Having a healthy dose of caution when you’re travelling anywhere in the world is just smart travelling, but what about the places you choose to travel to that give you a heightened sense of worry.
This happened to me a couple of times on my travels this year. The conversation came up when I was deciding whether or not to go to Colombia and to a lesser extent with my travels to Morocco.
There were things I read online, heard in second-hand stories and colourfully created in my own imagination. I had to really go through the motions to decide if it was a country I felt comfortable travelling through or if I should give it a miss. You need to work out for yourself if you feel safe somewhere, it’s a very personal decision and one I would never weigh in on, but here are some techniques I employed to help me make my decision.
Before you go, do some research. I used a combination of travel blogs, official sites and ex-pat websites and resources.
Being Australian I also used our government tool Smart Traveller, and I’ll honestly say that scared the heck out of me, I almost wish I didn’t read it. I think it’s always important to be well versed in the places you travel, and it’s important to share the truths about a place honestly, but this article I think unnecessarily scared me.
2. JOIN FACEBOOK GROUPS
There are so many different Facebook groups that are active enough to help you with anything while you’re away.
In Colombia I joined a digital nomad group, a blogging group, an events and activities group and a local resource group.
Through these groups I found some friends to go to the fútbol with, a photographer to collaborate with, a meetup event and I helped a friend find an English-speaking ophthalmologist.
If you’re a nomad, consider joining Nomad List to connect you with other digi nomads in the country or city you’re visiting. It’s a great starting point.
3. HAVE AN HONEST CONVERSATION WITH AN EX-PAT
When you arrive, find some ex-pats who have lived here for a while and have an honest conversation with them about your concerns. Where is it safe to visit, what should you wear (especially as a woman), what side are the police on and are there any other cultural or local sensitivities you should be aware of.
Some of this stuff you won’t ever read online, so it’s best to chat with those who live and breathe the city, and then gauge the rest by keeping your eyes open in your first few days and weeks in a new place.
4. GET A LOCAL SIM
I believe in order to be safe, you need to be able to be connected at all times.
While you’re at it, it’s also a good idea to add the emergency services number into your favourites. These guys seem to have a good list.
The added benefit of having data (aside from Insta stories, obvs) is that your local Uber account works around the world, Google Maps helps you get around more independently, WhatsApp keeps you connected to locals and travellers from other countries and Google Translate helps in a foreign speaking country.
5. ORIENT YOURSELF AS SOON AS YOU ARRIVE
Most major places have walking tours of the city, and often free ones too (which request a tip). They are a great way to get a quick overview of the history and hot spots. It’s also a great way to meet other travellers.
Get yourself a map, or just look on Google Maps and work out where you are visually, I find that really helps. Even if someone else is taking me around, I look at the map the whole time to make sure I start getting a sense of where I am.
Then, as long as it’s a city and area that’s safe to do so, I like to go walking and get lost. Discovering the city on foot is the best way to connect and learn your space.
I also sometimes drop a pin and label it if I want to remember somewhere to come back to.
6. TAKE THE RIGHT STUFF WITH YOU WHEN YOU HEAD OUT
Step one, no passports! The end.
Always take some form of official ID and a picture of your passport in your phone and even a photocopy in your wallet. When you leave home always keep some money in various places (e.g. in your sunglass case or even in your sock). Make sure you’re regularly backing up what’s on your phone so in the event it doesn’t come home with you, it won’t be as devastating.
Try not take too much when you head out so as not to attract too much attention. If you can try and take a little wallet you hold in your hands rather than a fancy purse.
7. VENTURE OUT ONLY WHEN YOU ARE READY
You will know when you feel comfortable doing stuff on your own. This is such a personal feeling and one that can sometimes take some time. Don’t force it too much.
8. FIND A GANG
If you can find some friends to explore with, even just at night, it’s always a bit safer (assuming you vetted them first) and a lot more fun.
I make friends via Facebook, sitting at café’s and sometimes where I live.
You grow a magic spidey sense when you are away, tune in to it, listen to it and trust it. Happy and safe travels globetrotters.