Breaking out of your comfort zone and traveling to somewhere you’ve never been is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences you can make for yourself. But at the same time, being in an unfamiliar area—especially if you’re by yourself—can be dangerous. You won’t know the familiar landmarks or the “safe” areas of town, and you won’t have a strong network of contacts to help bail you out of a potential bad situation. You may not even be able to speak the language fluently.
Fortunately, there are some measures you can take to keep yourself safe without limiting your range of travel options.
Get to Know the Area (and the Language) Ahead of Time
Spend some time getting to know the country or area you’re about to visit, in multiple different categories. You should familiarize yourself with how the public transportation system works, where the good and bad areas are, and the most common crimes that are committed. While you’re at it, consider using an app like Duolingo to learn the language of the new area (assuming they speak a different language there). Being able to converse with natives can help you get assistance when you need it, and help you seem like less of a tourist.
For the most part, traveling alone is always more dangerous than traveling with a group, or even with one other person. When you’re walking alone, especially in a bad part of town or at night, you’ll be seen as more vulnerable, and will be more likely to be a target for theft (or worse). If you’re traveling to a new area alone, see if you can find some locals to walk around with, or prioritize traveling in areas that are more heavily populated.
Buy From Trustworthy Vendors
Pay attention to who you buy from, especially if you’re buying psychoactive or pharmaceutical substances. Unscrupulous merchants enjoy taking advantage of unsuspecting tourists with price gouging and other practices. This is especially important if you’re buying substances that aren’t legal in your home country; buying marijuana from an unfamiliar or disreputable establishment may stick you with an unreliable or harmful product, while using a trustworthy vendor like Bud Buddy can ensure you get what you pay for. Always check for reviews or ask the locals before buying anything.
The most common targets for crimes in foreign countries tend to be people unfamiliar with the area, or those who seem confused or lost. If you’re shuffling around in touristy clothes, alternating between looking at a map and looking up at the skyscrapers, you’re going to be prime pickings for a pickpocket or swindler. Instead, try to dress like a local, and walk swiftly and confidently from place to place. Even if you aren’t sure where you are, pretend like you know, and don’t gawk or dawdle anywhere for too long.
Always Have a Backup Plan
Wherever you’re traveling and whatever your plans are, it’s important to have a backup plan. If you run into trouble, is there somewhere you can call for help? If you’re injured, do you know an emergency number, or the number of a local person who can help you? If you lose your travel documents, do you have copies in a secure location? It may seem silly or like a waste of time to think that far ahead, but it pays to have a backup plan at the ready if and when you need it.
Keep Your Possessions Safe
As a traveler, you’re vulnerable to being a target of theft. Your personal possessions, including your money, credit cards, ID, and travel documents could all be lost if you aren’t careful. It’s a good idea to keep them safe if you’re carrying them on your person; for example, carrying a dummy wallet can deter at least some thieves. Otherwise, keep all your possessions secure in a hotel safe, or hidden somewhere they can’t be found easily.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Finally, pay close attention to your surroundings at all times. This will help you not only spot potential threats proactively, but also prepare for how to respond to them if and when they threaten you. For example, you may notice someone following you who you might otherwise miss, or you might be able to spot an avenue away from a bad situation.
Staying vigilant and protecting yourself will become second nature once you start adopting these simple habits. While it’s impossible to protect yourself from every conceivable threat, most criminals are opportunists—so guarding yourself and your possessions should deter the majority of incidents. Don’t let potential threats stop you from seeing the world; just take some extra precautions along the way.