I’ve recently started to solo travel and I’ve had to relearn everything I thought I knew about staying safe whilst travelling. My old trick of standing in a pair facing each other so you can watch your companion’s bag is no longer useful, nor can I share items to reduce luggage. But whether wandering round Istanbul, Vienna, Berlin or even just Cardiff there’s a few things I found myself doing almost automatically.
- Don’t act like a tourist!
This one should be fairly obvious. Try to mimic the local style of dress with what you have with you. Don’t carry a large camera or otherwise draw attention to yourself. Instead, many phones now have excellent cameras that are often let down by the lens quality. If you would like to take serious photos many photographers are now investing in camera lenses that attach to phones, as they are small and lightweight. Try to avoid walking around carrying maps: either step into a shop to check or try to learn a route before you set off. Often I’ll take a slightly longer route to somewhere if that route is via major locations as I can follow signs.
- Think about your bags
Over packing doesn’t just weigh you down, it’s also a security issue. Firstly, it makes you stand out, as I’ve illustrated you want to not stand out. Pickpockets and other criminals will look for easy targets. If you have a large bag they’ll guess you have valuables in there and you’ll become a target. I travel with a nondescript black backpack of about 30l capacity – the size of a school bag. Backpacks are useful as they distribute weight well, therefore you are less likely to put them down than say a duffel and accidentally forget them. As above backpacks also blend in more than many other forms of luggage. When I’m planning on staying in cities more than just a day at a time I’ll also pack a small bag for my purse and phone that has an across the chest strap. This is because it’s safer to leave your bag at your accommodation. (Though you should invest in a good lock, especially if you are in youth hostels) If you are taking a small day bag avoid choosing a bag that is easy to cut, instead choose one with leather or metal straps, as a common technique is to cut the strap of the purse in order to steal it.
- What are you packing?
Plan your wardrobe well. Choose multiuse items and layer according to climate instead of single bulky items. A practical wardrobe will keep you safe because it allows you to pack light, keep warm or cool and blend in. My travel wardrobe is mostly leggings and long t-shirts/dresses, paired with my trusty boots. I can dress up the outfit with a classy jacket, I can add warmth with cardigans, and my boots will keep my feet comfy walking for miles. Leggings and t-shirts dry fast. As a female I’ve found having a lightweight scarf with me is invaluable, as I can fashion a shawl if the local dress sense is more modest, I can cover my hair to go into places of worship, etc. I’ll often take a few in different colours as they allow you to vary your outfits too. For men, I would suggest that those short/trouser combinations where to can zip longer legs on, as it reduces the items you’ll need whilst keeping adaptability (They are also often fast drying), and a classy coat does wonders for an outfit. If you can take a smaller amount, for example shampoo, then do. And remember to plan laundry days – see where on your route you can do laundry and organise accordingly. Enough clothes for a week can last you on month long (or longer) trips if you organise well.
- Making friends
Sitting in the train station in Istanbul I got talking with an American who was also travelling the same route to Sofia. He was struggling with filling out his train pass. It helped us both out, I helped him with his train pass and I found someone to keep me company at the rather interesting Bulgarian border at 2am. Whether you are on your own or with a group it is always fun to meet people on route and often they’ll be able to help you out with a problem you may have. Obviously remain sensible, and if your instincts tell you something is dodgy it is best to follow your instincts than be sorry. Don’t go out of public places with anyone you meet whilst travelling and avoid over drinking or other things that would affect your senses. Don’t leave any valuables with these people, even if you are only going to the loo on a train.
- Use a variety of sources
While obviously your first point of call will be the FCO Travel advice, or the respective travel advice pages of your government, I often will check a variety of country’s advice as they all differ. At the time of writing the FCO has ended their list of citizens overseas, but you can register for travel advice updates by email. Also find blog posts from travel bloggers as their advice is often invaluable. I’ll also check trip adviser for top attractions – sometimes what is billed as a good place to visit in local guides is actually not worth visiting, whereas you’ll get a better experience visiting smaller attractions. When planning what to do in a city I’ll find a list of free things to do and start from there. Save pages to be viewed offline as you may not have internet. In the same way you have to find a variety of sources for an academic essay you don’t use just one resource to have an excellent trip.
Obviously there are tips galore that I could give, but these five tips are the skeleton of how I think about planning a trip. There are risks everywhere in the world and I can’t give specific advice for those, but with a bit of prior thought your trip will be much better and safer.
See In The Next Blog……