Welcome to your huge guide about security on the road, covering many simple yet effective travel safety tips. This world is full of wonder and there is so much to explore.
But, whether you are traveling or not, there is always a few things to keep in mind to stay safe. It can be from simple scams to more complex things like your data protection.
Initially I wanted to start this article with “Hello, my name is Matt, may I scare the hell out of you?!” – Read through and you will see why.
In this article we share our years of travel experience and real-life stories, including “embarrassing” ones. Since we do not know everything you need to know about safety, we reached out to experts, krav maga trainers, experienced travelers and bloggers. Because, well, it is not necessary to make all the mistakes on your own.
Oh boy, I sound like a priest and nun or mama and papa…please bear with me, I promise this article will help you on your travels, and at home.
List of smart Travel Safety Tips
Let us talk about cyber security, how to keep your credit card safe, Krav Maga and guts. These tips can play an important role during your holidays and vacation time. We share our own personal stories and anecdotes by fellow travelers so you don’t need to actually experience every bad story on your own.
In the online world we want to share a few tips on how to keep your data safe, such as credit card and smartphone.
Perhaps the following tips on digital security for the traveler can help you on your own travels and perhaps your visitors, as a host.
1. Turn off WiFi when traveling
You know your Smartphone has the ability to connect to mobile data and WiFi. This is basic.
Here is the problem with that:
WiFi not only screams out who you are, it also calls out previously saved networks you connected with.
Anyone willing to do harm can fake any of these networks and you may connect to a “rogue access point” without being aware of it.
Many of your apps still send out data unencrypted and thus make the data vulnerable to being read by attackers.
So, in a nutshell, the turned on WiFi:
constantly shares your identity
calls previously saved networks
Have you ever logged into a Starbucks or McDonalds’ WiFi?
Once you are near one of their stores, your smartphone connects automatically. This per sé does not mean there is harm done, but it does send out data without you actually knowing about it.
Nice side-effect: Turning off WiFi on your Smartphone saves battery.
Same goes actually for Bluetooth.
2. Unknown WiFi? Use a VPN!
When connecting to unknown WiFi access points, use a VPN.
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.
When you connect to a (free or unknown) access point all your data goes over the air and is susceptible to being read by anyone on the same network.
By making use of a trustworthy VPN provider you can hide your network activity and data from the eyes of others. This is the case for laptops, iPads and smartphones and should be especially considered when doing your online banking.
What else can the VPN do for you?
You can place yourself virtually in other countries. Meaning, you can sit in Bali and suddenly watch UK shows that are actually restricted to people located inside the UK.
How do you get started?
It is simple.
The nerd-buddies from PCMag created a detailed guide on VPNs and apps to use for your iPhone and Android. There is also a video showing how VPNs work and the editors choice for helpful apps.
It is really easy!
What do we use?
At Hostelgeeks we use Zenmate. We have a Premium account for 5 different devices, including laptops and Smartphones. The business is all about protecting you. The other day they wrote me an email, and they even protect my email address itself. They crawl spam pages and such to see if any one of their customers has been spammed.
3. Laptop/ Phone stolen? Install PREY
Confession time: I had my Smartphone stolen three weeks after moving to Barcelona. “Luckily” it was a cheap one, but I felt like an idiot.
Ever since then, I install an app called “PREY” on all the devices I purchase.
It is always one of the first apps I setup.
Prey lets you track and find your phone, laptop, or tablet. And: it’s free.
This video shows how it works and why it is useful. It is easy to install, safe and free.
Important: You have to install this BEFORE you lose your phone. You cannot install it remotely once it is gone.
How can Prey be free?
PREY is free to setup, free to install and register. It does not cost you a thing, even if your device gets stolen. The basic features are free!
You can upgrade to PRO/ PREMIUM; with fair prices as little as $5 per month. I am using the free version, and PREY works well in connection with a VPN (see above #2).
The premium features include:
Paid accounts can speed up incoming reports from missing devices up to every 2 minutes.
Wipe passwords, emails and files
Complete and secure removal of browser data, stored passwords, local mailboxes and personal documents is possible on desktop and laptops under paid accounts.
100 reports per device
Storage of up to 100 reports for each of your devices, instead of 20.
4. Watch out for scams and spams
A lot of attackers send out messages claiming that you need to verify your account or login details.
Some even go as far as stating you have a payment awaiting you.
