Be Smart, Vigilant & Observant

March 2021 —      

This is perhaps the most important tip that I can give. Whether you are solo traveling or with a couple of friends, ensuring that you/you all leave, travel, and return safe is KEY! Everyone always hears horror stories about how they got robbed on the metro, had their handbag stolen, were pick pocketed, or were bamboozled by some taxi driver. But how can these things be avoided? 

They can be avoided by being: smart – ie. keeping your valuables stowed away and out of sight; vigilant – don’t let your guard down, be mindful of those around you, and scan your surroundings; observant – when you are visiting an unfamiliar place, take a few minutes and see what is happening around you. If you see that the people from there are avoiding doing something, you probably should too. Use these tips wherever you are, and I promise you will have a safer and better experience! 

 

Self Awareness And Awareness of Others

Something that most people overlook is how they themselves appear to others. If you are going to be solo traveling or even with a small group, you don’t want to wear a big rock on your finger with gold jewelry and flashy expensive clothes and gear! That is just putting yourself out there as a target that says “I have money.” Whether you have money or not, it’s not the smartest to show that you do, especially when you are exploring uncharted territory in a country where you may not even speak the language.

Be aware of the vibes you yourself give off, and be conscious of the possessions you carry along with you on your travels and the message they give. 

Now I’m not saying that wearing clothes with rips and tears is the answer, but consider where you are going and what sort of things the people there usually wear/do. I have some nice things, but I wear and use them in moderation and I am always always cautious!!!! I take note of my surroundings, and I do my homework prior to arriving on what are good vs. bad tourist habits and things to wear. For example, a lot of churches, mosques, and synagogues especially in Europe and the Middle East do not allow people, particularly women, to enter without their shoulders/chest covered. So if you are female, and are traveling when it is hot out, be sure to pack a light cardigan or shirt with you to throw on before entering. Considering small things like this will help you prepare and ultimately protect yourself as best as possible. Obviously sometimes you have no control of a situation but alleviating possible problems beforehand is so much better!!

How to Carry Your Valuables

I know several people who had their phones stolen while walking out n’ about or while on the metro, however fear not, as this can be avoided if you are smart!! By being careful and guarding your possessions you will be just fine. I have a trick that I always do with my crossbody bag which is very helpful. That is, I keep my hand over the strap and zipper where it is secure from being opened, and if someone were to try and run by grabbing it, I would have it both around my body and clenched in my hand. I do know of someone who was walking along with their purse just hanging over one shoulder in Madrid and not holding onto it, and just like that a man ran up from behind them, snatched the bag shedding the strap, and then ran off with all their valuables inside, including their passport. It was not good at all for them, but they were not paying attention and they didn’t have hold of their purse in any way. Thus, that’s why they were targeted.

I can tell you that most of these situations could have been prevented by just being smarter and more vigilant. If you have to carry your passport with you, do so by guarding it in an inner pocket out of sight. It is never advised to carry ALL of your valuable in the same bag either! I have a small fanny pack that I use too, and it can fit under my coats, on top, or in between for easy concealment. I have found that the fanny pack is actually the best tool for protection when solo traveling. My fanny pack is one of the best and cheapest tools I have purchased! It only cost me about 8 euros at the Rastro flea market in Madrid, Spain. I tend to spread out my valuables, like phone, money, ID cards, and credit cards as well, so that even if the worst happened, I would still have something. However, when I am flying, taking the train, or a bus, I always keep my fanny pack on me with my valuables close, and tightly zipped up. Plus, when I am going through an airport, my phone is in my hand probably 90% of the time, and I hold onto it with a tight grip!

