30 Tips for Traveling Safely From Long-Term Travelers
by Liya P.
Travel safety is often the first thing many digital nomads consider when planning a long-term trip. And research shows that more and more people have the ability to work remotely, ultimately leading to an increase of interest in extended travel.
As a freelance journalist myself, I too take my work around the globe. However, with very few friends able to work remotely, I often explore the world solo.
I’ve traveled alone throughout Southeast Asia, South America, Europe, and the Middle East as a digital nomad. And although travel safety is always an important part of my planning process, some of my trips have required special consideration. Here are 30 travel safety tips that have helped me feel prepared while traveling the world solo, and could help you on your journey too.
1. Share Your Travel Itinerary and Leave Reviews
Whether it’s a friend or family member, a point person should always know your whereabouts. You can keep them updated via text, or even share your location indefinitely in your phone settings.
Even if your trip is completely spontaneous, you should be mindful by leaving a Google review of the places you visit so others can know your last whereabouts (and for future travelers to know about your experience).
Sharing your last whereabouts will help your loved ones locate you if they need to.
2. Invest in Travel Insurance
Since most of my destinations include hiking, activities, or trekking into the wilderness, I make sure to ask my insurance agent about the appropriate travel safety features.
Luckily, I’ve never had to use my insurance but I will always have it because it gives me peace of mind that my physical well-being will always be taken care of.
3. Get a Local SIM Card
If you are traveling within the EU, one SIM card can be used for all member states, free of charge.
Other countries, however, might charge you obscene amounts for a single text message. A local SIM card is a simple solution. I usually try to choose a provider that has wide coverage around the country. First, I do a bit of research beforehand, through friends who have traveled there or Facebook groups, such as Digital Nomads Around the World. That’s how I get an understanding of the most efficient option.
Then, when I arrive at the airport or station, I compare the SIM card prices to what my research says and if the offer seems legitimate, I buy a card directly upon arrival. If not, I ask my localhost or the staff at the hotel for recommendations on where to buy a card.
4. Learn Basic Words in the Local Language
Your travel safety will often be affected by other people, both fellow travelers, and locals. So learning several basic words and phrases in the local language will allow you to ask for directions or other help. I always make sure to have these in my arsenal:
- Do you speak English?
- I need help!
- Excuse me, do you know where… ?
- I am lost!
- I’m hurt!
And if you can’t read the local alphabet, try transcribing the phrases and keep them handy on your phone or a piece of paper.
5. Translate Your Allergies
Even though I love honey, I am severely allergic to it. Since lots of traditional dishes around the world use it as an ingredient, I learn the local word for “honey” before going to a new country. Then, I can always ask before sampling a new treat.
Remember to be aware of your allergies and always share them with restaurant staff. And in case something goes wrong, always have your medication or EpiPen with you.
6. Do a Health Checkup Before You Leave
Be proactive about your health before trips.
It’s important to know if you have any conditions that require special attention on the road. It’s always easier to see your own doctor, in a language and medical system that you understand, rather than having to look for an emergency dentist in the middle of the desert without internet coverage. While you’re at it, see if there are any special vaccinations you need for the countries you’re traveling to.
7. Consider How You Will Access Your Money
When I was in a remote area of Indonesia, none of the ATMs around me would accept my cards and local vendors only accepted cash. So when I ran out of cash, I had to drive for a couple of hours before finally locating an ATM that would allow me to access my money.
Ever since, I always have ample cash, in addition to international debit cards and digital payment options. Always have backups of your backups when traveling internationally, especially when you’re alone.
8. Backup Your Files
As careful as you may be, accidents happen.
Your laptop might get soaked in a storm while you’re biking through Vietnam. Or a curious monkey in Gibraltar might steal your new camera.
You get the picture — it’s always a good idea to keep valuable files tucked away on a cloud if your hardware fails.
9. Invest in a Good Backpack
Use a waterproof backpack with a stainless steel mesh inside if you want to make it extra hard for thieves to slash your bag and for water to damage the contents.
To be extra safe, consider investing in a stainless steel locking cable so you can fasten your bag when sitting down at a cafe, on public transport, or walking around a city.
10. Use a VPN
Airport wifi can be strong, but public networks might subject you to data theft.
Make sure your personal information stays safe by investing in a highly-rated virtual private network (VPN). It can help protect your browsing data and personal files, in addition to bypassing regional restrictions on websites.
11. Invest in Your Sleep
Long-term travel safety is also about maintaining good health, and quality sleep is essential to that. That’s especially true if you have to drive the next day, hike in the wild, or navigate a city with an unsafe reputation.
Bring a sleep mask, inflatable pillow, and earplugs to ensure a good sleep.
12. A Good Quality Face Mask and Hand Sanitizer
COVID-19 poses a challenge to long-term travelers, but you can still explore safely.
Carry a high-quality face mask, with a filter, as well as a supply of strong hand-sanitizer. Using both frequently is an effective preventative measure.
