The absolute most important part of traveling the world is knowing how to do it safely. You don’t want to end up lost, kidnapped, robbed, or with a huge hospital bill! I want to share my top tips to help keep you safe while you travel the world. Once you know that you’re traveling safely, you can focus on the second most important part of any trip—having fun and enjoying the journey!
Tip #1: Use A Map App
Google Maps will be your best friend while traveling! I’ve found that most people don’t know you can use Google Maps offline in airplane mode, even without a local or international SIM card (we’ll talk more about SIM cards a little later in this article.) The little blue dot will still track you even without a data connection so that you can walk around the city, and it will keep you aware of where you are and help you get where you’re going.
Google Maps is especially great to use if you’re getting in a taxi from the airport because you know where your hotel is. I always take screenshots of the airport, the hotel, and the roads before I arrive, so I would know where the taxi should be going. A lot of times, taxis will try to drive long, circular routes to make more money (or potentially even take you somewhere to try to rob you or kidnap you!) Make sure your taxi driver is following the right path by tracking your progress on Google Maps, and speak up if you think something is off. If I think a taxi driver is going the wrong way, I’ll just kind of wave the map at him and ask, and that usually takes care of the problem.
I often use Maps.me, too. I’ve found this app works best for off-the-beaten-path countries like Yemen. Maps.me works 100% offline, so you have to download the app and whatever map you need before your trip. Once you’re in the country, you can use the app to look up destinations, navigate, or track your location while in a taxi. Everywhere I go, I can zoom in on the map, and it has everything—all the places, landmarks, street names, etc. So I never get lost!
Your smartphone is really your best friend when you’re traveling. We travel in a world right now that is amazing; everything is at our fingertips all the time. Take advantage of it and use the wonders of technology to help you stay safe!
(I talk more about navigation in my article “Drew’s Top Tips to Explore Like a Local.” For more travel apps I recommend, check out “The Top 20 Best Travel Apps for All Your Adventures.”)
Tip #2: Make Sure You Have a Working Phone
This is very important! So many situations can be a lot more dangerous than they have to be if you don’t have a way to contact anyone. There are a few different ways that you can use to make sure you always have a working phone:
I have a T-Mobile SIM card which gives you cell service in over 210 destinations (including at least 100 countries around the globe.) I can use the 3G data network, I get unlimited calls and texts, and it’s super helpful for staying in communication with everyone. As soon as I arrive in a new place, I get a text that says “Welcome to ( country ),” and my phone just works. It’s only about $100 a month, which I think is a really good price. Unfortunately, this is only offered to Americans.
If you aren’t American and you want to get a good international SIM card, look into “Google Fi.” It’s all done online; there is no physical store to go into like T-Mobile, AT&T, or Apple. You just buy the SIM card online through your Google Account, and you’ll pay about $70 a month for 20 gigabytes of data (which is plenty!)
Buy Local SIM Cards
If you don’t have an international SIM card, then you can buy a local one as soon as you arrive!
Almost every single international airport in the world will have a SIM card booth or desk, and you can just buy a local SIM card right there as soon as you land. They will charge you a little more at the airport than you’d find in the city, but it’s nice to do right away, so you’re not navigating to your hotel without a working phone. Do a little research in advance, or ask your local friends what the best phone coverage plan is to make sure you get a good company.
You’ll probably spend anywhere from $10-$50 on a local SIM card. I like to buy at least five gigabytes of data because I’m always using my hotspot, etc. I think one gigabyte a day is plenty for anyone, even if you’re always on your phone!
Even if I’m in a country that is covered by T-Mobile, I’ll usually get a local SIM card because the local service will be faster than my international service. Plus, it’s just always good to have a backup!
Speaking of backups…
Tip #3: Have a Backup Phone
I always travel with a backup phone, and I highly recommend you do, too. It can be any backup smartphone; you can spend $100-$200 and just get an old iPhone. Then you can have different SIM cards in each phone (I put an international SIM card in one and a local SIM card in the other), and keep them in different bags for safety!