If I just have a little wristlet wallet, which I usually use for taking the metro in Madrid, then I keep my finger wrapped in the metal keychain loop while it is in my hand. That way, if someone tried to swipe it they’d have to really put up a fight! What I have really noticed while using public transportation in Madrid, is that the more you just go with the flow around you, the less you look like a tourist or foreigner. For example, I love the metro system in Madrid and I have used it a lot! So I am familiar with all the stops, best routes, where to avoid at certain times, what places are super busy, where the most thefts happen, and of course, I speak the language. But before I knew all of this, I would always make sure to plan out my routes as best as possible, so that I knew what stop I needed, where to head once in a station, and what exits/entrances I needed to use. That way, I helped to give myself a way to ‘blend in with those around me’ by being familiar with where I was going. I have practiced this method of transportation planning with everything and every place that I have traveled with great success.

 

Securing Your Possessions

A really great way to secure your belongings with a backpack or luggage case, is to use combination locks or combo locks and cables. I have several different ones that safeguard my backpack zippers, so that someone cannot access my pack when walking around in busy areas. I have used them for hostel lockers, for securing my possessions on planes/trains, and for waiting at stations/airports. An important note to make is that I ALWAYS include a copy of my passport in each and every bag/suitcase that I carry with me. This way if something happened to my luggage identification tag, there will be a way to identify that it is my stuff. 

When I go on solo trips I use a special backpack combination lock by Lumintrail, that is TSA approved for the US. It fits through both the zipper holes, and can be easily concealed when you move the zippers to the side of your pack. Additionally, it can be used on roller luggage cases or suitcases. This works wonders, and is really easy to take with you!! It adds an extra measure of security that is well worth it! There are many different brands and styles, but I have had great success with this one. When I went to the Northern part of Spain in December 2019, I took a train and naturally I didn’t want to have to take my backpack with me every time I had to use the restroom, so I utilized my backpack lock to ensure that someone didn’t steal its’ contents in the 2 minutes I was gone. Meanwhile, I had my real valuables on me in my fanny pack, and I had no problems whatsoever.

When I stay at hostels I always use my Lumintrail combination lock with a coated steel cable for added security, and mental assurance while I am out and about exploring. I have stayed at a few hostels without lockers, which is less than ideal, but by having these locks I felt okay to leave and go about my business after securing my backpack to my bed in my room. So far, and I’m keeping my fingers triple crossed, I have had no bad experiences with these type of locks while walking, stowing, or traveling.

 

Observing With Diligence

To be honest, you can learn a lot about a place by just sitting and people watching for a half hour or hour. It is a curious thing to do in a way, but if you aren’t sure about how safe or unsafe a neighbourhood is, grab a snack or a coffee and relax for a while. By focusing on keeping your eyes and ears open to your surroundings, you will become more comfortable with the wondrous place you have just arrived to! On all of my solo traveling journeys I have not felt unsafe because I always try to stay on the same streets as the locals and mind my own business. Also, when I have made up my itinerary and planned ahead I have less worry and more time to wander. I think as long as you do you, and you are observant of what is happening around you, there should be minimal issues. That’s not to say that this doesn’t vary from country to country, but if you aren’t sure what to expect, then do your homework and educate yourself!

I am a huge believer that we can help ourselves a lot by being more aware of our surroundings! Just remember that superb travel experiences start with safety and open minds.    : )

Above are the handy dandy Lumintrail combination locks, both the backpack and regular locks, and security cable I use on all of my journeys. They are not indestructible but make a world of difference when you are solo traveling, need to store your belongings, are staying at a hostel, or are just walking around the city prior to your flight/train/bus.

To the left I am standing in Sol, the center of Madrid, Spain. I am wearing my crossbody bag as I mentioned above, and you’ll notice that my hands are guarding the zipper/strap at the same time. Your purse/crossbody should ALWAYS remain in front of you!

When I am walking around, I generally have it on my right side, and I NEVER TAKE MY HAND AWAY when I am walking  around, on the metro/ bus/ train, or shopping. This is the best way to ensure that you can protect yourself from theft!! 

Pictured above were the lockers Emily and I used when we stayed at our hostel in Porto, Portugal. This was a particularly fun hostel room with comics pasted on the locker doors, and walls. To the right, is one of the luggage name tags that I use. I keep on on my backpack(s), and all roller suitcases that I use to travel with. This way I have a marking device and god forbid that it were to get lost, there would be a form of identification!

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