The media is rife with tales of backpackers coming to a sticky and untimely end on their gap years, salivating over details of all the monsters that lurk in the shadows the second you get off that plane. Listen to these expert tips instead of the media hype and learn how not to get murdered, killed, kidnapped or even worse on your once in a lifetime backpacking trip.
If you believe the media the world is a very dangerous place, filled with risky activities and nefarious characters all ready to rob, rape, kidnap or kill you round every corner. Every country is a high value target just waiting for you to arrive fresh off the plane before succumbing to yet another terrorist attack.
No one is safe! Just look at all the headlines on all the newspapers, the repeated bulletins on rolling 24 hour news or the ridiculous flags on everyone’s Facebook profiles every time there is yet another tragedy, as if that will actually do anything to help.
Even the official government travel safety advice is at it, telling every potential backpacker to cower in fear at home instead of travelling, wheeling out the air raid sirens from WWII, upgrading the BIKINI state alert and changing the emergency alarm bulb from white to red every time a special snowflake goes abroad and stubs their toe.
Well fear not potential travellers, there is a solution!
You can choose not to live in fear and travel anyway. You can choose not to ignore the actual facts and statistics that show that the chances of you becoming the victim of anything terrible when travelling are actually quite low. Most importantly, you can take reasonable, common sense safety precautions, arm yourself with the right knowledge and train yourself a little to reduce that small risk even more.
Here are the top 10 ways you can travel abroad and not get murdered, raped, killed or kidnapped. Follow these tips and they may even prevent some of your valuable stuff from getting nicked or reduce the risk of becoming the victim of a variety of other mishaps too!
Get your paperwork in order.
Before you even think about getting on that plane it is absolutely essential that you have all the necessary insurance paperwork and visas sorted out. I know, no one likes doing this. It is the boring logistical part of reducing the potential risk on the road, and whilst it may not save you from becoming a victim, it can really help pull your backside out of the fire and stop things from getting worse very quickly. So just get it done. It is important.
This really should go without saying but a big part of reducing risk on the road is knowing about any potential risks beforehand, and taking reasonable steps to reducing that risk before it becomes a problem. That means preparing yourself mentally, physically and emotionally to handle anything that might come your way that you may have to deal with.
Now I’m not in an way suggesting that everyone hit the gym, watch endless Steven Segal movies in an attempt to learn his moves through osmosis or enroll in the next SAS selection process, it really isn’t necessary to do all that. All this means is know what potential problems may occur and think about how you can deal with them if they happen to you.
Talking to other more experienced travellers really helps a lot in this regard, but if you really want to take that next step and get specific advice from professionals, there are a number of gap year safety courses that can help prepare you and give you expert advice. They are by no means mandatory, but if you are really worried – or even if your family are worried about you – then they can be an excellent way to put your mind at ease and prepare yourself.
Do your research.
This really goes hand in hand with preparing yourself before you leave, but it is a really good idea to do as much research as you can on the destinations you are heading to. This means knowing at least the basics of the cultures and the societal rules of the places you visit, but also knowing the most common scams and tricks that touts and criminals will use to distract you or part you from your money. The more you know, the less likely you are to run into problems or at the very least you will be much more likely to be able to spot and avoid any trouble before it happens.
It is also a really good idea to memorise where all the important buildings are in relation to where you are staying and how to ask for and get help if you need it. What is the local emergency number for the country you are in? How do you ask for help in the local language? You really should know these things if you want to reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
Develop your situational awareness.
This just means make yourself aware of your surroundings at all times, train your mind to be constantly alert, make a mental note of who is around you, where the exits are, where your stuff is and if there are any police or security you have just noticed that you can call for help to if you need it. Are you walking around with your earphones in or your head in your phone’s screen? If you find yourself in a heavily crowded area and keep getting bumped or jostled, do you know where your wallet or purse is? It really is just making yourself pay a little bit of attention to what is happening around you. Potential predators love it when their prey is lost in their own little world and oblivious to danger until it is right on top of them, so don’t give them that opening to act. There is absolutely no need to take this to a level where you become paranoid, just be aware of your surroundings and act appropriately.
Anyone that may wish to do you harm, steal from you or target you in any way when you are travelling are by their very nature predators. They prey on the weak, not the strong. It’s instinctive. If you look like a victim, act like a victim and give off a ton of vibes that you will be an easy mark, it is much more likely you will be targeted. So do the opposite. Act confident, act like you belong, act like you aren’t worth the bother of messing with. Even if on the inside you are nervous and unsure of yourself, don’t let it show. Act confident until you can get to where you want to go. It isn’t foolproof of course, but combined with these other tips it can really reduce your chances of being targeted and becoming a victim.
