How to Travel Safely: Part 1 – It Begins With You

Regardless of whether you’re a Digital Nomad or simply on vacation, travel comes with a certain degree of risk. Even into countries that are historically considered safe. Risk is an element of the unknown. As such, some risk is unavoidable. However, most can be addressed and mitigated very effectively.

It is important to accept the fact that all risk cannot be eliminated. However, risk alone doesn’t need to be the singular reason for not embarking upon the professional journey to revolutionize and modernize your career and skill set. Nor should it be why you never travel at all.

Security and safety for the traveler or DN can be exercised in various ways. At the core of all travel safety and security is the acceptance that responsibility exists. Denying the fact that things can go wrong and that you play a role in it, only sets you up to become a victim. Equally important, being exclusively concerned about the risk is just as counterproductive.

Risk is a fact of life. The pivotal difference is how you address risk and learning how to mitigate it when you travel.

Safe Traveling Starts With Traveling Where It’s Safe

Travel represents a significant portion of the global market and a major financial component of most economies. Therefore, law enforcement pays special attention to the safety of travelers in their countries. This doesn’t mean crime is absent. It does mean that the crime you may encounter is less likely to be violent and more likely to be financial, such as pickpocketing.

How to stay safe and secure in the world is as much of an art as it is a science. Safety is predominantly about your mindset and preparation. Regardless of whether you are a DN heading toward your next stop or a traveler venturing out on that dream vacation, preparation is key. And, the foundation of that preparation is knowledge.

According to the World Economic Forum, Europe routinely rates as the safest region on Earth through which to travel. A fact I can personally vouch for as I have been a DN in continental Europe (specifically the Balkans) for nearly a decade. Asia ranks second and the Americas, (including the United States) ranks third. Of course, all destinations have a dark side. Venturing off into the wrong areas of Chicago, Miami, or New York can be a fatal mistake.

The essential part of traveling safely is always understanding that you are a guest in someone else’s home and acting accordingly.

Situational Awareness

The most basic and essential security skill to master and use routinely is situational awareness. Situational awareness is always knowing what is happening around you as well as always being cognizant of where you are and what you are doing.

A good example is never separating yourself from your luggage, especially at an airport. Separating yourself from your luggage, even if only for a few minutes, at the very least creates a knowledge gap in your situation. You have no idea what could have or did occur to your luggage during that time. But you will be held responsible for it. Don’t create excuses for your failures while traveling, as no one is going to accept them anyhow.

Safety is a Behavior

Your behavior is a critical element of your situational awareness as well as your overall security routine.

Situational awareness is more about who you are than it is about where you are.

The profile of being a tourist runs the gamut of, you are (to name a few): unfamiliar about your surroundings, unlikely to trust the police, cannot stay to engage in a long legal process, has saved up money intending to part with it, very unlikely to physically engage a local, and cannot communicate with everyone around you effectively, especially in an emergency.

Those are the predominant reasons why tourists are targeted instead of locals, even in wealthier destinations. Acting like a tourist makes it incredibly easy for you to be identified in a crowd. Even if you are traveling domestically, you are still in a foreign environment. Your best defense is to prevent being profiled as a tourist.

Don’t use baseless traits like age, race, or religion as an indicium of criminality, simply because they aren’t. Common sense goes a long way in security, but unfortunately, in today’s world, common sense tends to be an acquired skill, needing to be taught and explained.

If you know something is dangerous to do at home, then that danger is exponentially increased when traveling. Do not attempt to buy drugs, for example. Getting drunk is also on the do-not-do list. Never drink from a bottle that was not opened in front of you. If you are going to a club (which alone is a bad idea), then get your drinks at the bar yourself and watch them being made.

These types of concerns relate more to bars and clubs. Restaurants, even locals’ restaurants, tend to possess a higher degree of safety, simply because serving food makes them subject to more legal regulations and inspections.

A good rule of thumb; if a place is not frequented by the local professional base and or families, and you are there when those two groups are off the streets for the night, then be on guard.

Dress for the Locals, Not Social Media

How you dress is one of the biggest impressions you will make regarding your respect for the culture and norms of the destination you visit. And, by default the degree of safety you create for yourself. Don’t dress like a tourist. And, knowing how to dress appropriately is your responsibility to both learn and practice. It is not the locals job to maintain composure and educate you while you are out in the middle of the city square disrespecting their entire culture.

Don’t simply take for granted that because you are a tourist, you deserve special treatment. You are a guest in their home, never forget it. Don’t just decide that what you believe is acceptable the locals should accept as well.

For example, Barcelona is full of nude beaches. You can walk around nude all you want enjoying the warm sand and basking in the sun, including the boardwalks along the beaches. But, get fully dressed before you leave the beach, including a shirt. It is illegal for both men and women to walk around the city of Barcelona in a bikini top or shirtless.

Likewise, especially in Europe, there’s a plethora of incredibly gorgeous religious landmarks and even the Vatican. Make sure you dress appropriately before visiting them. Both men and women should wear pants, not shorts, and shirts that fit respectfully and completely. These historical treasures are conduits of faith and culture, not social media backdrops. Dress and behave consistent with the purpose of their tradition, not with that of social media. 

Simply, conduct an internet search about how not to dress like a tourist in the city you’re heading to. Also, email the hotel in advance and ask them for any insight about what is and is not acceptable to wear. Just because you don’t live there, doesn’t mean you should act like you don’t belong there.

Take Away

Much of your safety and security while traveling involves the impressions you make on the locals, and situational awareness is your number one safety measure. Never forget who you are and where you are. How you dress and act is a direct message to the locals regarding your respect for them and their culture. Treat them with disrespect and you may have a problem. Fail to properly blend in, and you may be profiling yourself. Believe that your social media followers are more important than the locals are, and you deserve what you get. Safely traveling comes with responsibility. If you can’t handle that, then just stay home.

Stay connected for Part 2!

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