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Dangers for a first-time world traveller? Staying safe and healthy on the cheap and in travelers' hostels

Updated on October 20, 2011


When travelling for the first time abroad, or in an independent sense, as opposed to having been on a package holiday where you are looked after throughout, it is easy to take some basic steps that will help ensure both your safety and your enjoyment of your trip.

Travelling on your own schedule, and choosing the things you see and do, is an absolutely wonderful experience!

Nothing compares with the thrill of arriving in a new city, finding somewhere to say, and experiencing a new place, or going to a railway station and seeing what trains are listed, and just picking a destination.

I've backpacked in India, Russia, Turkey, Mongolia, China, and much of Eastern Europe, and it's an experience I would recommend strongly to anyone. A bit of basic research and preparation will make your journey a lot better.

So make the most of it, and stay healthy, fit, and safe during your adventures.

Research your destination

The first thing I would suggest is to research the destination.

You need to find out about the general security in the country, and in different regions of a country, if it is a big and complex country such as India, China, or Russia.

In addition to a general security question, there are also places where people of certain nationalities, genders, ethnic origin, or different sexuality may be more vulnerable than people who are different.

It always pays to look at the Foreign Office website (the UK) or the US Department of State, which gives detailed advice to travellers about countries and areas within a country.

On a first trip, I’d take all their advice. If it says that all non essential travel to a country is ill-advised, don't go!

Queen's House, Greenwich
Queen's House, Greenwich

Keeping your possessions while travelling

You also need to be aware and prepared to look after the stuff you take with you.

Many travellers use, as I have done, a belt which clips around the waist with a pouch to secure expensive and valuable possessions.

These are worn under your clothes. Most people typically put a passport, credit cards, a visa (if separate from your passport) and money in such a belt for safety’s sake.

It is also well worth having a small wallet where you have an amount of money you’ll need in one day.

The security of keeping your stuff safely next to your skin is far reduced if you are fiddling and pulling it out in public in order to pay for a newspaper or a bottle of water.

If you have a wallet with enough money for daily needs, even if that is stolen from you, it’s not a disaster, it's just annoying.

If your wallet with all your money, credit or debit cards and travellers' cheques is stolen, that's much more problematic.

If you’re going to be staying in hostels, or travelling overnight on trains, you may want to consider taking a padlock for either a locker or to chain your luggage to a luggage rack overnight.

It’s always a good idea to photocopy your passport, credit cards, and any traveller’s cheques or visas, and to take one photocopy with you (kept apart from the original documents) and leave another copy at home in case all your luggage is lost.

This makes replacement and proof that you’ve had these items much easier in case it’s necessary.

Book your first night's accommodation in advance

Even if you intend to travel around and see where you end up, and to stay in a hotel you find on the way, it’s always a good idea to book your first night in a hotel or hostel before you arrive there.

On your first arrival in a foreign country, bewildered by a new culture, sounds and smells, the last thing you want to do is try and find a hotel in the middle of the night.

Local knowledge

Once you are there, take advantage of local knowledge or tales from other travellers

Situations can change quite rapidly, or be different on a micro level. So if you’re told by other travellerthat a particular site or town is currently not particularly safe, listen to that advice.

Basic health while travelling

You can easily try and maximise the chances of your staying healthy when you’re away.

Get any vaccinations that you haven’t kept up to date with, and any which are recommended for the places to which you are travelling that you don’t have at home.

If you are travelling to an area with Malaria, take your doctor’s advice on what prophylactics to take, and consider things like insect repellents and mosquito nets.

One of the biggest problems in many developing countries is clean water.

There are various devices which can help keep you clear of dysentery, salmonella or other unpleasant illnesses, including iodine tablets or personal water filters.

If you are not drinking the local water, be wary of eating things such as salads which may well have been washed in the local water, or ice in drinks, which can be made from tap water.

Get proper travel insurance. Getting ill and needing to be flown home is very, very expensive.

Take essentials with you

Keep with you things that might be hard to buy in a particular country. For example, it’s often quite difficult to buy sun cream in places like India, apart from its vast expense in the main cities. If you take a medicine regularly, take it with you, and a prescription or a letter from your doctor explaining that you are taking this legitimately.


