International Travel Safety Tips – Avoiding Scams, Pickpockets and Problems

International travel is a wonderful experience, but it's not without its dangers. Learn how to travel the world safely with these travel safety tips.

A list of travel safety tips

How to stay safe when you travel

Safety while travelling is something that we all need to think about, as travel provides an opportunity for you to lose your belongings, become a victim of a scam, or have your travel plans changed by events beyond our control.

While personally I must be the luckiest traveler on the planet (I've cycled over 25,000 kms around the world over a number of years and nothing has ever happened to me!), some people fall on the other side of the spectrum.

Why is that? Am I really just that lucky, or am I naturally more vigilant?

Stacking the deck in your favor

Perhaps the way I approach travel and different situations tilts things in favor of less bad things happening. It doesn't mean it never will of course, that's life!

If anyone does the same activity for any length of time, something negative will happen at some point. Just look at how many people have car accidents within 1 km of their own home!

So, I'm not saying that these safety tips for traveling will make you immune from disaster. I'm just saying that they will reduce the size of fate's target on your back.

Related: Common Travel Mistakes And What Not To Do When Traveling

Pickpockets when traveling

Safety tips for Travelers

Ok, let's dive in and take a look at some of the obvious and perhaps less obvious ways you can travel safely.

These international travel safety tips are a useful read, whether it's your first trip traveling abroad, or you twentieth!

Being aware doesn't mean being scared

Let's start by saying that being aware of potential situations doesn't mean you have to live your life scared or paranoid.

In fact, it can be quite a confidence building exercise to know that you have contingency plans for any given set of circumstances as you travel. Be empowered by these travel tips, not frightened by them!

Related: How to plan the trip of a lifetime – Step by Step Checklist

Make copies of your travel documents

Before you go on your trip, make a copy of your passport, travel tickets, and other important documents. Leave them with someone you trust at home, or better still store it in the cloud so you can access it from anywhere once you're traveling.

As you travel, you might want to continue to take photos of travel insurance, documents and tickets you pick up along the way, and store those in a safe place on the cloud. If anything happens to your travel documents while on the road, at least you have a copy to make a claim with.

They might be helpful to show authorities or your nearest embassy if things go sideways while traveling internationally.

I'm quite happy using Google Drive, Evernote and Dropbox, but I'm sure there are other options out there.

Post on social media a day or two later

It can be tempting to land in a new county and upload a photo straight away to Instagram. This might not be such a smart idea though.

Say you've just landed, and posted on Instagram something like “Just got to Athens. Tired, but one metro to go until my hotel”.

It seems innocent enough, but what you've just done is advertise the fact you're tired, probably uploaded a selfie or two that someone can identify you with, and now the world knows you're on the metro.

Think this scenario sounds a little extreme? Pickpockets in cities work in teams, and they scout out targets in all sorts of ways. Monitoring hashtags in the city they work is really not that complicated.

Why not delay all your social media posts by 24 hours? And while you're at it, maybe you don't want to ‘check-in' to places like hotels or restaurants on social media until you've left them.

Marrakech Airport

Check in with friends and family

If you're traveling from place to place, it can be handy to check in with the people you know, so they know your last location. This way, if anything goes wrong , they know you were last at this hotel or town.

It's not always easy to keep to a schedule of regularly calling or messaging people, but it when you travel abroad, especially if traveling solo, it's good to let people you trust know where you are.

Related: Benefits of traveling solo

Know your numbers

Do you know the emergency service numbers of the country you are visiting? They can vary from country to country, so try to make a mental note of them, or write out the emergency numbers and keep it in your travel documents.

You might also want to memorize or have written down contact information for family.

Which brings us to our next tip to travel safely…

Store your travel documents in a travel wallet or travel pouch

Travel wallets and travel pouches are great to keep small travel documents like your passport, travel tickets, driver's license and so forth.

They also come in handy for carrying your credit cards and cash while you walk around (especially if it's a city with pickpockets!).