Never trust unsolicited messages, whether by WhatsApp, e-mail, SMS, iMessage or similar service.
Also, don’t click on any links and attachments sent to you. It may look authentic but probably won’t be!
You booked your travel insurance with “Hippie No Harm” (yes, I made that one up!). Later someone with the email address firstname.lastname@example.org contacts you…
Again, take a look at the O – one time it is a zero, the other one the letter “o”.
Have you even noticed this?
Hippie No Harm (with the letter o)
email@example.com (with the number zero)
Of course, this is an extreme example just to give you an idea. It is not super obvious all the time. Therefore, pay attention.
A few years ago, one of my colleagues (I’ll call him David) and I received an email from a client, requesting feedback on a report. It was a little odd – this particular client really had no reason to send us this type of report – but I clicked on the link anyhow. Up popped a Gmail login screen. Or at least, what looked like a Gmail login screen.
Luckily, I looked at the URL; I could tell it was a spoof site in Brazil and not actually Gmail. I quickly closed my iPhone’s browser.
I was worried though – my colleague David who had also received the email was older and not super tech-savvy. I was actually on my way home on the train when I received the email, so I figured I would call David as soon as I got home and warn him not to click on anything.
When I called him – and this was seriously within 45 minutes of receiving the email – I could tell he was in a panic.
“Krista, they got everything. They went into my Gmail account and took all the emails out of my account. They got all my taxes and frequent flyer accounts, basically anything I’ve stored in that email account over the last 10 years.”
His entire Gmail account was empty.
“I’m at my bank right now. They’ve emptied out my bank account.”
I honestly cannot believe how quickly this all happened.
Within another hour or so, it got worse…the people who had emptied David’s Gmail account had called his financial advisor and requested to withdraw all of David’s retirement savings. They had all of David’s information to make the transaction happen. The only thing that stopped his financial advisor is that she knows David well and knew that she was not talking to David.
(Also, there are massive tax consequences to withdrawing US retirement funds before retirement so it was an odd request anyhow.)
David is now in perpetual identity theft hell. It’s been terrible for him.
The moral of the story here is that this can happen to anyone, and thieves move quickly.
If you are curious, we checked with the client who had “sent” the email and he had received the same and clicked on it and logged in. We think what happened is the hackers then got into the client’s email account and sent the same email to all of the client’s contacts and then deleted the sent e-mail so as not to leave a trace. Because this was the client’s work email account, they did not find any personal details and likely moved on. Unfortunately for David, the client had emailed his personal account.
Hindsight is always 20/20 but here are at least two things you can do to prevent this horror story from happening to you. These security tips cover #6 and #7.
5. Use a password locker
Use a password locker like Lastpass, Onepass, or Dashlane to create unique, complex passwords for all of your accounts.
David unfortunately used the same password for many of his accounts.
Once the thieves knew his Gmail account password and the other sorts of accounts he had, they were able to break into many of his other accounts. I’ve been using a password locker since this happened and I’m continuously surprised by the number of accounts I have (more than 300) and the number of password breaches that occur.
A password locker will notify you immediately when a breach occurs so you can change your password and any similar passwords.
And should your own details get stolen, the password locker will help you quickly change login details.
6. Turn on two-factor authentication
Turn on two-factor authentication for any account that offers it.
Yes, I know it’s a pain (especially when traveling).
BUT had David had 2-factor authentication turned on for his Gmail account, the thieves would not have progressed beyond the login screen. (They still could have tried his password on other typical accounts though).
If you’re not familiar with 2-factor authentication, what happens is that before you can complete your login, the website sends a code to your phone.
You then need to use that code to complete your login.
So if thieves have your password but not your phone, they can’t get into your accounts.
In this day and age, it can be hard to stay safe online.
Unfortunately, there are bad people out there. Protect yourself by using a password locker and please set up two-factor authentication!
Interesting: Many banks offer a two-step verification for transactions as well. For every online purchase or transfer, they send a code to your phone that you must type in as well.
Good to know: I know, it is a real pain to login each time twice. It really annoys me as well, yet it makes the whole game more safe.
7. Use longer and different passwords
The longer your password, the better.
The first step is obviously choosing a password in the first place. Do not leave your smartphone or laptop unprotected.
That is like walking out of your house and leaving the door wide open. If you do this, you should not be surprised if someone walks in without asking…makes sense?!
