Read my list below for how to travel safely or as I call it, how to be travel-smart. =)
A lot of people have asked me to write a blog post about how to backpack and travel safely, so here it is!
The first time I traveled without my family was when I was 18, and I went to Tenerife in Spain. I was traveling with two friends.
My first getaways were inexperienced, and I ended up taking chartered trips. You know, those types of trips where the flight, the hotel and everything else is organized for you. Most charters, especially if you are young, end up being something like this: You party A LOT! You go out and club until early mornings, sleep away the whole day, wake up, go to the beach, sleep even more on the beach, go home, eat something and then start drinking again.
After 5 years of university, I worked for a couple more years until I got bored. I felt so tired of the whole monotonous system, that me and my best friend who, just so happened to be in the same situation, decided to go on a backpacking trip in South America. Back during this time, that was considered a big No No according to everyone I spoke with. We were told about all the danger in the countries and were guaranteed to be at least robbed when there. By this time, we were now 25-26 and were totally too old for those types of trips I used to take – “they were for teenagers”. And how could we leave our jobs!
We struggled, but were determined to go on this trip. We chose South America because were always so intrigued with the colorful culture and I had always wanted to learn Spanish.
We were told to go to one of those travel agencies where they organize “backpacking trips” and plan every minute of the trip for you, including flights, hotels, buses and even the activities. This seemed very counter intuitive to backpacking, I mean, what if we didn’t like a place they chose for us or what if we wanted to stay a bit longer in one place and they had already booked flights. No thanks!
So it began. We looked for flights for days and finally found a cheap one to Quito, Ecuador. To top it all off, before leaving, we didn’t do any research about the trip – we just left – simple as that.
On the flight over, we met a girl from Argentina who had a Lonely planet book with a map on South America and that’s when we did actually do a little bit of planing on which countries we’d visit.
In total, we traveled for about 4 months and through Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil. Not to mention, we also visited at least 50 cities and villages throughout these beautiful countries.
During our backpacking trip, we stayed in hundreds of hostels and hotels, shared dorms with equal amounts of travelers and stayed in the deepest jungle for days on end, partied until early mornings, hung out in Favelas, hiked the Inca Trail where you camp in the middle of nowhere thousands of meters high up in the mountains, flew over the Nazca lines in a small rickety plane that only god knew how it could fly, took overnight buses, boat rafted and so many more types of adventures – too many to type! But wait… Nothing happened!! Two girls!!! Out of all the places we went, we never had a single problem.
What we found most fascinating was that, wherever we were and wherever we said we were going next, people always warned us about the dangers in that place. For example, when we were in Sweden, they told us South America was dangerous, when we were in Ecuador they told us Rio or La Paz or this and that place in Peru were dangerous… I guess we are all the same! 😉
And every time we got to the “dangerous place”, we realized how wrong people had been. We are really all the same across the entire globe, we all want to be happy and at peace – that’s it.
But of course, there are some spots in the world where there is more danger than other places. For example, war zones or where poverty has gripped the population so bad that some may resort to taking actions they wish they didn’t have to. That’s when you need to be more cautious. Be “travel-smart”.
I have made a list of how to be travel-smart. Feel free to add more in the comments if you have traveled and you know something that should be on this list!!
1. Follow your insticts
Just as it sounds, you should really follow your instincts because they are usually very strong and many times, right. If you have a bad gut feeling about something, don’t do it! Whether it is hopping in a cab, walking along a street or whatever it might be.
2. Dress like a local
When you’re traveling, don’t bring your nicest clothes, jewelry or cameras, etc. However, if you absolutely must, only put them on in places you know are safe. Walking around in local markets with your jewelry blingin’, will have you sticking out like a sore thumb and people will know you have something of value which makes you the perfect target. Finally, try to blend in a bit more with the locals – they appreciate it, too.
I usually leave my nice jewelry or valuables at home where they’re safe. Plus if you are a backpacker, you will just end up ruining all your nice clothes, so why even bring them in the first place. What if you were to lose your favorite ring? Save the headaches – just leave them at home!
Regarding cameras, try to have a couple of SD cards with you and change them during the day so that if you happen to lose your camera, at least you don’t lose your photos. Try to back up your photos every day. If you have a google photos account or use Apple iCloud, even better!
Before going to a place, Google a bit about the spot and see if anyone has written anything.
4. Mitigate your Risks
In many countries you can pay with credit card. However, if you can’t and need to grab some cash, see if the hostel/hotel have a safety box where you put most of your money in.
If not, or if you just want the cash with you, try to spread the cash in different places. We put some cash in our bra, some in our shoes, some in our wallet etc. And when paying, try to do it discretely. The worst thing you can do is pull out a huge wad of cash right in front of a group of people that have nothing better to do.
5. Negotiate Beforehand
Always negotiate and agree on a price before doing anything, whether it’s a cab, an activity or a shirt. Sometimes it might not work, but 99,9% of the time, people stick to the agreement. Otherwise you might get tricked and lured to pay a lot more than you would have to.
Being travel-smart is easy and intuitive, just know where you are going and do some research about the place so you can set your standard for clothing and so on. Just be street smart, and you’ll be fine my friend!
Please add more things to the list by commenting below!