Pro Tip: After many years of use, I found it most comfortable to wear a body wallet on the hip.

Related: International Travel Packing Checklist

Don't use your phone too much

In some countries, your phone could cost more than the equivalent of a years wages.

It's best not to flash it around too often, especially in places that are notorious for phone snatching (where someone will literally snatch it out of your hand while you are using it).

Pro Tip: For this reason, I have a small and inexpensive phone ring on the back of my phone. It would make it a lot harder for someone to take the phone from me while I have my finger through this ring!

Pay attention to what is going on around you when making phone calls outdoors. Better still, leave making call until you are back at your hotel.

Be mindful of crowds

Crowded places such as metro stations and trains can be a hotbed of pickpockets and potential thieves. If possible, travel outside peak hours when using public transportation.

If you are going to travel during the rush hour, keep your bags in front of you and watch out for hands trying to slip into yours. I'm sure I don't have to tell you to not keep your wallet in your back pocket?

Crowds on Monastiraki Square in Athens

Related: Is Athens safe?

Don't make yourself an attractive target when travelling

Pickpockets and bag snatchers are always on the look out for easy targets. Someone with headphones on can be oblivious to the world around them, or someone who is engrossed in their phone.

When sitting at cafes, don't leave expensive camera gear or other valuables on the backs of chairs or anywhere they might be snatched by people who target tourists.

Stay alert and aware of your surroundings when travelling so you don't make yourself an easy target for pickpockets.

Other travelers can be a problem

When sharing rooms in hostels, you should also keep in mind that you really don't know who your travel mate is.

While there are likely to be a number of nice people, there will inevitably be some unsavory characters too. It's best not to leave valuables in a bag out in the open. Use lockers if provided, and keep any laptops or high end cameras on you are all times.

Watch your drinks

There have been a number of stories in the news about drinks being spiked, especially at parties or clubs. Watch your drinks, and drink from bottles if at all possible where it is much harder for someone to drop anything into it.

Beware of travel scams

Scams can take many forms. Some of the most common ones involve distraction techniques (the classic ‘sauce' scam), money changing (where fake or low value notes are slipped in), taxi and tuk tuk scams, bar scams, and anything given to you for ‘free'.

Be aware of surroundings

I like to call this situational awareness. Watch your surroundings when you travel. This means watching where you are walking, and not just looking at the ground in front of you.

If there are no sidewalks, walk facing oncoming traffic (don't be one of those people that cross the street with their head buried in a map or reading something). Be aware of anyone that may be following you or other people.

Related: Best Tips on How to Get Robbed When You Travel

Always know the exit

We could include this with situational awareness, but is important enough to have its own subsection.

Knowing where the exit is includes airplane emergency doors, ferry lifeboats, exit doors in nightclubs, where the stairs are in high rise buildings and more. Basically, always have a way to get out of anywhere quickly if something goes wrong!

Exit sign on a plane in Nepal

Don't Share Too Much Information With Strangers

If you've just made a new friend, you don't have to share everything with them straight away such as where you're staying, if you're traveling alone, and your travel itinerary.

Sure, they may be a genuine person, but there are also pickpockets and scammers who will befriend people with the intent of getting travel information out of them.

Don't Do Stupid Things For Photos

If you've just climbed to the top of a mountain, don't stand on the edge to take photos!

We've all heard stories of people that were posing for photos falling off a cliff. There's no point in taking risks for travel photos that aren't worth it. have a think about what you are doing before posing for photos in a potentially dangerous environment.

A sign saying Danger

Keep attached to your bag

One of the most common scenarios where people get their bags stolen, is when they are eating in a cafe, and leave the bad unattended on the back of their chair or under the table. When you travel, keep your bags close and keep an eye on them.

Related: How to choose the best digital nomad backpack for you

Learn Basic Self-Defense

It might not be a bad idea to learn some basic self-defense techniques, just in case you are ever caught up in a dangerous situation.