The second step is choosing different passwords for email, social media etc.
The last step is choosing a long password.
I came across some great advise on choosing a password.
Instead of thinking in letters and numbers, think about sentences. This makes passwords automatically longer and more difficult to hack.
If you have read through the tragic hacker story above, it seems obvious not to use one password for several accounts. This makes life for a hacker way too easy.
Good to know: I read the most common password in the world is “password“….I don’t even have words for that!
8. Never trust a USB device
USB devices are the prime source of malware and viruses – after phishing emails.
Never trust a USB device given to you or the device from someone you don’t really know on your private devices.
Note that 99% of the infections go unnoticed to the user.
9. Never trust a “quick charge” booth
Quick Charge Booths are tempting. At the airport, coffee shops, etc. Again, your USB device doesn’t just transfer power, it also shares data.
USB shares data!
Those “quick” recharge shops may very well be reading your device while giving you juice at the same time.
Use a wall socket charger instead with your own USB port, it’s much safer!
In following with the previous warning, be on the lookout for companies that may have your name but don’t address you by it when sending seemingly official messages.
Also be on the lookout for spelling mistakes and URLs (website addresses) that are different than the official company website or those that do not use HTTPS (secure web browsing).
How to know if a website is safe?
Check if a website has the green lock in its URL and that the url shows httpS – with letter “s”.
Good to know: The so-called SSL connection is important when it comes to “sensitive data” such as your bank account and bookings.
When booking your hostel, make sure you check if the hostel actually uses a secure connection. There are hostel websites using non-secure booking software. This is not at all normal, usually hostel and hotel websites are safe.
Just keep an eye on it, especially if the website does not look 100% professionally designed.
Being social is important, but also mind your privacy.
Social media nowadays makes it very easy to share everything about yourself. Be aware that others may use the information you publicly share to build a profile of you.
Be careful what kind of information you share and with whom you share it. Even if you feel you have nothing to hide, don’t go about sharing everything!
Photos you share can easily end up on websites you do not want to be connected to. And information you share can end up inviting thieves to your house while you are traveling the world.
In all fairness, this is a very drastic example and tip. Just keep this in mind when sharing information online.
12. Let your Bank know you are traveling
Your bank cares about your safety and they care about your money being safe; or at least they don’t want to cover the insurance part when someone from a foreign ATM takes money.
Therefore, let your bank know when and where you are traveling.
This way they know you will be using it in the Philippines and not suddenly block the credit card.
A blocked credit card during holidays – not cool!
13. Use Cash (ATMs and credit card safety)
Talking more about money and credit cards, cash is the safest option to pay.
Especially in countries like Indonesia the stealing of credit card details is widely common. We met quite a few – and it happened to us!
Our own story:
We have been careful and only used official ATMs attached to an actual bank, yet it happened.
They stole our credit card details most likely in a supermarket or the ATM attached. We cannot exactly pinpoint it, but it was in South Lombok, in Kuta, Lombok. The thieves stole 800€ from our account and we instantly blocked the credit card.
Since we have insurance against this kind of theft, the bank and VISA covered; we were lucky.
So, how can you protect yourself?
Try using your credit card as little as possible, use more cash. Also, it is recommended to use ATM machines that are directly attached to banks, instead of supermarkets and such.
14. Digital Copy of your passport
Your passport is important and you should not lose it.
Losing the passport comes with quite some trouble including spending a lot of time and money to get a new one. A friend from Sweden once lost his passport on a motor bike trip through Vietnam.
And along with this you may have heard a lot about “cookies“.
Those cookies are little files that are stored in your browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox etc). These cookies help to track who you are and to personalize your ads, your personal preferences and such. Cookies are nothing bad, they do not do any harm.
Yet, there is data of you collected without you maybe knowing about it.
Social media sites in particular collect a lot of data about you to see which websites you like, read and consume. Based on this, new ads will be shown to you. A way to avoid this is to always log out of Facebook etc when you’re not actually using it.
What can you do?
You can use different browsers for different tasks you do.
For instance, you can use Safari for your Facebook and Social Media, and Mozilla Firefox for your regular daily browsing.
Google Maps lets you store a shortcut to your home address so you can type less and get directions faster. While that’s convenient for you, if someone steals your phone, you’ve made it easy for them to find their way right to your front door.
