buddy on the trip, K, has also lived outside of D.C., and gave me the look. So, after collecting the valuables from one of our group mates, we started walking back to the hotel.
The difference between 7 p.m. in Cape Coast and 10:30 p.m. is vastly differently. People were smoking the ganja everywhere and believe me, I would’ve gladly joined if I hadn’t already been warned that pretty much only the legitimate gangstas smoke weed in parts of Ghana. Gun-toting, people snatching gangstas. And college kids at the University of Ghana. And as soon as we pass the group, for the first time in my travels, someone grabbed my arm hard. I ripped my arm away and screamed, “NO TOUCHING! ANY OF YOU!” like a crazy lady. And continued to walk down the middle of the road. Because that’s how you keep people from f’king with you when y’all don’t have cash for a cab and have a mile until the hotel.
Within 15 minutes of us getting to the hotel, our group came back. They had been robbed.
Before You Arrive
Map Out the Embassy
Even if you aren’t visiting a capital city, you should consider finding the address of the embassy as well as the phone number. If your passport gets stolen and you don’t speak the local language, having the embassy number will be a major time-saver.
Read The News
With the internet giving us everything we need to know at the touch of a fingertip, it’s easy to stay up to date on local politics. Some things to be wary of are: protests, elections, important speakers, royalty’s birthdays, national holidays. You can still enjoy these aspects of travel, but from a well-informed distance.
Get the Recommended Medicines
Getting yellowfever is no joke, not to mention they usually won’t even let you inside certain countries without the vaccine. Malaria medication is recommended to start prior to a trip and waiting to contract the disease will really give you something to bitch about.
International Health Insurance
Just do it. My last policy was about $16.00 for a month of travel. Especially if you’re heading to a part of the world you’ve never been before, health insurance is a necessity. Something as simple as brushing your teeth with tainted water can put you in a hospital. Going somewhere with limited healthcare? Be sure to sign up for a contract that allows air-evacuation.
Sorry First Class, The Safest Seats Are In The Back
The chances of your plane going down are slim to none, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take extra precaution for that slim chance! Luckily, most airlines let you choose your seat before you arrive at the airport. Check out seat guru to ensure your seat isn’t too far from an exit window.
During Your Travels
Sit By a Window On Public Transport
Not only will you be able to take in the views, you’ll be more mobile than if you were squished in-between people. Being able to remove yourself from a tro-tro/tuk-tuk accident is a matter of life or death. Not having any luck finding one? Feign like you have motion sickness that will only be cured by watching out the window (LOL- I hate myself a little for this advice, but sheet we all gotta do what we all gotta do) and surely someone will remove themselves for you.
Keep Important Info Available
Your phone WILL eventually die. Even with those little battery packs, I’ve gotten stuck for 6-12 hours without my phone + notes +emails + maps. Write down on paper, yes REAL authentic paper, the address of your hotel and the number to get directions.
Let Your People Know Exactly Where You Are
This is a pain in the ass, I know. But sending updates, multiple times a day, will be essentially to getting you safe if anything bad happens. And with all the options we have- call, Facetime, email, whatsapp, etc., there’s no excuse! Not only major destinations, but any national parks or day trips. Be sure to give clear, specific details and names of any person that joins you during your travels.
Take Photos of Your Cab Drivers Info
Unfortunately, there have been incidents of fake taxis kidnapping or assaulting innocent passengers. Let ’em know you aren’t playing games by snapping a photo of what they are legally required to display. Anytime someone gets flustered, get a new ride. There are always plenty around.
Don’t Split Up!
LADIES- we all have urges that might feel uncontrollable, especially while on a grand adventure, but don’t leave your friends for the D! Showing up at an unknown location for a temporary romp is not only a serious safety hazard, but you could get lost trying to get back. If he/she wants you that bad, they can find a nice private hostel room near by (sorry mum).
Listen to the Locals
If you are told that you are probably going to get robbed, you should leave. If you “have a feeling” you aren’t welcome there, you should leave. Your life is not worth a few Instagram pics to prove you did something wild!
“Lock” Your Door With A Door Stop Or A Chair
fF you aren’t expecting anyone during the night, take a little extra precaution and pack a door stop. Already traveling? Grab a chair (usually will have one in your hotel room and if in hostel, check the lobby) and nuzzle it under the door handle.
Walk Where You Will Be Seen By Most At Night
Realistically, if someone is planning on doing something sketchy, they will have seen you WAY before you see them. Hiding on the side-walk right next to alleyways is just silly. Walk in the middle of the road (until a car comes!) and assert your dominance.
Stagger-Walk in Groups
If it’s you and two friends walking down a dark street at night, consider staggering a few feet away from each other. No one needs to know who is on your side and who isn’t. Avoid huddling up and appearing small. When worse comes to worst, at least one of you will be able to scramble away to get help or swoop in to save the day.
If It’s About To Go Down…
Consider Your Defenses
Unless you’ve been trained to specifically defend yourself, chances are a man twice your size will probably be able to over-take you. Nail scissors are small but helpful in bus situations. My favorite weapon? My Go-Pro stick with Go-Pro attached. I’ll whack a mofo if I have to.
Act Batshit Crazy
No joke. Just start screaming and thrashing about. Not many people feel like dealing with a mentally unstable person, let alone one who seems to be expressing their illness. Throw in a little spittle at the mouth, just in case. I’ve used this while walking home alone in major U.S. cities and I have (yet) to be messed with.
Okay just to verify, playing dead with bears only works in certain situations, like a mother protecting her young. I’m referring to dealing with an active shooter situation. Not a fan of sensationalizing tragedies so I won’t point to any specific events, but playing dead in a violent situation like a mass shooting isn’t a bad idea. While the first movement is ideally physically removing yourself, it’s always necessary to have a back-up plan in you get trapped.
Trust Your Instincts
There’s a good chance if you’re a traveler and you’re in a violent situation, you won’t be speaking the language of the perpetrator(s). Any time a group starts to gather, be aware of the aura of attitude. Just because you don’t understand what’s being said doesn’t mean you can’t figure out what’s going on. That physically draining gnawing at the gut you get? Listen to it.