After completing her one year round-the-world trip, Lily Leung learned some vaulable lessons along the way. From what to pack, to practical tips on the road, Lily shares her tips with us on keeping both you, and your belongings safe while travelling:
That’s one of the most common questions I’ve been asked after coming back from my year-long trip around the world to Europe,India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Before starting my travels, I had anticipated the worst; from losing my passport, to being mugged, to getting frequently lost in new cities.
If you’re considering taking your own long-term trip, you might be relieved to hear that travelling is much safer than I expected. At the end of my 13 month trip, I didn’t get sick once and all my valuables came back unharmed, from my identification and to my expensive electronics like my DSLR, iPhone and 15″ MacBook Pro.
Here are a few tips from my travels on keeping yourself and your belongings safe and on contingency planning.
Before Starting Your Trip
1. Make copies of important documents, in hard and digital format – keep at least one set of photocopies of your passport, ID, bank cards and insurance policy in each of your bags. In addition, email copies to yourself and to trusted family and friends so that in the unlikely event of losing all your belongings or if something happens to you, all your critical documents are easily accessible.
2. Bring back-up bank and credit cards – the longer your trip is, the more likely your primary cards will be compromised or lost and thus the need to access other bank accounts. Pack these backup debit and credit cards in your larger backpack/suitcase so that if you lose your wallet or day bag, the other set will still be safe at the hotel.
3. Bring a tablet or smartphone – having your own device to log into bank or email accounts makes you less susceptible for password theft compared to using public computers. A smartphone is also helpful when you are lost or stuck but can find wifi at a cafe, and the GPS on the device is great for navigation since you can access preloaded maps without a SIM card or phone plan.
4. Memorize your passport number – a passport number is commonly required as part of the hotel check-in procedure and sometimes for tours. The less often you pull out your passport the less you expose the contents of your money belt or bag for the world to see.
5. Memorize your main debit card number and credit card number including the expiry date and security number – in case you temporary misplace your card, you can still make online bookings or log into your bank accounts. If your card becomes compromised, it’s also faster to provide your financial institution your card information from memory than from having to locate a photocopy of it.
6. Preload city maps on your smartphone or tablet – before arriving in a new city, plot your hotel on Google Maps so that once you arrive you can see where you are relative to your hotel. In cities where tourist cab scams are common, or if the transportation system is complex, this also helps gauge if your cab/bus ride is heading in the right direction.
7. Secure your valuables in your room – if you’re in shared room at a hostel, bring a combination lock to use with hostel lockers. If you’re staying at a hotel, put your cash and documents in your room safe (if available). If in doubt, you can also leave your valuables with the reception for safekeeping. In my experience, leaving my belongings (money, ID, laptop) at my accommodation while I’m out during the day has never been an issue.
8. Check-in on Facebook or tweet often – wifi access is generally common at hotels and hostels and you can use this to make Facebook updates or to geotag your Tweets. Your updates can give family and friends peace of mind from knowing where you are and in the event something happens to you, there’s an indication of where you were last.
Exploring a City
9. Ask your hostel/hotel where you *shouldn’t* go – in addition to asking hotel staff for recommendations on where to dine or visit, also inquire if there are areas you should avoid or if there are any scams to be aware of.
10. Take business cards from hotel before you step out – this ensures you have someone to call should you need assistance and gives you an address to show locals if you’re asking for directions, which is especially important if you’re in a country where English isn’t the main language.
11. Keep as little on you as possible – while exploring a city, take only the minimum amount of money you think you need and a passport photocopy. While some travellers recommend keeping your passport on you, my perception is that I’m more likely to be mugged than to have my valuables stolen if they’re locked up at my hotel/hostel.
12. Count your belongings – before leaving a hotel for the next destination, I check that I’ve accounted for my most important belongings by counting the items. For me, my most important possessions were my passport, laptop, camera, iPhone, large backpack and daypack. Each time I check out, I make sure I can count these six items before leaving.
What other safety tips would you add to this list? Share them with us!
Lily Leung is based in Toronto and also runs a website called Explore for a Year which provides resources and practical tips for taking a year off to travel. You can also follow her on Twitter @LilyLeung.