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Personal Safety Abroad

Travellers, tourists and foreign businessmen and women can be prime targets for criminals, particularly on the day of your arrival when you may be disorientated and not used to the local culture. Personal safety concerns need not, and should not dominate your holiday or trip. Most problems can be avoided simply by using your common sense, staying alert and taking simple precautions including those below.

Money and valuables

  • Limit the amount of cash you are carrying and ensure you have at least some local currency when you arrive, as ATMs at airports may not always be available or working.
  • Take various forms of money, including one or more credit or debit cards and try to split these between your belongings in case your wallet or luggage might be stolen.
  • Be vigilant when using cash machines or exchanging money.
  • Store your cash and important documents safely and use a travellers pouch, which can be worn under your clothing in high risk areas. Take copies of your important documents and keep them separate from the originals in case of theft.
  • Do not leave any valuables in your hotel or hostel room, unless they are in a safe, as these are often targeted by criminals or hotel staff; 
  • Leave expensive personal items at home if not needed, and be careful when using or revealing them in public, particularly in poorer countries or neighbourhoods. 
  • It is becoming increasingly important to protect your personal information, including credit card data through to data available on-line through the use of unsecured wifi networks.
  • Avoid sharing rooms with strangers and make sure locks work properly including on baggage during journeys.

Criminals and pickpockets usually choose the easiest target, so look self assured, and try not to attract attention, be careless or get distracted. Ensure that you are aware of your surroundings, and position your valuables in the most secure parts of your person as possible, avoiding the rear trouser pockets. If travelling with others, walk slightly apart so you can observe each other and others, particularly for people approaching from behind. Be extra vigilant when stopping to rest or eat, and never put valuables in backpack pockets, on the back of your chair, on the floor around you or under tables. 

Taxi Protocol
While most taxi drivers are trustworthy, others may be opportunistically fraudulent, completely false or even working in collaboration with local criminals. Many incidents occur at the airport on arrival, as tourists are often jet lagged and disorientated. Use official taxis with the proper markings at airports and wherever possible ask your hotel, restaurant or place you are leaving to call a trustworthy taxi company and ask for an indication of the price. Before you get into a taxi, establish the cost or insist that they turn on the meter, and do not hesitate to get a different taxi if they refuse or tell you it’s broken. At the end of your journey, ensure you have all of your belongings before you pay the fare.

Avoiding Trouble
Be careful to treat everyone you meet with politeness, showing respect for local customs and cultural differences. Dress modestly and don’t wear jewellery or clothes that attract attention. Be cautious but engaging when asking locals for directions, especially if someone offers to lead you to your destination. Do not be over polite or afraid to be rude when being pushed into situations that you are not comfortable with.  At night, avoid quiet or unlit areas and try to walk and travel with others, where possible. This is particularly important for women.

Alcoholic drinks poured out in bars and hotels may not be the same as back home where drinks are measured out, so you may be consuming far more than you realise. Purchase and enjoy drink only in those countries where it is legal, and be aware of local laws and attitudes. You are more likely fall victim to crime when drunk or otherwise to have an accident. Public displays of affection are not acceptable in some regions. Be wary of buying or carrying drugs or other prohibited items in all countries but particularly in areas of high risk, where your personal safety may be put in danger, the local police may be corrupt and local laws may be unforgiving. In some countries, photographing police, military or government buildings or monuments can get you into serious trouble with authorities, so be sure to research local rules regarding photography before your trip. 

If you are a victim of crime
If you are mugged, it is advisable to give up your valuables and not resist, while avoiding screaming or making direct eye contact as this may to lead to further aggression.  Once safe, report the incident to local police and ensure that you give the details of any items stolen for travel insurance purposes. 

Medical risks
Ensure you have the correct vaccinations for your travel destinations, a sufficient supply of any usual medications, a travel health kit, sun cream and any malaria tablets that might be required. Travellers should remember that vomiting or diarrhoea can make the contraceptive pill less effective. Most common antibiotics don't affect contraception, but some do, as do some anti-malaria drugs. 

Certain medical risks are linked to behaviour and individuals should avoid: unprotected sex, tattoos, piercings, visiting traditional barbers, along with dental and surgical procedures in high risk destinations.

Accidents and injuries
For travellers, the most serious hazard is usually not illness or crime, but accidents and injuries. Alcohol is a frequent factor in such accidents, as it can affect judgement and lower inhibitions. Ensure that you take out comprehensive travel medical insurance before starting your travels and be advised that your insurance is likely to void if you visit a country that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against. Some sports activities, such as bungee jumping, diving, horse riding, jet skiing, paragliding and snowboarding are unlikely to be covered by your insurance, unless you specifically request coverage for these activities. Wear a helmet if riding a horse, bicycle or motorbike. 

Road traffic accidents (RTAs) are a major cause of serious injury and death. Poor roads, bad driving, failure to follow road rules, speeding, poorly maintained vehicles, lack of seat belts, or driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol can all be increased factors in other countries of the world. Lack of emergency services adversely affects your chance of surviving an accident or injury. About 90% of RTA deaths are in poorer regions of the world, where there may be limited or even no medical services. 

Drowning is often considered the second leading cause of death for travellers, so care should be taken at all times and do not swim after a meal, after drinking alcohol or taking drugs

Keep in touch
Make sure that a few people know your travel plans and whereabouts and check in with them at intervals throughout your trip. Talk to locals regarding your travel plans or daily itinerary to ensure your safety, and make sure you have informed someone before heading into remote regions where there is a chance you may get lost. Ensure your mobile phone is charged and has credits in case of all types of emergencies, and try to learn some basics in the local language.

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