It’s time for your must-read list of vacation safety tips to keep yourself and your gear safe on your next vacation.

Fear.

It can save your life, but it can also hold you back from truly experiencing it as well.

We fear what we don’t know. Fear comes from our inability to quantify a risk we perceive that may impact our lives.

The only antidote: education. Being better informed.

I have to admit, I’ve feared for my safety quite a few times in my travels. And some times I’ve been totally and blissfully unaware of the dangers around me.

Whether it was walking through the streets of Durban or Soweto with expensive camera gear over my shoulder, walking the streets of Rio de Janeiro at night, or traversing through unstable areas of Kenya under armed guard, I’ve sometimes found myself a little wanting in the safety department.

And that’s just the stuff I was aware of.

Sometimes, the safety of your gear is the hardest thing to sniff out, walking around a seemingly innocuous town only to have your wallet stripped from you without a hint of a clue.

That happened to me in Dubai…

And then there is the danger that is right in front of you, it talks to you, distracts you, tricks you, and leaves you handing over cash to gypsies in the middle of Paris.

That one was tough to admit.

So today I want to talk about a few tips I have learnt along the way to keep you and your belongings a little safer along your journey into the great unknown.

Don’t let fear hold you back. Educate yourself and make pragmatic choices to get the best out of your adventures!

Vacation Safety Tips – Keeping Yourself Safe 

#1: Do what the locals do

If you’re a little outside the tourist zone and just that tiny bit unsure about the path ahead, take your time and watch what the locals do.

Generally, people are good-natured and willing to give some honest advice about where is and isn’t safe to explore.

This is where your people skills come in.

If you’re at a café for breakfast, or you’re walking down a street, there is no issue in identifying a normal looking adult, or a family, and just asking for their advice.

When I was in Durban for a stopover to a volunteering program last year, I had a few days to explore.

I hadn’t really done my research like I should have, and found myself a little unsure in what I would call a 2nd world city.

I knew I wanted to get to the beach, but I was unsure about the safety of the streets downtown and on the way.

So I asked a family. They confirmed my suspicions that they themselves would never walk alone through downtown, but that the fairly quiet and downtrodden path to the beach was actually quite safe on my own.

Just remember, although you may be a solo traveler, or a foreigner, you are never alone.

#2: Make friends with people along the way and explore together

To be honest, the only times I have ever felt a little unsettled about my safety is when I have travelled alone.

These days, I feel much more comfortable dealing with it.

But when you are with travel companions or simply people you know, even the darkest streets of The Bronx seem totally explorable.

So even if you are a solo traveler, remember there are 1,000s of other people on the same path as you who, if approached, would probably really love the company and security that sharing an adventure together brings.

#3: Do your research

There’s a blog post about nearly every town in the world now. There are also your established travel guides, along with TripAdvisor.

When I went to the FIFA World Cup in 2014, I researched every city my mates and I were staying at.

We wanted to have a good time without any trouble.

Given the massive police presence, we felt safe most of the time.

However, in Rio, we knew we were staying in a pocket of safety amongst a sea of favelas.

I literally drew up a map for each of my friends coloring in the streets they weren’t allowed to walk down.

We were still pickpocketed on the beach, right under our noses, but due to our vigilance late at night, we never found ourselves in some of the horrifying situations we read about coming out of last year’s event.

Vacation Safety Tips – Looking after your stuff

It’s generally logical that if you keep yourself from harms way, you will keep your stuff safe.

However, unless you are getting yourself held up at knifepoint, the easiest way to ruin your trip can occur without you even knowing.

Pickpockets run rampant in cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Prague, Paris, Buenos Aires, and many more.

It happens without you knowing, or without you being able to do anything about it.

So often, it’s the tiny hands of a 10year old that will do the damage.

To be honest, all you can do in these cities is be aware of it, never linger with your bag on your shoulder too long, and keep your valuables zipped up.