Especially if your phone isn’t password protected – that is another no-go.
Instead of saving your home address, save the address of a nearby store or restaurant instead. You’ll still be able to navigate close to home with a single tap, but you’ll be keeping your personal information safe.
If you’ve already saved your home address, it’s easy to change.
Just open Google Maps, then Click Menu > Your Places > Labeled.
Next to your Home Address, click on the three dots, select Edit Home. Then type the address of a public location.
17. Turn off “automatic image loading” in your emails
Have you ever received an email with an image inside? Sure, you did. Probably a thousand times.
Sometimes, senders may know whether you’ve opened an email that has an image. Especially marketeers use this to see if someone receives an email or not.
Personally, I really dislike this, because I never agreed to this tracking of mine. This is just unacceptable.
I do not know the image loading behavior on all email providers, but I know Gmail.
Gmail scans every message for suspicious content. If Gmail thinks a sender or message is suspicious, images aren’t shown and you’ll be asked if you want to see the images.
How Gmail helps make images safe?
Google scans images for signs of suspicious content before you receive them.
These scans make images safer because:
Senders can’t use image loading to get information about your computer or location.
Senders can’t use the image to set or read cookies in your browser.
Gmail checks the images for known harmful software.
I always turn off automatic image loading and only load images from emails I trust. It goes in the same direction as the link story above.
Another advantage: Emails load faster without images and it saves your mobile data.
You can easily turn off “automatic image loading” in Gmail under Settings > General > Images
Summary Digital/Online Security Tips
The points above may seem far-fetched, but in a world that’s predominantly digital it’s good to be aware of the possible dangers that may be out there. It is fairly easy to protect your data with a VPN and following some basic guidelines.
Be open, enjoy the world, respect others no matter what their background may be and follow your instinct when meeting new people.
Enjoy life to the fullest and do so with love, trust and compassion while keeping your personal (digital) security in mind. With these recommendations you are on the safe side.
Keep yourself physically safe: Travel Safety Tips for the Road
Now, we’ve covered the online and technical things to stay safe on the road – and at home. In this part we want to get familiar with the physical safety.
It can be robbery, natural disasters, scams and things of that matter. Uff, heavy stuff…
We will keep numbering this list:
18. Search for “Things you need to know before traveling to…”
Use the wisdom of the crowd.
Every country, city and place has different rules, problems, culture, scams…
The very first thing I like to do before traveling to a place, is to run exactly this search query.
With some luck you will find some great blog or other articles covering exactly that topic. Give it a go and read through. This is a good starting point for planning a trip.
19. Locals, specialized Facebook Groups, blogs, your hostel
In case you cannot find any solid information, you can always use Facebook groups and ask at your local hostel.
Especially Facebook groups became super popular and there is a group for almost everything.
Facebook is nowadays so much more than friends and pages you like. The groups are really powerful and there is almost a niche-group for everything. Just type in your destination and give it a try.
Another resource is travel blogs and hostel websites. Some hostel teams really dedicate their website to provide super useful information on sightseeing, how to get around, scams etc.
20. Become familiar with common travel scams
A travel scam is a game to fool you to lose your wallet, money, backpack, etc. The game “ends” when the scammer wins and the traveler has lost.
I wish I could give you a huge list for all those travel scams out there. The truth is, people are really creative about this.
How to find common scams then? Go to Google and/or Youtube and search for “Scams in India”, as an example. There are fantastic videos and articles covering these topics for pretty much any destination.
Make yourself familiar with common local travel scams.
In Porto it is “selling drugs” right in the city center which is actually just herbs. In Thailand, it’s the police-drug-trick and the tuck-tuck-driver trick. In many countries taxi drivers can be involved in scams. That is no generic rule, obviously!
Here is a list for common travel scams to look out for:
Broken Taxi Meter
“That hotel/hostel does not exist anymore” – says the taxi driver and brings you to his cousin
Good to know: Do not feel bad if you fall for a scam. Try to reduce the risk.
Truth be told, I’ve fallen for some scams myself, for instance the tuck-tuck driver in Sri Lanka who charged me waaaay too much, same in Hanoi.
In Marrakesh they talked us into their shop and let us go once we bought something small. They did not threaten us, but gave us tea and pushed us to buy something.
It was just their own take on selling…
21. Are there dangerous animals in the country?
The most dangerous animal in Paris to look out for may be the pigeons.
