Going to Central America, the main concern (for me and my parents) is the safety. My parents are very worried, as the main source of information about these countries for us here is the news. And let's face it, only the worst cases make the news - robberies, mugging, thefts and so on. Nobody talks about 99% of peaceful travellers, only extreme 1% actually make it to the news. But from experience I know that what you hear on tv is rarely true, and all of my travels were completely trouble free. Of course, you have to keep the common sense about you, because there are some shady characters. But as long as you stay in the safe area, have eyes wide open and be sensible you should have enjoyable holiday.
That safety concern also inspired my today's post: 10 tips on staying safe on your travels:
- Look confident. When you walk around town, don't behave like a tourist, don't walk slowly, looking around and appearing lost. You want to look like locals (expats) who know where they're going, walk with a purpose in mind. If you need to look on the map, don't stop in the middle of the road, go to any hotel lobby or a cafe, sit down and then refer to the map.
- If you get hassled by locals, don't appear flustered. Stay calm, don't panic, in some countries these are local 'salesmen' looking for clients for their boat trips, massages, hotels etc. It was happening to us in Sri Lanka almost everyday. I simply ignored them, and they walked away after few minutes, that seemed to work. Engaging in conversation only encourages further hassling.
- Keep your eyes wide open. Be aware of your surroundings. Do you see somebody walking for a longer time at the same pace as you? It is rarely a coincidence. Stop by a shop display, look for something in a handbag and see if they walked past. If it turns out they did, don't get fooled, they might sit on the bench around the corner. If that's a persistent type, call a taxi, and ride two blocks away. That should work the magic.
- Dress like a local! Grab some cheap T-shirt and shorts from local market to blend in easier. It's surprisingly easy to tell a tourist from an expat by the way they dress. I can recognise Polish, Spanish, Italian people on the streets of UK just by the way they dress, cut their hair etc.
- Don't wear a backpack. It's like wearing a sign - I'm a tourist! No, get a plastic shopping bag from a local supermarket and carry your stuff in one of those when walking around town.
- Beware of volcanic areas - like Central America, Hawaii etc. Areas near active volcanoes often have toxic running water. So taking a shower may cause serious skin irritation. Volcanic ash may cause sort-term chemical changes in water quality, when it's got contact with open water-supply systems (uncovered reservoirs, lakes, streams, and water-catchment systems). Luckily the recorded cases are rare, and the contamination is short-term (few hours to few days), but you need to be aware of the risk.
- If you see somebody walking your direction looking aggressive, look directly into their eyes, and ask a question. Ask a direction to the post office or a beach. That will put them in a different state of mind because they will have to think of an answer. You will confuse them and they will change their initial plan (whatever that was).
- Taxi fair from the airport if the most risk-prone of all. By the end of the day you still have ALL your belongings with you, you never had a chance to leave your laptop, cash or passport in the hotel. So the taxi ride from the airport should be only arranged with the accredited taxi booking service at the airport. Don't get offered a cheap ride from the 'taxi drivers' waiting in the lobby. They might leave you high and dry in the middle of nowhere, driving away with all your belongings.
- Have two different wallets on you - a 'dummy' and a proper wallet. In case of a robbery, don't resist (the attackers often carry knives). Just give them the 'dummy' wallet with some cheap card and few notes, so they run away before analysing the fact. Also 'dummy' wallet sits in the back pocket, proper wallet deep inside your trousers. Get one with the clip, so you can attach it inside the waist belt.
- Bring some strong cable lock with you. When you take a bus or a train, these are perfect to secure the bag around the rail or the seat, so you can relax and travel care free knowing that no one will take your bag when you're not looking.