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Safety Tips for Backpackers

Updated on February 17, 2015

Travel is amazing, fun, horizon broadening… I do not want to put anyone off of travelling. Nor do I want to sound too much like a worrying parent (most backpackers have at least one of these already!). What I do want to do in this article is highlight a few key things that you can do to avoid getting scammed or in dangerous situations. These are tips I have discovered along my own travels, and so far the only issue I’ve ever had has been (massively) overpaying a taxi tip once while extremely sleep deprived on arrival in New Delhi.

Religious Parade at Bhaktapur, Nepal
Religious Parade at Bhaktapur, Nepal | Source

Remove Those Tags

You know the ones, the massive white stickers with barcodes and airport codes that make you look like the real deal, hanging off the handle of your brand new backpack. I try to keep these, and for years would leave them on my luggage for as long as possible, trying to hold onto that holiday feeling.

If you are a backpacker who has just arrived in a new city, particularly a bustling Asian backpacker mecca like Bangkok or Kathmandu – take off the tags!

These sticky little badges identify you to everyone around you as a new arrival. To some this may make you a target for pushing you into choosing their auto-rickshaw, or their hotel; for others it might highlight you as being the tired, jet-lagged person who might not be able to recognise a scam or worse before it is too late.

Crowds overlooking the city, from Sacre Coeur, Paris
Crowds overlooking the city, from Sacre Coeur, Paris | Source

Split Up Your Emergency Fund

You have one of these right? If not, get it fixed straight away. $100 in ten or twenty bills is one of the most useful things to take with you, whatever country you are visiting. US dollars are accepted everywhere if you are in a jam.

Cash machines like to break, reject or eat your card, or simply charge extortionate fees for the pleasure of using them. This emergency fund will help you to get a taxi, pay for a night’s accommodation or bribe your way out of a tricky situation if needed.

After talking to new backpackers though, I was shocked to learn how many people are keeping this fund in one place. If everything is nicely tucked away in your travel wallet along with your cards and passport, what happens if that is the item you lose?

Far more sensible would be to split it up into twenties and keep one in your travel wallet or hand luggage, one on your person and the rest in pockets or underwear bundles inside your main bag.

Keep Copies

Which brings me nicely to the next tip. Your passport is the most valuable item that you carry; it enables you to move (hopefully) freely between countries, to board planes, and to use as ID when buying samples of the local alcoholic beverage.

Losing your passport is one of the least fun things that could happen, and the only way to fix it is to go through your country’s local embassy. To help them though, keep a photocopy of your passport with you, somewhere separate to your actual passport (see section above!).

One step further, and something that I always do now that the internet is accessible from pretty much anywhere in the world, is to keep a copy on the cloud. You could use a cloud-based storage such as Google Docs or Drop Box. However, even simpler would be taking a photo of the passport, or any important documents and emailing them to yourself. Then if the worse happens, you just need to get onto your email account to download and print a new copy off.

Floating Market in Bangkok, Thailand
Floating Market in Bangkok, Thailand | Source

Make Sure You Are Insured

Did you know that most insurers will not cover you for travel if you have already left your country of residence? The only exception I have found is World Nomads, who although have been great for my recent adventure travel, are hardly the cheapest.

Insure yourself before you go and know what you are covered for, and what will get you into hot water. Every year tourists get stuck abroad with massive medical bills or unable to fly home because they either did not have insurance or their insurance did not include whatever dangerous activity that caused them to break an ankle or get concussion.

Before you strap yourself to that strapping sky diver, or see the real Thailand on the back of a hired moped, check your fine print or give the company quick call. A top up to your policy will often cost less than $50, nothing when compared to the tens of thousands that your family might have to quickly scrape together to have you repatriated.

Would you risk it?

Have you or would you ever travel without adequate insurance?

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