They can poop on you (but actually are also carrying around lots of bacteria).
In all seriousness, have a look if there are any dangerous animals living in the country you are visiting. I am not talking about the zoo or cockroaches, but wildlife.
In Sri Lanka for instance you have Leopards, poisonous snakes, elephants, crocodiles etc.
That is important information when considering traveling off the beaten path.
22. Copy Lonely Planet: Emergency info
Although we personally do not bring Lonely Planet guidebooks on our travels (they are simply too heavy), it is a powerful source.
On the very first pages of every Lonely Planet you find different embassy locations, safety tips, local phone numbers of police and ambulance etc. Some countries offer a Tourist Helpline in several languages.
This can be very useful!
The basic emergency information you need is:
23. Register with your embassy
A very common piece of safety advise for tourists. Well, we’ve never actually done this – not a single time.
It makes sense though to let your embassy know you are in the country. This is especially handy when a natural disaster takes place like flooding, volcano eruption and such.
Your embassy can take care of you and evacuate its own citizens.
Again, we never did this and actually it is not on our list. It is an option and something to keep in mind.
24. Don’t be a fool: Lock Up Your Valuables
When staying in hostels, you will undoubtedly meet people. This is part of the experience. This is WHY you most likely stay in a hostel in the first place.
When there are people, there can be good ones and bad ones.
Generally speaking, hostels are safe.
To be completely safe, we always recommend using the lockers. You can save some money by bringing your own padlock.
Quick story: A friend of ours once “lost” $10 in his 4-bed dorm. He left the bill there, went for a shower, and it was gone. Obviously this is not good. Use the lockers and don’t give someone the opportunity of taking even 10 bucks from you.
There are a few things to keep an eye on to know if a hostel is safe BEFORE you actually book it.
We also included a .pdf with all safety hostel tips for free download.
25. Share your itinerary with friends and family
A good idea! Let your friends and family know where you are traveling. In case something happens (like an earth quake and such), someone knows you are there.
In this regard it is interesting to mention in many countries, your accommodation has a list of guests.
In some countries the accommodation has to do a nightly report and send it to the police. So the police is aware of who is staying there in case something happens.
26. Do not trust blindly & follow your gut
Did you ever have that strange, odd, unsettled feeling when talking to a stranger?
That may very well have been your gut instinct.
Trusting others is a good thing when you don’t neglect your instinctive feelings.
It’s evolution at it’s core. Trust others but never be dishonest to what your instinct tells you.
It is perfectly okay to say “No” if you have a bad feeling about something. Do not let someone pressure you into any situation.
27. Dress appropriately
When traveling abroad, it is good advise to be familiar with local customs, such as clothing. This is especially important when it comes to religious sights.
A women should not enter a church with a mini-skirt and the shoulders should not show. The same goes for mosques.
In Bali both men and women need to wear a sarong for entering a temple. At the same time a women having her monthly period is not allowed entering the temple.
Make yourself familiar with things you may need to bring to enter sights. Most of the time you can purchase or get the required items next door – either for free or a small fee.
For instance, in Bali we borrowed a Sarong for around 20 cents.
28. Behave appropriately
After we’ve covered ourselves in the places we have to or should, let us talk about behavior.
Traveling is about getting to know other cultures, things and customs you are not familiar with and want to experience firsthand.
Now, doing so, it is a good idea to play along with local behavior and adapt.
After all, you are the guest. Does that make sense? In a worst case scenario you could end up in jail for refusing to adhere to the local customs.
We want to share a few examples:
1. Showing affection:
In the Maldives and most Muslim countries it is inappropriate to hold hands in public and show affection.
Confession time; in the Maldives we forgot this for a second and held hands. A local instantly “corrected” us in a friendly, yet determined manner. Okay though, he was right.
2. Light kisses on the cheek
In some parts, especially the Southern parts of Europe kissing on the cheek for a friendly hi and goodbye is perfectly normal. Cheek kissing is a common ritual to indicate friendship, family relationship and even when you meet someone for the fist time.
First of all, Cheek kissing is not the same everywhere. It differs from country to country. It differs from city to city. No, you know what: it actually differs from house-hold to house-hold!
It is usually one, two or three kisses. And let me tell you, that even for me as a German-French-Spanish European this can be confusing.