I recommend this because so much can happen while traveling. You could get robbed, your bag could get stolen, you could drop your phone and break it, it could get wet, etc. It’s not like you’ll be able to just find an Apple Store if you need to get your phone fixed! Having a backup phone means you won’t be stuck without a way to communicate and navigate while traveling.
Also, this is less common, but when you enter some countries (like North Korea or Libya), they will actually go through your phone when you arrive at the airport. They don’t particularly like journalism in those countries, and they want to make sure you don’t have any sketchy pictures or anything like that. I like to have just a few selfies and things on the phone I might have to show, and then I keep all my other photos and videos on the backup phone.
Tip #4: Print Your Important Documents Ahead of Time
Before I enter a country, I make sure I pre-print copies of all my important documents:
- Copy of my passport
- Copy of incoming and outgoing flights
- Copy of my hotel information (address, confirmation, etc.)
- Copy of itinerary
- Copy of credit cards (front & back) — reminder to bring your travel credit cards, especially the ones which have 0% foreign transaction fees!
You don’t want to have all this confirmation on your phone because then you’re gonna have to show your phone to taxi drivers, etc. (Trust me, it’s better to just show them a paper copy of your hotel information.) Bring extra copies of these documents; just like everything else, it doesn’t hurt to keep a few in different parts of your bags for safekeeping.
Tip #5: Have travel insurance
Talking about health and safety, you absolutely need travel insurance. It’s extremely important!
I’ve been using World Nomads for years, and I would highly recommend them as a company. They’re wonderful, and they will cover you for trips all over the world. You just put in your information and get a quote!
World Nomads has always been super helpful. I had a flight cancellation in Nepal once because of the earthquake that hit there back in 2015, and they reimbursed me right away. Another time, I was in Bali, and I spent $400 on hospital bills because I was super sick with stomach pains. I just sent them the receipt, and they reimbursed me.
The last thing you want is to break your leg in a foreign country, have to have surgery, and end up with a $5,000 bill. Or worse, say you break your leg hiking and need to be airlifted off a mountain—without insurance, that will easily cost you $20,000! The per-trip or monthly cost of travel insurance is a far better price to pay than an unexpected bill in an emergency.
Not only is insurance always a good idea, but a lot of countries that you visit will require you to carry health insurance. They will often ask for proof of your travel insurance when you’re going through immigration or getting your travel visa. They don’t want to be liable if something happens to you and you can’t pay for it!
So take my advice on this one, and get travel insurance. Like I said, I recommend World Nomads—your trip will be safe, and you’ll have peace of mind that you’ll be covered for any unexpected hospital bills or emergencies.
Tip #6: Always Dress Like a Local
It’s never a good idea to draw unnecessary attention from people in other countries. You don’t want to have flashy watches, you don’t want to have a necklace chain, you don’t want to have expensive rings or really nice clothes. Obviously, if you’re going to a place like London or Sydney, you don’t have to worry about it. In some places, it’s very diverse, and you can be whoever you want, but in other parts of the world, it’s a very good idea to blend in.
For example, if you’re visiting a country like Afghanistan or Somalia, it’s a good idea to wear local clothes. Not only is it fun to wear and great for pictures, but it also protects your safety because you’ll attract a lot less attention!
With my red hair, I stick out like a sore thumb no matter where I go. That’s why you’ll always see me wearing turbans or other local clothing; I want to try to blend in as much as possible.
Tip #7: Don’t Fall for These Popular Tourist Scams
Certain places around the world, like Bangkok, Vietnam, or Paris, are really touristy and therefore have crazy scams. I’m going to list a few here for you, but you can easily research other potential scams on Google.
