Whilst security is an essential part of your trip, it doesn’t mean you’re travels should be fraught with worry. Instead, a few simple things can make a big difference.
Security is about preventing theft/trouble by making yourself potentially hard to harm. For example, don’t wear a small day sack with easy zips on your back in a busy market, it is asking for people to pickpocket it. Instead wear it across your chest, with your hand over the zip.
That said if you ever get in a situation where someone points a knife/gun at you and asks for your stuff; give it to them without hesitation. Throw them the dummy wallet with old cards in it and perhaps some small change and run. The only thing that is not replaceable is you.
Always let people know where you are, just an email home detailing where you plan on visiting in the next few days will do. This is as much to stop your friends/family at home worrying as it is to provide them with a place to start looking for you should anything happen. Also they might need to reach you with important news from home.
It is always easier to avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations than dealing with the repercussions of them. For example don’t wander off on your own down dark alleys or get horribly drunk with people you don’t know. The only person you can rely on is you, so if you’re passed out somewhere, then you’re not much use to anyone and you will be an easy target.
Wear a money belt (normally under a t-shirt or around your hips), but be aware that pickpockets will know what a money belt is and where it is worn: they can be quite conspicuous. A tip my local GP swears by is to take an old leather belt, slit part of the top, fold some money in and then stitch it up. This works so well because unlike the money belt, thieves won’t be looking for it. You can buy these belts now with a hidden zip, and I always had enough for some food, a taxi and a room for the night in mine. Things are easier to sort in daylight!
It’s also a good idea to separate money as much as possible, put a few small notes in different pockets when you go out, (enough to pay for a taxi back to your hotel) so that if anything does happen, you can get back to the hotel ok. Again small wallets are good for this. A small day bag which can use the padlock can be locked and put in the night safe at your hotel.
A laminated photocopy of your passport can act as ID in an emergency, keeping your passport safe at the hotel.
It is important to be aware that the threat of theft does not just come from locals, other travellers are not always trustworthy. So trust your instincts and if someone seems suspect, then there is a chance that they are.
I was once on an overnight bus in Thailand when after a 14-hour journey, a girl realised that money had been stolen from her money belt. She had been wearing the money belt beneath her t-shirt and had been robbed when she was asleep, sat next to her friend whilst on a bus surrounded by other travellers. You will hear of numerous stories of travelers who trusted their 'new' European companions too soon, only to find their shared room empty of their valuables in the morning!
Just be sensible. Always drink lots of water in the heat. The new water filter/purifiers are fantastic for this. It takes away all the hassle and worry about the water and you can not only drink from them, but wash food and any wounds with impunity. Only drink (and brush your teeth) in bottled water in countries where tap water has a dubious reputation. It can take a few days to get used to the food in a new country, so just ease yourself in gently. In many cases it’s not a good idea to eat meat from markets. Similarly, in many countries the cut fruit they sell on the street is kept looking so delicious by covering it with tap water, which isn’t always clean. The same goes for salads. A general rule of thumb is that if a place is popular with the locals, or the food is cooked right in front of you, then it should be ok.
Wear high suntan cream with a high SPF factor and stay out of the sun between 11-3. Some these new gels are fantastic and don't wash off when doing water sports. Treat any cuts with antiseptic cream immediately so that they don’t get infected.
It’s also worth being particularly careful around coral because as a living organism it can badly infect you if you scratch yourself on it. A tip with coral cuts is to have some Gaffer Tape (or strong sticky tape) in your first aid kit and to place it over the cut. Pulling it off immediately pulls out the hard-to-see shards of coral. An infected coral cut can take months to heal!
I feel it’s important to respect the environment that you visit e.g. by not littering even if others do! At the end of the day your are an ambassador for your country and travelers following in your footsteps will be received following the impression you have made.
Tread lightly and minimize your effect on the environment. Have a great trip, take only photographs and leave only footprints!
Naomi Cartwright Jan 2009
Part 1 - Preparations
Part 2 - Before You Go
Part 3 - What To Take
Part 4 - Packing
Part 5 - When You Arrive