So if you are confused and not sure how often you should kiss, don’t feel bad.
BUT: Be aware of where you actually practice cheek kissing and even more importantly, where not!
You shouldn’t go and kiss everyone for a friendly greeting. Some cultures may well have a heart attack should you try to kiss them on the cheek.
We actually witnessed this. Our story:
An Argentinian (female) hostel mate we just met joined us on a walk through Chiang Mai. It was me, Anna and a local, male friend. When our new Argentinian female hostel mate left, she cheek-kissed us Europeans goodbye and went over to our Thai friend to kiss him as well.
His eyes. They got bigger and bigger.
I will never forget his eyes and the look on his face when she got closer and closer. I think I glimpsed panic!
I intervened just in time and shared with her this basic knowledge of not cheek-kissing people in South East Asia. The “funniest” part was that she had already been traveling in South East Asia for 6 months.
Ever since I’ve wondered how many men she gave a heart attack through cheek-kissing?!
I guess I will never know…
3. Going shopping half-naked
In many beach-locations, tourists love to walk around shirtless.
It may be interesting to know, in cities such as Barcelona this is forbidden – except for the beach obviously. This law was passed because too many tourists started to walk around half-naked and locals felt disrespected. Many supermarkets also show signs that you have to wear shoes, pants and a shirt when entering.
4. Spitting in Singapore (and a few more things to remember)
Personally, we did not do this, but there are unfortunately many stories of people who did actually spit on the ground in Singapore.
In certain countries the left hand is the “dirty” hand.
In countries such as Sri Lanka and India, you should pay attention to this.
Especially when passing someone your plate or a drink. Confession time; this was really not easy for me. I constantly had to remind myself or get a travel buddy to remind me. But, I wasn’t the only one struggling with this. Just try to pay attention.
A group of travelers enjoying the common area at Clock Inn Kandy, Sri Lanka.
30. One adult – one passport
When traveling in a group or as a family, it can be tempting to let someone take responsibility for all the passports in the group. Well, that’s like putting all your “eggs into one basket“.
When that bag with all the passports gets lost, you will have a lots of problems.
In my family, we go by the rule “one adult – one passport”.
That means that everyone old enough carries their own passport. Younger children’s passports are spread among the adults. This will make a single theft less painful, not losing all your passports at once.
This safety tip comes from Per, the writer behind the travel blog Resrutt.
Good to know: Most countries in the world require your passport to be valid for more than 6 months. Make sure you always travel with a valid passport and get a new one before it expires.
31. Become familiar with pickpockets
Earlier I mentioned you should make yourself familiar with local scams and such.
It is a good idea to become familiar with pickpockets in general. How do they work and what do they want?
It is usually simple: They want your things like camera, money, backpack.
It is good idea to understand that your back-pocket is not your friend from now on and you may not want to show all your precious belongings in public.
Pickpockets usually work by distracting people. Here is an interesting video sharing 13 ways pickpockets work.
A portable travel safe is an innovative way to keep your valuables safe in e.g. your hotel room or at the beach. The safe is made of a slash proof mesh which you can attach to a strong fixture (e.g. wooden pole, tree) etc. It easily fits in your backpack as it’s flat and light weight. Most thieves are opportunity thieves and a portable travel safe avoids a quick snatch and grab.
33. Pack a basic medicine kit
Diarrhea, a cut, motor bike accident, other stomachs problems, headache, hangover, mosquito bite…
A basic travel-sized medicine kit is really, really handy and we always travel with one. I noticed that many travelers do that and love to share. When someone has a head ache or hang over, the next pain killer is never far away.
Allergies? You need to pack your medicine as well. Try also to find out where you can get your medicine if you run out of it.
This is not super specific, so the safest way would be to ask your doctor.
34. Getting drunk
Oh oh oh…here comes another lecture. Actually no, do whatever you feel like as long as you don’t harm others.
Partying can be a big part of your travel lifestyle, and there is endless crazy party hostels that gave a lot of people nights they cannot remember.
There are just a few things you should hear before you take on that Mojito.
1. There is such a thing as “bad” alcohol
A few black sheep think it is OK to punch cocktails with bad alcohol. This is actually not real alcohol but Methanol. The reason? It is cheaper!
You can actually get serious methanol poisoning from it, and in the worst case scenario: die. The 5 Star Hostels Gili Mansion and Gili Castle on the Gili Trawangan Island in Lombok, near Bali actually educate their guests on this.