Predators are quite often also opportunists. They pick out an easy looking target, weigh up if they are worth the bother or not and then pounce. An easy way to take yourself off their radar a little bit is by making it look as if you belong there. You may have physical characteristics that make it impossible to completely blend in of course, but at the very least you can look like an expat comfortable in the area as opposed to a tourist who is vulnerable. Look at what locals are wearing and mimic that style to a small extent, this doesn’t mean wear full local native dress of course, that will have the opposite effect, I mean if you are in a conservative country, wear long trousers and a T shirt. If you are on Venice beach in California by all means ditch the long sleeves and crack out the bikini. You may have just arrived in a new place and are excited to see all the local attractions, but put away that guide book and over sized tourist map. It’s all about not standing out and cultivating a disguise for yourself that along with confidence and your actions, doesn’t paint you as an easy target.
Lie, lie and lie.
I know, your mum always taught you to be good and lying is a bad thing, blah, blah, blah. Morality is generally overrated in this case and there are times when lying is not only quite a good thing, but can actually really be very beneficial in reducing the risk of anything bad happening to you.
Much in the same way as bluffing your confidence levels and using your outward appearance to blend in, lying can give potential predators, robbers or attackers subtle signals that you are not a victim, you are confident in your surroundings and that they should leave you alone.
These lies aren’t major ones of course, you don’t have to go round giving a false identity to everyone and pretending you’re in the Bourne Identity, you just have to throw out a few little misdirections. Tell that taxi driver who asks (and they all ask) that no, this isn’t your first time in the city, you’ve been here many times before. Tell anyone who asks why you are sat alone in a bar that you are waiting for your friends, partner or significant other and they are running late and definitely lie about the hostel, guesthouse or hotel that you are staying at. There are a hundred variations on this theme of course and in and of themselves they are only little white lies, but they can help in reducing any potential risk so don’t feel guilty about doing it.
Keep your cool.
This is something that is really important but is often really overlooked, and is a big part of how to go about deescalating a potentially troublesome situation which I talk more about as part of my unique REACTE system of keeping yourself safe. You have to remember that at some point during your travels something will inevitably go wrong, someone will make you fed up or angry (I’m especially looking at you taxi and tuk tuk drivers) or something will happen that will make you want to react. Don’t.
Not an appropriate reaction to a pushy tout.
Overreacting or showing signs of anger or frustration is never the go to response, trust me. (There are some exceptions of course but you have to be very careful and know when and where to act). In many cases getting angry or reacting negatively to a situation can even make things worse and can escalate a situation very quickly, especially in places like Asia where ‘saving face’ is a huge deal, or Latin America for example where there is in some places a large culture of machismo that can get you into trouble.
Just walk away. Your pride isn’t worth it.
Don’t advertise your victim status.
This is such a basic tip that I have mentioned it so many times in so many articles, but it is so important (and so easily forgotten) that it is worth mentioning again.
Don’t keep all your fancy gadgets and expensive jewelry on show!
It’s that simple. Really. If you walk around advertising the fact that you have a ton of expensive gear and cash on you as a tourist, you will make yourself a target for thieves. Re read the blend in part of this advice!
Stay in touch.
One of the best things about independent travel is the freedom it gives you, the freedom away from the constraints of home and the freedom to go where you want when you want, but it is still a very good idea to keep in touch with friends and family. Give them a rough copy of your itinerary, and keep them updated with a simple text or email once in a while when your plans inevitably change. US Citizens can even use the awesome Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to register your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Use your common sense and trust your gut.
Your common sense, your gut instinct, call it what you will, this is probably one of your best weapons in your self defence arsenal. If your gut instinct tells you that a person is a bit shady, then give them a wide berth. If you think a place isn’t quite right, then get out of there. It really is that simple. It is the same with your common sense, I understand that this is the adventure of a lifetime for you but that is no reason to switch off your intelligence and go crazy, don’t get so drunk you don’t know where you are or what you are doing, don’t walk down that dark alley alone or pick a fight with a gang of tough looking locals. It is just basic common sense, but it can save you from a lot of trouble in the long run.
Now remember, these tips aren’t here to worry you or reinforce all the scaremongering that the media does, they are here to reduce your personal chances of becoming a victim of crime when you travel.
Taking a gap year is still statistically very safe, but taking extra precautions like these will make it much more likely that you won’t get murdered, killed, kidnapped or worse on your gap year like all the doomsayers seem to think you will.
Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.
If you want to gain a more in depth knowledge and understanding about how to reduce the risks of travelling and keep yourself safe on the road then you need these books.
With comprehensive advice from ex military personnel, self defence experts as well as qualified health care professionals and utilising the unique REACTE system of personal safety, Gap Year Safety is an absolute must read for anyone about to set off on their gap year. It delves much deeper into issues such as how to stay safe and not become a victim, how to recognise, avoid and deescalate potentially violent situations and what to do and where to get help if things do go wrong, Gap Year Safety is an invaluable resource to keep yourself safe on your travels.
Solo Female Backpacker deals with all these issues and more specifically from a woman’s perspective, with the same essential safety tips and advice from ex military personnel and self defence experts as well as inspirational stories from women who have travelled independently around the world.
With the information and knowledge contained in these books, many dangers and troubles can be avoided altogether, or at least dealt with safely if they do occur.
Both books are available in traditional paperback, or in eBook format across all platforms including Kindle, Apple and many more.