“Knowing car crashes happen doesn’t stop you from getting behind the wheel, it just helps remind you to put your seat belt on.”
Traveling is an amazing experience that can dramatically improve the quality of your life, but like anywhere else in the world the places you travel to will have people with nefarious intentions that can at best ruin your trip or at worst end your life or the life of those you care about.
Before continuing further, I want to state very clearly that while there is bad in the world there is also good, for every traveler horror story that’s reported on the news there are dozens if not hundreds of unreported good experiences. For every vile predator there are good Samaritans. Do not let this article dissuade you from traveling, it is meant to give you some tools and tips to avoid, mitigate, or resolve any problems you might face while traveling.
So here are some things you should keep in mind while traveling to help you have a great experience.
Know the Crime
Different parts of the world have different problems they’re dealing with. Mexico could be struggling with violence between drug cartels, Germany might have problems with radical terrorist attacks, war in the Ukraine, riots in Greece, natural disaster in Puerto Rico, or pick pockets in Italy. Knowing the specific problems going on in the country you’re planning on visiting can give you an idea of how safe it is to travel there, what areas you can safely go to, or what steps you need to take to protect yourself and those you’re traveling with.
When my wife and I went to Cozumel we carefully combed over the travel advisory warnings issued by Mexico and the US. We also looked at local data given by Cozumel city officials about the problems they’ve had and we read through the accounts of expatriates living in the area.
It’s important to receive advise about the crime in areas from individuals who are originally from your country or share your ethnicity. When I was in El Salvador I learned very quickly that white individuals are perceived to be rich by gang members and are subject to more muggings and confrontations than those who appear to be locals. On a criminal level it makes sense, are you going to rob the local Salvadorian who makes a dollar an hour or the United States citizen who makes 10 dollars an hour? Which one is likely to be carrying more money on them given their earnings?
I know people shy away from these kinds of topics and I might be accused by some of racism, sexism, and other political buzz words, but it’s important to understand that criminals target people based on opportunity regardless of how politically incorrect their methods or perceptions might be. Getting information from correct sources about how to be safe in a given area is important when traveling abroad.
When I asked a Hispanic man about the crime problem in El Salavador he said it happens, but that he’s never been a victim of it and it’s not very common, which was true for him. Yet when I asked a white US expatriate living in El Salvador the same questions he gave me very specific advice about what areas to avoid, how much money to carry and what clothes to wear because he has frequently been the victim of muggings and attacks and had to quickly learn to avoid or deal with it.
A woman traveling alone is much different than a man traveling alone, this is not a commentary on whether women are capable of handling themselves. This is instead acknowledging that lone women are more likely to be targeted by criminals and are more likely to be the victims of sexual assault or rape. A man should still be cautious, but a woman especially so. A woman getting advice from a man about the level of danger in a particular area, while helpful, is not going to be as accurate as she’ll need. A woman with personal experience about traveling alone in the area will be much more insightful.
Do your due diligence and learn about the crime from those who have been in the area wearing your shoes.
Know Important Locations
Whenever my wife and I arrive at our destination the first thing we do is identify the location of the nearest embassy, hospital, and police station in case we ever need them.
The hospital and police station are obviously important, but it surprises me how very few people make a priority to identify the nearest embassy. Embassies often contain a plethora of knowledge regarding laws and customs of the country that you may not be familiar with. They also are the place to go if you lose your passport while traveling abroad, the first place you should contact if arrested while traveling, and perhaps their most important function, giving you immediate information and guidance on dangerous situations.
If there is a sudden uptick in violence and riots are breaking out the embassy will do it’s best to reach out to citizens of its home country and give information on what to do or where to go. Having contact with the embassy will ensure that they’re aware of your presence there and will do their best to assist you if something bad were to happen.
If you’re religious I would also recommend getting in contact with local leaders and seeking help or advice from them. This can be helpful in areas where the embassy is far away or your country may not be represented.
Have A Contact
In addition to letting the embassy and local church know you’re in the area having someone back home you can stay in routine contact with is a very good practice to get into. Letting them know about your intended travels, how to get a hold of you, and how to send money to you can become critical if things go wrong.
When my wife and I travel we make sure to have at least one working phone and internet access at all times. When taking a trip to remote or isolated areas, like when we were in Belize and going to live on a Bamboo farm in the rainforest for a week, we made sure to let the family back home know where we were, how long we intended to be there, and the best way to contact us.
We also make sure to have at least one bank account with a family member attached to it whenever we travel. That way if we get robbed, our credit cards are frozen, or we need to purchase an expensive plane ticket at the last second to flee the country, we have someone that can deposit the needed amount and give us the emergency resources we need.
No one can guarantee that bad things won’t happen to you abroad, but learning about the problems an area is facing from sources that best represent your circumstances, knowing the locations of important facilities, staying in contact with the local embassy, church and friends and family back home can ensure you have the right knowledge and connections to avoid, mitigate, or resolve any problems that might occur while traveling abroad.
Again, don’t let the fear of something bad happening prevent you from traveling, use it as a motivator to better prepare and have a plan to give you piece of mind. Knowing car crashes happen doesn’t stop you from getting behind the wheel, it just helps remind you to put your seat belt on.
Author: Benjamin Baker
After serving abroad in a religious capacity for two years Ben has felt the pull to travel and explore ever since. This desire was further fueled by his wife Maddie and the two have traveled to many places over the last few years. Ben’s hope is that by sharing his knowledge and experiences obtained while traveling that others can improve their lives and the lives of others through travel. Check out additional articles written by Benjamin.