The Tuk-Tuk Scam
This is one of the major scams in Bangkok. A Tuk-Tuk is a three-wheeled tricycle that will take you around like a taxi. The drivers will give you a hearty “Hey! We can take you here, here, here and here,” but instead, they will take you to shops and tailors that sell overpriced, low-value items. Not only will you be pressured to buy something, but they may also charge you significantly more for your ride than they initially quoted you.
Common Currency Scam in Vietnam
In Vietnam, the prices can be written in ways that are unclear: for instance, a menu may say “10” but doesn’t specify whether that’s 10 US dollars or 10,000 Vietnamese dong. It’s always best to check what the prices actually are, especially in areas that are frequented by tourists. You could end up paying 10 times (or even more) than you wanted to pay, which can really screw up your budget!
The Mustard Scam
This particular scam happens all over the world. Someone will grab your attention by accidentally spilling something (like mustard, ketchup, coffee, etc. Then they will say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” and attempt to “help you clean up.” When really, as they’re distracting you, their friend is sneaking everything out of your pockets
The Magician Scam
One of my friends was a victim of a scam in Paris. In this particular scam, there’s a magician in the street, and everybody around is betting 50 Euros. They often use the classic “shell game,” where there are three cups, and you have to guess which cup the ball is in. You feel compelled to bet with everyone else, and you will ALWAYS lose.
In this scam, there is usually a team of thirty or more people involved. All those people putting money down, compelling you to join them, are actually part of the scam.
I recommend looking up “travel scams Bangkok” (or just insert whatever place you’re going), and there are articles that list some of the most popular ones, like the ones I talked about here. Whatever you do, just make sure you’re aware of them because it’s never a good feeling to be scammed.
Tip #8: Make Sure You Don’t Get Too Drunk
I guess it’s pretty obvious why you don’t want to get overly drunk:
- You want to make sure you’re in a good head space.
- You don’t want to get lost.
- You don’t want to be throwing up everywhere.
- If you’re drunk, somebody could take advantage of you and steal all your stuff (and that goes with other drugs too.)
Just stay sober, stay calm, stay normal, and just go with the flow. Bad things can happen when traveling, and you put yourself at a much higher risk if you’re not sober.
Drink in moderation! You know your limits, you know your control, have a few beers instead of ten beers, have a couple of shots instead of ten shots. Just make sure you’re aware of what you’re doing so that when you need to go home at the end of the night, you can get there safely.
Tip #9: Stay calm
If something bad does happen, don’t freak out. Don’t scream, don’t run to the police station, stay calm. Usually, things will get settled.
For example, when I was in Afghanistan, my taxi driver ran over a dog. The dog died, and the bumper of the car fell off. I could’ve freaked out, overreacted, or made a scene, but instead, I stayed calm and allowed things to work themselves out.
Tip #10: Use a VPN When You Use Public WiFi
VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network.” Why do you need one? When you go to an airport, a hotel, or a cafe and you log in to the public wifi domain, nothing you do is secure. Any passwords or logins you type in can be stolen. It doesn’t happen often, but that is probably how my Facebook account recently got hacked.
I’ve been using ExpressVPN since day one of traveling, which you can download on your computer or phone. Basically, it creates a secure, private connection between your device and the internet, so no one can steal your data, passwords, or communications.
It will also let you choose which country you want to log in from, so you can set it to New York, and then the websites you access will think you’re logging on from New York. This is great when you’re using streaming services—if you set your VPN to somewhere in the US, you will still be able to watch all of the same shows on Netflix that you would at home.
I obviously highly recommend using a VPN on any public WiFi, but especially if you’re paying bills, logging in to online banking, or using your social media accounts. Using a VPN will protect you from hackers and keep your passwords safe!
Tip #11: Use Google Translate
If you’re having trouble communicating with someone and you don’t have a local friend with you, use Google Translate. This app is so helpful when traveling! You can type in what you want to say in your language, press the sound key, and the app will say it out loud in the selected language.
