(Cam Woodsum, guest blogger for Summit Travel Health, has gone from Silicon Valley startup life to travelling and exploring the world as a nomad)
Having visited more than 35 countries in my lifetime and after spending the last nine months travelling through the Asia Pacific region, I have extensive experience staying safe while venturing abroad. I’ve put together a list of twelve essential tips to help you stay safe in foreign countries.
Hope you find these guidelines helpful - enjoy your travels and be careful out there!
1. Check government warnings before travelling
Before travelling to an overseas location, make sure the area you’re visiting is safe and recommended for travelers. The Canadian government is a recommended source of information and provides detailed travel advisories on its website. It should be noted that the U.S. State Department does not generally provide detailed safety warnings, and I do not recommend using it as a reference point.
2. Get recommended vaccinations before leaving
Many countries around the world require specific vaccinations in order to enter, and there’s generally good reason for it. The Canadian Government has a detailed guide on what vaccinations you should get for any country around the world. If you’re in Canada, Summit Travel Health (www.summittravelhealth.com) has 10 locations in Toronto and Montreal and is a convenient and reliable source for your vaccination needs.
3. Google “Popular Local Scams in X Country” before arriving
Some countries and cities are notorious for specific scams or pickpockets. By knowing what scams to expect in a given place, you can prepare yourself and spot warning signs before anything bad happens. This is something that I do consistently, especially when I travel to a new region of the world.
4. Make sure to research whether you can drink the water
One of the easiest ways to get sick is to drink water that you shouldn’t. If you’re from a country like the U.S. or Canada, where you’re habitually used to rinsing your toothbrush with water, you need to be extra careful. A little known fact is that Steve Jobs almost died in India the year before he started Apple because he got dysentery from drinking tap water.
5. Be wary of strangers
In most Asian countries, people are not normally friendly to strangers. If someone approaches you on the street, you should be extremely wary because they probably want to sell you something or possibly scam you. Yes, there are some generally curious and harmless strangers, but it can be nearly impossible to figure out people’s motives until it’s potentially too late. It’s ok to be standoffish and it’s also okay to be friendly - just be careful and aware of your surroundings either way.
6. Try to blend in
If you attract attention with your appearance as a tourist, you’re making yourself a target. I recommend you leave jewelry, watches and other nice or flashy accessories at home - especially if you’re in a developing country. I travel with a plain looking bag and make an effort to dress in a way that doesn’t attract too much attention. It’s always better to stay under the radar if you can.
7. Don’t be afraid to say no
When I first started travelling, I would take the time to answer strangers’ questions such as “where are you from?” “Where are you going?” “What is your name?”. That was, until I realized that most of these questions were icebreakers before the person tried to sell me something. I’ve learned to say “no thank you” or wave people away with my hand if I sense that is their intent. It is well within your right to not share information with strangers - don’t feel bad about keeping to yourself.
8. Follow the locals
If you’re in a place for an extended period of time, making a local friend can help you a tremendous amount if you want to avoid getting sick, getting scammed or generally avoiding other pitfalls you might not be aware of. If the locals tell you to avoid eating street food (as they told me in Bangalore, India), then don’t eat street food. If you aren’t sure how to safely cross the street, watch the locals or even walk right next to them to be extra safe. In essence, the locals know best, so ask them questions and follow in their footsteps (especially when crossing a busy street!).
9. Be smart in busy areas
When you’re on a train, in a busy market or in another area where there is a lot of human activity, make sure to be smart with your belongings and keep your head on a swivel. I frequently walk with my hands in my front pockets so that it’s impossible for thieves to take my phone or wallet from me. For women carrying handbags, be sure to hold them close to your body and hold on to the strap with one or both hands. Thieves prey on people who aren’t paying attention, so be aware of your surroundings, keep your phone close to you, and don’t get distracted.
10. Get travel insurance
Travel insurance is a critical investment when travelling abroad because it covers you in case of medical emergencies, plus it covers lost or stolen baggage. As someone who has lost a bag and visited hospitals abroad, I definitely recommend playing it safe in this regard. World Nomads is the most popular travel insurance and is my personal recommendation.
11. Buy a local SIM card at your destination
If you have an active cell phone, you’re significantly safer while travelling because you’re able to phone for help, look on a map to see if the driver is taking you on the correct route and google potential scams to avoid them in real-time. I narrowly avoided a scam in Bangkok last year because I googled the “Lucky Buddha Temple” that the driver was taking me to and found out that it wasn’t a real temple. Pro Tip: Bring an unlocked cell phone and get a SIM card when you arrive at the airport - it’s usually about 70-90% cheaper than purchasing international data.
12. Use transportation apps (such as Uber) whenever possible
When you use a transportation app like Uber, Grab (in SE Asia), Go-Jek (in Indonesia), or Ola (in India), you’re significantly safer because the ride is tracked and the driver is being held accountable by the company. It’s the same principle as buying an item on Amazon versus from a random person in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Transportation apps also tend to be much cheaper because drivers won’t be able to charge you “tourist” prices.
If you are prepared and careful, you will be able to better enjoy your time abroad. This list doesn’t cover absolutely everything, but it should be a good start as you plan your overseas adventure! Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions: https://www.instagram.com/camwoodsum/.