13. Hide Your Cash and Cards
Finding a comfortable safe place, such as the sole of your shoe or an undergarment pouch, can be helpful in cities that have a reputation for pick-pocketing. It might not appear very stylish, but keeping your travel funds safe is often worth the fashion sacrifice.
14. Use a Dummy Wallet
You can keep a few canceled cards and a bit of cash in it — enough to fool someone who’s trying to take advantage of your tourist status.
Alternatively, separate your cards into different wallets, so if one is stolen, you have a backup plan.
15. Carry a Whistle
Fellow travelers have shared that they’ve used whistles to ward off angry monkeys in Southeast Asia. Wildlife is usually afraid of loud noises, so a whistle is always handy on a hike.
It can also attract attention in the city if someone tries to harass you.
16. Talk to Other Travelers
For most of my long-term trips, I have an approximate idea of what I want to see and do. But I figure out the details along the way, as I talk to other travelers. They can be a great source of safety tips as well.
17. Listen to the Locals
In cities or neighborhoods with a dodgy reputation, locals might be overly vigilant in trying to keep you safe by exaggerating the dangers. However, I find that it’s always worth considering their experience.
Locals can also advise you on culturally appropriate behaviors and let you in on who makes the most delicious fresh pastries in town.
18. Dress According to Custom
While traveling through Morocco with two girlfriends, one of them got harassed at a market due to her outfit. Although you might be accustomed to the freedom of wearing whatever feels good, the fact is that in some countries your foreign look and clothes may attract unwanted attention.
Trying to blend in with the locals could make it easier to communicate with them and help you feel safer.
19. Make Copies and Take Photos of Your Important Documents
A pro travel safety tip is to carry copies instead of your actual passport or identification. And in the case of theft, it’s easier to have your documents replaced if you have photos of the originals.
20. Know the Local Emergency Numbers
Keep the local emergency numbers on speed-dial when you’re staying in a country.
21. Learn About the Common Scams
Be aware of the common scams so you can distinguish between strangers who really need help or want to be friends, and those trying to take advantage of you.
22. Spend on Travel Safety
Book a hotel that will pick you up from the airport if you are landing in a city that you are anxious about. Or spend a bit extra on a guide that comes highly-recommended, instead of venturing into the jungle (literal or urban) on your own.
The latter helped me and a couple of girlfriends stay safe and make the most out of our time in Fez, one of Morocco’s most notorious and interesting cities.
23. Don’t Risk it For the Selfie
Lately, there’s been an influx of accidents fueled by Instagram fame.
I once hiked up an active volcano in Indonesia where a tourist fell in when trying to take a selfie on the very edge. A picture, as awesome as it might be, is probably not worth risking your safety.
24. Notify Your Bank About Your Trip
If you don’t let your bank know about your trip, they might think that you’re the thief and block your cards. Avoid that by notifying them in advance.
25. Watch Out For What You Eat and Drink
I love street food and open-air markets, but I only go to the places with the longest queues. Especially if the customers are locals. They will likely know who cooks best but also which vendor’s brew might give you food poisoning.
Another food safety tip I picked up recently is to only eat peelable fruit on the go. This way I avoid ingesting any harmful microorganisms. I also ask several people if it’s safe before drinking from the tap.
26. Don’t Leave Valuables in Easily Picked Pockets
Better yet — only use your inside pockets and travel-proof bag to hold important items.
27. Watch Your Alcohol Intake
Wild parties in an exciting new city can be hard to resist. But it’s even harder to think about travel safety when you’re under the influence.
Having one too many also makes you an easier target for predators.
28. Keep Your Look Simple
Flashy jewelry or brand logos could attract the wrong type of attention and make you less relatable to locals, especially in a developing country.
Besides, you can be much more relaxed on that safari if you don’t have to worry about getting dirt on a $300 silk scarf.
29. Get Yourself a Durable, Flexible, and Unscratchable Suitcase
Long-term travel means that your suitcase will get tossed from planes to boats, to backs of trucks and tuck-tucks. So keeping your valuables safe might be worth the investment.
30. Trust People, But Don’t Share Too Much Information Too Quickly
Striking a balance is helpful in all areas of life, including travel safety.
Distrusting everyone might mean missing out on a lot of incredible experiences. Yet keeping your personal information private can help keep you safe.
Investing a bit of time, effort, and money into travel safety can be a game-changer on your long-term trip. Of course, accidents will probably happen but if you are prepared you’d be able to reduce the damage and still have an amazing time on the road.
Have you tried any of these travel safety tips before? Do you have a favorite trick that we’ve missed? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Liya is a freelance journalist with a background in psychology and an insatiable curiosity. She has been a digital nomad for over 7 years, writing from South America, Southeast Asia, The Middle East, North Africa, and all over Europe. Her stories are published in international media and her blog, Contrabond.