These guys will use any means to distract you, or simply break into your stuff by force if they deem your treasures worthwhile.

Regardless, here are a few things I have incorporated to even out the odds a bit:

#1 Sewing a pocket into your pants 

I learnt this one from The Expert Vagabond.

He got so fed up with the risk of people holding him up or just snatching things from his pockets, that he built in a secret compartment for his really valuable stuff.

It’s nothing more than a piece of fabric sewed into his hemline, then enclosed with Velcro, but since building this into my wardrobe, I have not only kept my wallet and passport safe, but also disappointed the hell out of a pickpocket one day when all he got was my $5 wallet full of business cards and a disabled credit card.

#2 Get the right locks

This is a real dealbreaker!

For one, if you’re travelling through America, you NEED to be using TSA approved locks. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if you find the border control people have broken your locks to get inside and have a look around.

Knowing this, I highly recommend you use combination locks.

I learnt this the hard way in Hong Kong on a 15 hour stopover from LA.

I had left my cash in a pocket of my backpack, but had accidentally put the key to that pocket in my checked luggage, which was on its way home.

So I spent the next 15 hours in Hong Kong ghosting people through train gates and using my credit card to pay for stuff where possible.

You wont forget your combination, but you might forget your key.

In addition to combination locks for your zips, I recommend a retractable combination lock. Think of it as a bike lock for your bag.

Maybe you are on a sleeper train overnight with your bag at your feet, or you’re in a mixed dorm and don’t want people stealing your gear.

A retractable lock is perfect for this. Just loop it around your bed leg or chair leg and you can sleep with peace of mind.

If you are really concerned for your stuff, or you know how valuable your gear is, think about getting yourself a pacsafe anti-theft travel bag protector.

It will cost you around $100, but I see it as an insurance policy.

It’s a steel wire netted cover that goes over your bag and ties up with a loop at the opening.

You can tie this to your bed just like the retractable lock.

I find it acts as a great repellant too. If someone sees this thing wrapped around your bag, they wont bother trying to get in.

With one of these, you can be sure your valuable items like cameras and laptops wont be able to be taken even if they use a knife to cut through your backpack.

#4 Anti-theft backpack

Now, when we think about going travelling, we all have different preferences when it comes to luggage.

Some like the rollers, some like the duffels, some the hybrid roller backpack, and others go for the true backpacker bag with all the straps and hydration sleeves etc.

Each to their own.

But most aren’t thinking about security when they buy their bag. Well, at least not past whether you can fit a lock on your zipper.

And here is where I really suggest taking the time to consider a bag made with anti-theft protection.

It’s an all-in-one with mesh lining, retractable zippers, anti-slash material, and hidden pockets.

There are a few companies out there that make them.

Kirsten at The Blonde Abroad recently posted an article about a bag she is using by EarthEasy.

My favourite, however, is the gear made by PacSafe.

Now, it may seem like this is becoming a sponsored post, but I promise it isn’t.

I truly trust the gear that these guys are making, and they cater for all my needs, especially in the camera bag department.

Check them out here:

#5 Find my iPhone

I’m not sure I need to talk too much about this.

If you have a mac, macbook, iPad or iPhone, you probably know about it.

If you don’t, its very simple, look it up and make sure you are using it for that time you lose it.

It could make that little difference when going on your own investigative search!

Travel Insurance

Finally, the perennial topic of travel insurance.

I think we’ve all read one too many blog posts on the need for it, and a special deal someone is promoting.

I have always personally used the travel insurance offered as a perk with my credit cards from BankWest and Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

It’s also offered by a few other banks.

If you want to know more about these, check my post out about the best credit cards to get free travel insurance.

Bonus Material: If you can’t get enough of vacation safety tips, then I suggest also reading similar articles from Lonely PlanetPrevention.com, and Reader’s Digest.

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  • How do you keep your gear safe?
  • And have you got any tales to share with the WSF community that may help someone in the future?