The basic rule is: only consume closed drinks, meaning bottled drinks.
2. Drunk people are easier to pickpocket
A drunk person is easier to steal from; makes sense.
So when you go out and party hard, you should consider leaving your valuable Smartphone and $500 cash in your hostel locker. Especially in cities like Barcelona, Rome and Ho Chi Minh City there are concentrated party areas – and pickpockets know that. Heck, it is their “job”.
On the Ramblas in Barcelona I once saw two completely wasted 60-ish year old men get pick pocketed of everything they owned, including their jacket. The prostitutes were gathering around them and took everything. Unfortunately, there was nothing that me and my friend could have done, except call the police.
You may have heard this already a thousand times. This “police” scam in Thailand is basically when you purchase some Marijuana and on the corner the “police” is waiting for you.
This travel scam is seriously basic knowledge!
The police will let you go for a big pay check, you have a shock for life, an odd travel story to tell and probably won’t touch drugs for a long time. My best advise would be: skip this whole experience!
These scams are mostly common in Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
2. Drug Trafficking
Although I am pretty sure none of our readers are financing their life this way, but anyway…
In some countries drug trafficking can be penalized with the death penalty. Wow, okay, I know this took a dark turn. I just want to cover this to have this article complete.
Obviously we would never do that, yet it is quite harsh to arrive at an airport and get a huge sign shuffled in your face: Capital punishment for drug trafficking.
Drug trafficking is one of the reasons why they ask you at the airport if you packed your backpack by yourself and if anyone touched your luggage afterwards. If you say “Yes, I packed it myself” and “No, no one touched it afterwards“, you can have a serious problem if they find something. So better be sure it’s true – and your luggage drug-free.
Here is an overview of countries that have the death penalty for drug crimes:
Democratic Republic of the Congo
United Arab Emirates
United States of America
Brokedown Palace is a travel movie telling a real-life story of two American girls going to jail in Thailand for drug-trafficking.
Vaccines are super basic, or at least they should be. Ask your doctor what vaccines you need and what you might need to top up.
In most countries, these vaccines are affordable and nothing really to save money on.
This topic is quite big, so I cannot give you super detailed advice, but your doctor can.
Good to know: Some vaccines are mandatory to enter a country. And some vaccines need to be taken some time ahead of the travel date itself.
37. Basic Self-defense
How to protect yourself while traveling? Self Defense is the answer.
There is no need to become the next Karate Kid or Kung Fu Master. The basics can be enough to protect you.
Have a look for local self-defense classes in your town. There is also plenty of online courses about self-defense. In my opinion it is best to work directly with an experienced coach and practice with him/her in person rather than watching a video.
38. Use a helmet
I cannot believe I have to write this one down. When you hop on a motorbike, put on a helmet. So far I did not want to scare you, but in this case I think I have to.
Have you ever heard someone saying “driving a scooter in South East Asia is dangerous“?
Well, driving anywhere in this world without a helmet “driving a scooter is dangerous“. The same goes for driving in a car without using the seat-belt.
Trust me when I say the concrete in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia is as hard and relentless as in The USA, Italy, South Africa or Brazil. In case of an accident, your head won’t make a difference between the streets of Rome, Hanoi or Los Angeles.
Furthermore, a broken arm is not a huge deal. Yet, your head is the most fragile part of your body. Recovering from a serious head injury is much more difficult.
Important note: Does this mean you should not drive a scooter? Not at all. I urge everybody to do it if you feel ready for it. It is AWESOME to cruise around Chiang Mai, Penang and Hanoi on a bike.
This simply means: wear a helmet!
39. Get Travel Insurance
I did not scare you until here so that you invest in travel insurance. That was not my intention. Take this advice or leave it, but I guess since you read until here, there must be a reason for that.
Good to know: You may already have travel insurance included in your regular insurance at home. Check directly with your insurance company. There is usually no need to buy 17 different travel insurance policies.
Update: 40. Money Belt or just a Belt (not only for Nerds)
Personally, I am not a big fan of a money belt. You know, the ones below your tshirt and around your wist. You can wear it almost like a bra and paying with the money you are carrying around?! uff…it annoyed me.
Therefore, after my first solo-travel I skipped it and just hoped for the best.
