Travel Safely, Fearlessly – Manila Bulletin
A solo traveler’s guide to stress-free wanderings
By MIA DEL ROSARIO-VILLARIN
This is what is usually said after the initial “Bon Voyage”. Let’s face it, how many times have we heard stories of pickpockets or stolen valuables, or even experienced them ourselves? It definitely ruins a trip that was supposed to be fun. Personally, I prefer to focus my attention on tourism rather than constantly worrying about my wallet being stolen. Traveling solo has made me hyper safety conscious, although being in a group doesn’t guarantee a hassle-free vacation either. Between my solo travels and my family vacations, these are the things I do to keep myself and my belongings safe.
Don’t be or look like a tourist
It must be said. Leave your expensive jewelry and designer handbags at home. I know everyone has their own style of travel, but by doing this you will greatly reduce the chances of being robbed. I even leave my wedding ring at home and travel with one simply because I don’t want to risk losing it, plus it helps ward off unwanted attention.
Dress to blend in. Do a quick search on the “street style” of the place you are visiting and try to dress similarly. Yes, a tourist will always look like a tourist, but why would you want to stand out even more than you already do?
Act with confidence, be aware and listen to your instincts. If anything tells you not to walk down that street or talk to that person, don’t! Listen to your instincts. He gives you signs and protects you.
Do your research. Research the areas you visit, see stats, warnings and popular scams. Check travel advisories on official and government tourist sites as well as other sites like Tripadvisor, which is a surefire resource for me.
“Please watch out for the gap”
Email yourself copies of your passport, debit/credit cards and travel insurance. Insurance is an added expense, but if you can afford to travel, you can afford travel insurance. Print another set of these documents to have them on hand. If you lose any of these documents, you can report it easily. Also, it is always good to know what numbers to call in the country you are going to in case of an emergency.
Before leaving the airport, I go to the bathroom and transfer my passport, ATM and credit cards into a slim waist bag that I carry under my clothes. I leave just enough local currency in my purse to pay for transport to my accommodation. It’s also how I keep my stuff as I walk around for the duration of my trip. But at the point of arrival, it is important to remember that you will have a lot to maneuver: your luggage, your orientation and being in an unfamiliar place. Having your documents hidden away is one less stress you have to deal with.
Use ATMs installed inside banks or with a security door that you must enter. At the very least, if you’re using one on the street, use ones that are directly attached to a bank rather than standalone ones. Look around before using the machine. Use the mirror attached to the ATM to look back as you complete the transaction and hide your money in your secret pack before turning around and walking away. Do not use the ATM after dark.
Have a plan before you go. Know what and where you are going and how to get there, especially when you first arrive and on your first sightseeing foray. This is when you are still acclimating to your surroundings and are most vulnerable. Also, ask hotel staff, hosts, or locals for tips and guidelines.
‘Do not disturb’
Reception staff should not mention your room number out loud when you check in. If they do, kindly ask for another room and say why. This is basic hotel training, but I find that hasn’t happened more often than not.
When I travel solo, I almost always take the elevators alone, especially in hotels when going up to my room. As always, know that you are not being tracked.
Keep the “Do Not Disturb” sign in front of your door at all times. Personally, I refuse housekeeping services because I don’t feel comfortable knowing that someone else has entered my room, especially when I’m alone. You can even leave your TV on while you go out to be extra vigilant.
“Let luck be a friend in all you do and trouble always be a stranger to you.”
Buy a portable door lock or door stopper for extra protection. I’ve used mine in every type of accommodation I’ve checked into, from hotels to AirBnBs and dorms. It’s small and easy to store, and gives you peace of mind.
Take only the room key card with you and leave the pocket where it shows your hotel room number. In case you lose it, you don’t want to give someone easy access to your hotel room.
Keep a few hotel business cards with you. It’s handy to have if you find yourself lost and need help from a local to find your way. It is also useful to hand them over to taxi drivers in case you find yourself using one.
Throw caution to the wind, but not common sense
Should you keep your passport with you or leave it at your accommodation? This has always been a debate among travellers. Do what is most comfortable for you. If you feel better having your passport with you at all times, be sure to keep it hidden in a bag under your clothes. If you leave it in your room, use the hotel safe or find a good hiding place for it and take a copy with you. Just make sure you don’t forget it when you leave. I’ve used a hotel safe once only to find the previous guest left their wallet and passport behind.
These days, who doesn’t depend on their phone? Losing your phone on vacation would be a nightmare. All our information, plane and train tickets, museum tickets, accommodation details are stored there. What is a security backup for this? Do you remember the paper? Yes, write (or type) everything. I have a small notebook that accompanies me everywhere. It is also a travel diary on which I remember to relive my journeys.
Vacations should be fun and stress-free, but we’re easy targets for thieves and pickpockets in our state of being jet-lagged and wondering about places we don’t know. By making adjustments, using discretion and our instincts, we can minimize the risk of being robbed. Less worry about our business and more focus on presence. As this Irish farewell says, “May good luck be a friend in all you do and trouble always be a stranger to you.”
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