In my opinion, any techniques learned should only be used in a last resort. It is far better to deescalate problems.

For example if someone pulled a knife on me and demanded my wallet, I might know enough techniques to disarm my opponent, but is it really worth risking it? They can take the wallet, and I'll buy a new one.

Which brings me on to the next point…

Carry a ‘Day Wallet'

The wallet I use on a day to day basis when I travel only contains enough money for that day. It might also contain a card that I can easily cancel. The bulk of any money, ATM cards, and passport will either be in a hotel safe or in my hidden money pouch.

This way, if anyone does manage to steal my day wallet, my trip isn't ruined, and I only lost a small amount of money.

Related: Revolut Card Review – The Best Travel Money Card?

Keep some emergency cash hidden

In addition to my day wallet and hidden money belt, I also keep some separate stashes of emergency cash in a few different places.

The amount of money differs depending on the travel location, but ranges from around $100 – $300 in total. One such place, is my belt which has a zip on the inside where I keep some notes in reserve.

It's perfectly safe there, and money belts like these are a cheap but useful accessory to take on your next trip.

I normally keep a few spare large denomination notes in a money belt when I'm bicycle touring

Related: How to hide money when traveling – Tips and Travel Hacks

Use ATMs in a bank if possible

If you have a choice if using an ATM machine in the street or in a bank, use the ATM in a bank. The reason for this is that there are scammers who will attach a pinhole camera to ATMs in the street, and they use this information to steal people's money later.

Don't get drunk

For obvious reasons, getting drunk is not the smartest move you can make. I recall how a bunch of people I met in Ecuador had said how they got robbed late at night – and the common theme was they were also drunk at the time.

Enjoy yourself when you go out sure, but drink responsibly.

Overall, drinking can lead to some pretty bad decision making. If you want to stay safe when you travel, avoid getting drunk in unfamiliar settings.

Did a beautiful stranger just hit on you?

Maybe you are the sort of person that gets hit on by beautiful strangers all the time(lucky you!). If you aren't, and all of a sudden it happens, it's probably time to start asking yourself questions. Namely “What does this person want”. 

Don't give your accommodation details away in casual conversations, and double check your personal belongings like your wallet are in your front pockets still where they should be!

Trust Your Instincts!

If you get an uneasy feeling about a situation, trust it. This is your sub-conscious telling you it's picked up signals your conscious mind hasn't recognized yet.

If you find yourself in a situation where your instincts are telling you something is wrong, it probably is. For example, don't feel pressured to do something new friends have suggested if it doesn't feel right.

Be Aware of Demonstrations and Upcoming Events

Demonstrations and protests often get out of hand, and they can lead to travel chaos. Keep an eye on travel forums for information about upcoming things you should be aware of so that you have the chance to avoid them.

FAQ About Holiday Travel Safety Tips

These are some of the questions readers ask when searching for safety tips for holiday travel:

How can we stay safe while Travelling?

There are many different precautions that can be taken in order to travel safely. Most of these can be summarized by just one word ‘Awareness'.

What are the best travel tips?

The best travel tips include being aware of what is going on, keeping up to date with any local travel scams, and keeping your passport and emergency money safe at all times.

What are ways you need to prepare ahead for you to be safe during your trip?

The key thing to do before any trip is research. This includes not only the things you want to see, but also which areas you might want to avoid in a city, and any potential travel scams.

Why is travel safety important?

Including travel safety planning before any trip will help you mitigate any problems or negative situations before they occur. This leaves you to enjoy more of the travel time itself!

Related: Why do people like to travel – 20 Reasons It’s Good For You

Travel Safety Tips - Avoiding Scams, Pickpockets and Problems

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Dave Briggs visiting an island in GreeceDave Briggs
Dave is a travel writer based in Athens, Greece. As well as writing this advice for travellers on how to stay safe when they travel, he's written many more travel tips and guides here at Dave's Travel Pages. Follow Dave on social media for travel inspiration from Greece and beyond:

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