You can also translate in “conversation mode”: you speak what you want, and the app will type it out in the language you select. You show it to the person you’re trying to communicate with, and then they can speak their response in their language, and the app will type the translation for you in English (or your native language.) This is a great way to be able to speak back and forth!
A few other great translation apps are iTranslate Translator, TripLingo, and Microsoft Translator.
Also, don’t underestimate the usefulness of “sign language.” I’ve found that I can often communicate by miming what I need, for example, rubbing my belly to say, “I’m so hungry.” I try to do this more than I use the translation apps, just because I prefer trying to communicate without using my phone to translate for me.
If you want to know more about translation and learning languages abroad, check out this article!
Tip #12: Use Uber and Other Ride-Sharing Apps
Ride sharing is so much safer than hailing a taxi. When you use something like Uber, you book everything on the phone. You don’t have to speak to the driver, give him directions, or question if he knows where he is going because it’s all in the app.
Uber also has a system where they make sure their drivers don’t have a criminal background record, and they’re decent people. If something bad does happen, you will always have the app that will back you up in case of emergency—if something is stolen or you left something behind, you can still get ahold of the driver. In my experience, the drivers are always super friendly!
Currently, Uber is available in more than 80 countries and 10,000 cities around the world! If Uber is unavailable in one of the countries you’re going to, check out “Grab,” which is in Southeast Asia, or the different ones in other regions. You just have to look up “ridesharing app (country)” and download the app before you go!
Some travel cards offer additional bonus points for Uber and Uber Eats specifically, so if you use Uber, definitely take advantage of using the right card!
(I also have a whole article on how to navigate cities, where I cover some of the different ride-share apps!)
Bonus Tip: Be Careful With Taxi Rides
I’m gonna say it one more time: taxi rides are where you are most vulnerable to getting mugged, robbed, kidnapped, or taken advantage of. Some of my friends have some pretty crazy taxi horror stories, and I don’t want you to end up in an unsafe situation.
Think about it, you’re entering a new country! Taxi drivers know you don’t speak the language, your phone probably doesn’t work, you’ve never been there before, and you probably don’t know how to get around.
Here are a few of my tips for making sure you stay as safe as possible when you have to take a taxi ride:
- Make a phone call or pretend you’re on the phone. Even if my phone doesn’t work, I always act like I’m on a phone call before I get into a taxi. I just put the phone to my ear and say something like, “Hey man, yeah! I’m on my way; I’m getting in a taxi right now.” I make sure the driver sees that I’m on my phone, and then I go around and take a picture of his license plate. Then he knows that I have a working SIM card, and I have a local friend there, so he’s a lot less likely to mug me.
- Be choosy about your taxi driver. I stay away from young kids, like 18 to 30-year-old men who look like they could have “a chip on their shoulder.” I like to find older men: they’re probably more stable, they’re probably lived their crazy years, they’re probably not going to give you any issues.
- Trust your gut. I’m really good at looking at someone, and within a second or two, I have a feeling about them one way or the other. I’ve learned to always trust my gut instinct! It’s a skill that I developed, and I think you can get it the more you travel.
- Some other clues that I pay attention to:
Always look for a picture of a family member, like their kids or their wife. Another good thing to watch for is something religious like a cross, or something in Islam, or anything that shows that they’re religious. Usually, people who are religious are generally more trustworthy.
Don’t get in a beat-up, rundown car.
So to recap: if you have to take a taxi for some reason, be aware. Trust your gut, look at the person, smile at them, do the phone trick, then get in the taxi, and you should be good to go!
Traveling the world can be an amazing experience, but it’s much more enjoyable if you know you’re safe. These tips are a result of my first-hand travel experience over the last decade, and they have become daily habits that have served me well in every one of the 197 countries I’ve visited.
You don’t need to walk around jumpy or nervous; that will actually make you stand out more. Just be aware of these safety tips and tricks, be confident, and go have fun! The world is an amazing place. Get out and go explore!
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