You’ve been lectured, re-lectured, then lectured again for good measure endlessly by parents, professors, and loved ones about safety while abroad, but how much does this wisdom really sink in when your thoughts stray to all the fun you have to look forward to? But take it from someone who has witnessed at least some of the things mentioned below first-hand – it’s better to be a little over-prepared and cautious than to wind up in a scary or inconvenient situation. Take a minute to read some tips the team at Bus2alps have put together from experience, and learn from our stories and advice rather than your own misfortune.
- Know Your Emergency Numbers: My first piece of advice is, once you’ve gotten through this article, pull out your phone and download the EchoSOS App. This is an emergency app that allows dispatchers to be able to track your location through your phone in the case of an emergency. Also, make sure you look into local emergency numbers – this is general knowledge that is important to know.
- Don’t Put all of Your Eggs in One Basket–eh, Cards in one Wallet: So, imagine the worst: Your wallet gets lost or stolen. Well, actually, this is not the worst–imagine that your wallet gets stolen with every single credit/debit card you own, your insurance cards from the US, your driver’s license with the picture when you had a really good hair day, every single rewards card you’ve been racking up points on, and – if you’ve really hit the jackpot of misfortune – your passport. This is not one of those stories your mom tells you to scare you (trust me, this happened to my friend two weeks ago). Be smart. Bring just enough of what you need with you. Always make a copy of your passport, and keep it back at the place you’re temporarily calling home, along with all of those cards and documents you really only need back in America. The goal is that after reading this article and committing these tips to memory, you won’t have an issue with parting ways with your wallet, but if it does happen, having a backup card handy will get you by until you can figure out a way to replace your card.
- Always Make Sure Your Bag is Secure: This advice may help you avoid losing a wallet altogether. Whether you carry a purse, satchel, or backpack, make sure that you’re always aware of how accessible it is to others. Carry purses and satchels in front of you, and aim to only carry bags that have a zipper. Be aware of your bags in tight crowds; this is an easy chance for someone to “bump” into you and snatch some valuables. Always make sure your bags are in your line of vision if they aren’t on you – train stations, airports, and bus stops to a thief are like casinos to gamblers. They thrive in these spots and are skilled at what they do, so be one step ahead and watch your belongings.
- Only Use Registered Taxis: Even if you thought it was a good idea to wear your favorite most painful pair of heels down cobbly streets or if you stayed out way too late to watch the game and are desperate to get home, always make sure you’re being aware that the ride you’re accepting is actually a registered taxi service. This is especially necessary when leaving a train station or airport – just because a car is just waiting there in your time of need does not mean its a knight-in-shining-armour ready to rescue you. You’ll see a taxi station outside of most airports and train stations in Europe which shows you where to wait for registered taxis. Going off of this, if you are traveling to a new city, plan ahead and have some taxi service numbers ready for you. Familiarize yourself with their hours of operation so you aren’t stranded in the early hours of the morning in a new city.
- Only use a trusted ATM: I’ve found that bank ATMs are the best anyways conversion-rate-wise, but I’ve always found comfort knowing that my card information will be protected by using these machines over the sketchy ones conveniently hidden right next to the spot you buy your favorite cheap beer. ATMs can be a way for others to steal your card information, so always make sure you’re using a trusted machine. To protect your information, also avoid using cards on public wifi.
- Don’t Accept a Drink You Haven’t Seen Poured: This is advice that my parent’s repeatedly beat into my brains throughout my college years, and wisdom that is even more important to carry overseas. Advice to go along with this is to never leave your drink unattended – even for a second. If you have set your drink down and wandered away, spend the extra cash on a new one to be safe. A last note on the topic of alcohol, please be able to handle whatever amount you decide to consume. Being able to be a functioning human is a socially acceptable behavior anywhere, but it is an absolute necessity abroad. Don’t drink too much and always be in control of yourself and your actions.
- Always Let Someone Know Where You Are: If you’re traveling alone, or honestly, at all, it’s important to let at least one person know where you’re going to be. Checking in with someone may be hard for the independent spirits like myself, but it is the smartest way for someone to be able to know where you are in case of an emergency.
- Be Smart About Traveling Alone at Night: If you’re going to be walking home at night alone, avoid back alleys. They might make your trek shorter, but dark alleyways can be an opportunity for someone lurking in the shadows to caught you off guard and vulnerable. If you can, always walk in a group at night.
- Always have a Backup: A backup plan goes along with everything in life. For me, my back up battery has been a saving grace for my travels abroad. If you haven’t already, invest in an external battery for your phone. Go one step ahead and always have the address to where you’re staying along with any important phone numbers written somewhere and secured in a safe place; if your phone dies, you will be able to have a way to reach others or make your way back home.
- Be Aware, Not Paranoid: Pay attention to your surroundings. Check exits when entering a crowded building. Dip into a restaurant or business if you feel like you’re being followed at night. Double check that cab that gives you a sketchy feeling. Carry your purse like it’s glued to you. Be smart and trust your instincts, but don’t let this turn into paranoia.
Enjoy your time abroad and trust that as much darkness there is in the world, there’s twice as much goodness that exists. Allow people to surprise you and show you kindness and you’ll find that there is more of this than you could imagine. Be smart, be safe, and travel on.