Taking precautions and following safety tips when travelling are important. As we all know, travelling and learning about new cultures and traditions can be a lot of fun. But there is always the chance of something going wrong… like a lost wallet, falling prey to a pickpocket, losing your passport, or even being scammed by a convincing scam artist. So how does one avoid this? By understanding the realities of travel, knowing some basic travel safety being prepared and being travel savvy.
It’s important you understand the realities of travel, being aware of the possibilities and knowing how to avoid them as best as possible. And by being prepared before you travel…
Safety Tips when At the Airport:
- Be sure that no one has tampered with your luggage before check-in – you don’t want any security surprises when you get to your destination (this applies to before leaving for your destination as well as before you head back home).
- Do not allow yourself to be separated from your luggage.
- Always keep your carry-on bags close at hand and keep zippers closed to avoid someone either taking something out or even slipping something, such as narcotics in.
- Watch out for staged mishaps, such as someone bumping into you or spilling their drink – this could be a ploy to divert your attention and steal your bag and passport.
- When seeking directions, ask an airport official or someone at a marked information counter only.
- Do not take a taxi that has been recommended by someone standing outside the airport terminal – rather use an official taxi operator.
Safety Tips when At your Accommodation:
- Be sure to make use of the safe in your hotel room to store your valuables.
- Always keep your room door locked, whether you’re in it or not. This applies to any balcony doors too – and when your balcony door is open, be mindful of pesky monkeys that might intrude in search of foodstuff.
- If someone knocks on your door, always check who it is before opening – if you haven’t ordered room service and someone asks for entry to deliver it, beware! And if you have any reason for concern, just contact reception. Rather err on the side of caution.
- Take note of emergency exits, stairwells and fire escapes, as well as emergency evacuation plans, this knowledge would be useful in the event of an incident.
- Only hand over your luggage to legitimate hotel staff, and if you leave anything in storage, make sure that a receipt is issued
- Do not leave your valuables, such as cameras, mobile phone, handbag etc. unattended on a chair next to you – a slight distraction is all a potential thief would need. The same applies to bags or backpacks left under tables or on restroom hooks.
- Commit to making time to keep in touch with family and friends to stop them from worrying – you are after all travelling to what they in all likelihood consider to be ‘deepest, darkest Africa’. But with your help they will realise Africa is just another fabulous, safe and exciting destination to travel to!
- If you have any itinerary changes, be sure to let a family member know so that in the event of an incident (whether at home or during your travels) they know where you are, or where you’re supposed to be.
- Ask for travel recommendations from your hotel, they will be able to advise which neighbourhoods are safe and where to avoid.
Safety Tips when out On the Street:
- Try to blend in. Dress as the locals do, don’t stop abruptly in busy streets to take photos (I know, the temptation is great), rather find a spot that will be safe to take the photo – more thought will have gone into it, and it will probably be a better shot anyway. If you’re lost, try not to make it apparent – pop into a shop to ask for directions rather than randomly asking someone on the street.
- Avoid flashy display of expensive jewellery, cameras, mobile phones and other valuables – rather leave the expensive jewellery at home (it will be much more fun shopping for locally made jewellery anyway); leave the big lenses tucked away for your safari trip and opt for a smaller multipurpose lens for street photography (and remember to always ask before taking a person’s photograph!); invest in a finger ring grip for your mobile phone to make it more difficult to snatch out of your hand, and don’t forget a sturdy phone cover for those accidental drops.
- Keep your handbag closed or zipped at all times, and your purse or wallet in an inside pocket or buried deep inside your bag or backpack – definitely not in the back pocket of your jeans, as this is a great invitation to a pickpocket.
- Wear your backpack or daypack on your front so that all the pockets are visible to you especially in crowded conditions where there is a lot of jostling in crowds. Alternatively invest in an anti-theft backpack that doesn’t have ay visible, easy access zippers or pockets, or wear a money belt that fits snuggly around your waist or under your clothes.
- When stopping for a bite to eat or drink, don’t leave your cameras, bags etc. unattended as all it takes is a slight distraction and your belongings are gone.
- It is ill-advised to carry large sums of money with you, rather estimate what you need for the day and leave the balance locked safely in your hotel room safe. To foil potential pickpockets, have a fake wallet close at hand, or in your back pocket, with only a small amount of cash and possible an expired bank card in it.
- Do not walk around talking on your mobile phone in the street as this distracts you from being vigilant and advertises your mobile phone to potential thieves.
- As tempting as it may be, rather exchange your currency at a bank or at your hotel, rather than on the street – the rate may be a little more but at least the transaction will be safer.
- Avoid walking in deserted areas on your own during the day and particularly at night.
- As difficult as it may be when out exploring and being immersed in your destination, it is advisable to be aware of your surroundings at all times – no need for over-the-top vigilance, but just keeping an eye out for suspicious looking behaviour will go a long way.