Yet, here is the better solution. An actual belt that you might be wearing anyway combined with a hidden money pocket.
All of this security advise is important to remember.
Yet, I hope we did not scare you. This is just purely information and in case anything happens, you will be happy you have heard about it beforehand.
There is such a thing as “over-preparing”. The more you read, the more paranoid you may get.
We were sitting on a beach in Bali watching the sunset, surrounded by many many people. A local young guy comes up to us and wanted to show us a photo on his phone. I instantly saw he had taken a photo of us from behind. I also instantly assumed he wanted to sell this to us now.
I told him “I don’t speak English, sorry.” I guess he realized we were in defense-mode, assuming he was a scammer. He told us “I just thought you might want to have this photo, since it is a nice photo of you, sorry!”. Long story short; Anna and the friendly young guy exchanged the photo, a few words and I felt silly…
That is nothing compared to the next story of being “over-prepared”.
A travel friend of ours arrived in Saigon, Vietnam. She arrived at the Airport and she felt like a boss since she read EVERYTHING there is on the internet about Vietnam: The good, the bad and the ugly.
“No one will scam ME!! – that was her attitude.
She jumped in a taxi, and told the driver to use the taximeter. He did. So far, so good. Yet, the price was racing up sky-high when he started to drive. Since she was in the “I know all scams” mode, she started to yell at him.
The poor guy had no idea what was going on. He stopped and she got out of the taxi, super angry. Another taxi driver came and translated. Everything was correct, this taxi was no scammer.
Our friend did not take the currency into account. The taximeter rolled super fast up to 10.000 Dong, then 12.000 Dong, then 14.000 Dong.
22.000 Dong is around $1. She totally forgot that and screamed at that poor taxi driver for nothing.
Well, over-prepared! At the end they continued the trip and she tipped him very, very well at the end!
2. There are more good people in this world
After years of traveling, I can tell you: There is more good in the world than evil, and you will notice more people are eager to help instead of hurt you.
Always remember that!
3. Remember Will Smith
Do not let fear define your life and travel experience.
It is important to stay safe, it is important to stay healthy. Yet, “At the point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear“. – Will Smith
Watch his video about fear and skydiving.
4. Is it your fault? Falling for a scam
What do you do if you fall for a scam?
First of all it is a bad feeling. You may feel like an idiot that you fell for it. You may start telling yourself you could have avoided this, that it is your own fault.
The truth is it is not your fault; it’s the bad persons fault!
Another truth is, you cannot change what has already happened.
And another truth: Everybody does fall for a scam once in a while.
I did, Anna did, and even more experienced travelers can fall victim to a scam as well. There is no shame in it and especially no need to blame yourself.
Just try to learn from it, minimize the damage and move on.
5. Learning in the process
Last but not least; there is no need to drive yourself crazy now.
This is a huge guide with many different travel safety tips. This is not to scare you and to stop you from traveling. Quite the opposite, just be aware. You could now go and buy 17 lockers for your hostel time, use 23 VPNs, learn 43 techniques for self-defense and purchase 172 travel insurance packages. You will learn most of the lessons in the process.
There is this (kind of) cheesy travel quote I actually like:
A ship in a harbour is safe, but this is not what a ship is built for.
If traveling would be really so dangerous, why do so many people do it? Why do so many people catch the travel bug? Why are people, after years of traveling, still so incredibly passionate about it?
There are endless lists of scams, crazy travel stories, you name it. I started this list and I thought I would end up with 5 points. I then started to talk with friends, travel buddies, bloggers. I decided to pack this article with as much information as I can to help you travel safe.
Over to you
Do you think I missed anything? Would you like to add anything? Do you disagree somewhere? I would love to hear your opinion on this.
Just leave a comment below.
Quick note: Not a single product shared in this article paid us to be featured or reviewed. We use all products that are mentioned.
Last but not least:
By the end of May 2018, the new data privacy regulation came into force. The European Parliament passed the law on Union General Data Protection Regulation (short: GDPR).
At Hostelgeeks we implemented the data privacy and protection back in 2016. We anonymize your IP and use so-called Cookies that help us to make our website more user-friendly, efficient, and secure.
Here is the thing:
Instead of boring you with privacy policies and what we do with your data, we thought it would be more interesting to give you actual safety tips while traveling; both online and offline. You can actually take control of your own data. It may sound complicated, but I promise it is much easier than you think.