As many of you know, I take groups of students on trips abroad and also travel alone internationally. In fact, I'll be leaving on a new adventure next week. Because of that, I thought you might find it interesting to see what my 11 safety strategies are for traveling abroad, particularly when alone. Most of these strategies are applicable even if traveling with others, but my experience is especially focused on the solo traveler.
1. Use ATM machines inside of banks, preferably during banking hours. It's much safer to use an ATM when you don't have to worry about someone on the street potentially monitoring your behavior. It's also less likely that card scamming devices are installed inside of a bank as compared to units on the street.
2. Avoid announcing to people you meet abroad that you're traveling alone and the dates of your trip. This is sometimes hard for Americans, particularly Southerners, who are not by our nature secretive or reticent, but it's unwise to give strangers details about arrival, departure, or the members of your traveling group.
3. Keep your phone in a zipped portion of your purse; it's as valuable as your wallet is since it contains personal information as well as your ability to communicate with friends/family back home. Definitely do NOT ever put your phone on a table at a restaurant/cafe like we do here in the U.S.
4. Keep a copy of your passport and an extra credit card hidden back in your hotel room/apartment. That way, you have those documents even if your wallet/purse is stolen.
5. Leave expensive jewelry and handbags at home. Those items make you a target for theft.
6. Likewise, try to blend into the place that you are visiting. If you don't look like an obvious, greenhorn of a tourist, you're less likely to be a target for theft. For that reason, it's a good idea to research the place you're visiting and pack clothing that helps you blend in rather than stand out.
7. When approached by people on the street selling items or asking for a signature, respond with a polite but firm no, keep walking, and put a hand on your belongings. These are perfect scenarios for theft. Avoid engaging in any further conversation, and do not accept any item the individual might try to hand you.
8. Avoid drinking to excess. Not only is that a negative American stereotype, but it also puts you in a position of risk for the safety of your person and your belongings. My personal rule is no more than 3 glasses of wine at a time when I'm traveling alone. Any more than that, and my judgement is impacted.
9. Keep your hand on the opening of your purse while in crowded situations like busy streets, train cars, etc. By keeping your hand on the opening, it creates a sense of awareness and makes you less likely a target for theft.
10. Trust your gut. If you're reluctant to get on a particular subway car because of the number or collection of people on board, then wait for the next one. I skipped more than one overcrowded train car in Paris during rush hour and rarely boarded a train car that held only adult men on it; neither scenario made me comfortable, even if the 'bad vibe' was all in my head. You owe no one an apology when it comes to your personal safety.
Bonus: Be aware of your surroundings. Know who's on the street around you or if you're suddenly in a deserted area. If you feel someone is following you, stop in a shop or restaurant briefly. Suddenly change directions to shake that feeling or to monitor the people around you. Awareness = protection.