Safety Tips when out on the Town:
- It is always best to go out in groups when going out at night – you know the phrase, safety in numbers? It really does apply here.
- It is advisable to know your limits when our partying. It is fun going for drinks with new travel friends, but it’s best to not et too drunk while you’re out. Not only will this leave you with having to deal with a hangover the next day but being drunk impairs your judgement an makes it more likely that you could find yourself in dangerous situations. It can also be a signal to predators that you’re easy to take advantage of. If you really need to party hard, then it’s best to always have a trusted friend with you who is the designated ‘sober’ person that you can rely on.
- It is preferable if you can see your drink being opened and poured, and to avoid any ‘drugged drink’ scenarios, always keep an eye on your drink.
- Never, and I’ll repeat, NEVER, take or have illegal drugs in your possession in a foreign country! While it might sound like a fun thing to do at the time, the consequences could be dire – you wouldn’t want to be asked for a hefty bribe by police or be stuck in jail in a foreign country.
- Whilst one of the best parts of travelling to a foreign country is making new friends it is advisable to use your judgement when making new friends. Ideally you wouldn’t want to share too much personal information with someone you’ve only just met, such as where you’re staying, and what your travel plans are – especially if the questions are out of context. Use vague answers that won’t be offensive and will get you off the hook of answering with specifics. If the conversation is getting a tad uncomfortable, then offer the ‘I’ve to to meet someone’ or ‘my boyfriend is coming’ and then walk off.
Safety Tips when In a Vehicle:
- Consult with your hotel manager or a tourist information centre about the public transport in your area. Make sure you know what official taxi cabs look like, as a thief may pose as a taxi driver to lure you into their car.
- If you are hiring a car and intend driving from the airport, be sure you know the exact route you should take so that you need not stop to ask for directions making yourself vulnerable and an easy hijack target.
- If you’ve hired a car and are driving yourself, then be sure to plan your route in advance, keep the doors locked and windows up at all times, especially when in high traffic or built-up areas.
- Choose safety and always wear your seatbelt – you’ll be grateful you did in the event of an accident. And if you’re on a motorbike, make sure you wear a helmet.
- If you’re taking a taxi, then google the route to your destination so that you have a rough idea of where the driver should be taking you. It’s never a good idea to be clueless.
- Do not leave your mobile phone or other valuables where they visible from outside the vehicle. Rather tuck them under your legs if you need them close by or lock them in the boot (trunk) before you depart.
- Whether you need to find parking yourself or are being dropped off by a taxi at night, always look for well-lit areas.
- This one is pretty obvious, but when travelling in an unfamiliar country it is never advisable to pick up strangers or hitchhikers, even if you do it at home.
- If you are in any doubt about your safety of an area, phone a police station for advice and help – it would be a good idea to ask your hotel for these details as a googled number isn’t always reliable.
- If you are driving yourself, make sure you have the number of the car rental company at hand in case you get stranded.
Safety Tips when using an ATM and Credit Cards:
- Never let your credit card out of your sight, and make sure that all credit card transactions are processed in your presence to avoid the possibility of your credit card being cloned.
- It is advisable to keep a backup credit card and cash in a safe place where you are staying, just in case of an unforeseen event.
- When using an ATM, especially if it is one on the street or even in a shopping centre, be alert at all times – if you see anything suspicious, rather stop your transaction and leave.
- Be wary of public Wi-Fi, especially when doing any bank transactions as hackers could use this opportunity to access your data.
Safety Tips for staying healthy:
- When travelling their will undoubtable be occasions when you encounter a potential food situation, and even with a well-stocked first-aid kit, it’s best to avoid the need to use it where possible. To start with only eat freshly prepared food, and don’t eat anything that has been left sitting around for a while – especially in hot temperatures and when pesky flies are around. Avoid fresh produce that involve just being washed and not peeled or cooked – such as salads as you don’t know the state of the water used to wash them. Avoid ice blocks for the same reason.
- Eat where the locals eat, and where the queues are long – this will ensure a quick turnover of food.
- Most hotels will advise if the tap water it potable and safe to use for cleaning teeth, if not as drinking water. Perhaps invest in a portable water purification system so as to avoid continually purchasing plastic bottled water. Drinking contaminates water can be just as harmful as eating contaminated food.
Africa is not the only continent where the above list applies, it applies to many destinations and innocent tourists are often caught up in unpleasant situations because they are not vigilant and do not apply wisdom and common sense (which is not as common as we’d like to think, especially once ‘on holiday’ and in a carefree mood.
Whilst the above may read a little like a horror story, and you’re beginning to wonder why you’re planning to travel at all, making use of these tips, and trusting your gut instincts will in all likelihood ensure a safe and hassle-free trip. One where you’ll meet new people, make new friends, and make some incredible memories – and change other people’s perceptions about Africa in the process.