A more general comment, but one which often applies, is don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home. Just because you’re abroad, you’re not automatically safe. I have seen and heard many tales of people doing things like sleeping in railway stations overnight or on beaches which they would consider an insane idea at home. Don’t think you’re absolutely invulnerable.


After all the preparation, have a great trip, and enjoy coming home.


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    • Jennifer Bhala profile image

      Jennifer Bhala 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Excellent advice LondonGirl. I am planning on travelling soon and will definitely follow your tips. I use lemon essential oil for purifying water before drinking it. It works amazingly well. Only one particular brand is worthy of using though. An acquaintance of mine went to Turkey and at the dinner table the water was poured into their glasses from plastic bottles. It looked safe. But, he put a few drops of lemon oil into his glass and waited a while. After a few minutes brown particles were floating on the top of his water. He got out his handkerchief and filtered the water through it into an empty glass. Then he drank the water. Others at the table were horrified that he drank the water. But he said why, you have been drinking the same water but without killing the nasties in it first. My water is clean and fresh after the lemon oil cleansed it.

      I was in India for 5 months and had taken multiple cameras and film in my bags with me. They were not in my bags when I arrived at the airport. Also, my father mailed me a bank cheque while we were there. It did not arrive but it was cashed in Hong Kong months later. Banks would not try to get the money back.

    • hafeezrm profile image

      hafeezrm 8 years ago from Pakistan

      Good suggestions. If one follows your advise, one would remain 95% safe. There is, however, a probability of 5% problems how-so-ever cautious you maybe. But this is a small risk.

      I want to add one suggestion. Book a hotel, cheap or costly, before you enter in a new country. After having reservation, go to the booked place on a reliable taxi. After reaching there, stay atleast for a day and move freely once you are in comfort.

      About 5% risk, I may mention one personal experience. Last July 09, I went to Vietnam, deposited my bag with the hotel management for safe-keeping which was properly sealed and initialled by me and the night manager. Despite this, a sum of US$200 was stolen by cuttig on one side of the envolpe. I could do nothing as I had no time to take up the matter with the police.

      I have written the travel tale in hubpages and made a mention of this incident.

    • profile image

      issues veritas 9 years ago

      Travel safety changes every so often, so keeping up with new safety tips like the ones on this hub and comments are good to know.


    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      hope you find it useful next time you go abroad! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • mulberry1 profile image

      Christine Mulberry 9 years ago

      Excellent suggestions. I've traveled outside of the USA several times but I must admit I'm usually a bit anxious just because things are unfamiliar. These are great tips!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      I agree - bum bags are just asking to get robbed, sadly.

      I had a similar experience to yours in India when I spent a couple of months there when I was 20, with my best mate. Waist-length fair hair doesn't half attract attention!

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 9 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Very good advice. Two other tips: those bags that clip around your waist on the outside of your clothes may be handy, but they mark you out as a tourist. They are very convenient for pickpockets! My second tip is for young women with blond hair. If this description fits, and you are visiting a country where most people have dark hair, take along a headscarf and cover your hair when you are in a crowd. I know this suggestion sounds odd, but when I was a young traveller I got too much unwanted attention because of my hair. Doesn't happen now!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      Great quote - I don't know the origins, though.

      Sounds similar to, "But what do they know of England, who only England know?"

      Rudyard Kipling

    • ReuVera profile image

      ReuVera 9 years ago from USA

      I agree. It depends. I think if you keep reminding kids about some event, they will remember. I remember being with my mom on vacation on the Black Sea at age 4, but it is more like sensations of complete happiness, sun, sand, sea…. This is how my son remembers our trips before he was 7. But all details and information he remembers from later times. Anyway, the more you take your kid with you, the better. Also, I like an expression (where is it from?....)- World is like a book and if you don’t travel, you read only one page.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      I think it can be younger than that.

      I remember vividly going to the island of Kos, in Greece, when I was 5 yrs and 4 months old. I remember climbing a volano on a nearby island, and watching the steam, and my Mum telling me how they worked.

    • ReuVera profile image

      ReuVera 9 years ago from USA

      Oh, I see.  Actually, I was taking my son with me since he was 3 years old, yet in Russia, but he does not remember anything. What I mean is that for educational purposes you might take a kid travelling no earlier than he is 10-12, otherwise it is just a waste, and he will not remember much. Of course, you can take him to places of entertainments for pleasure at any age.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      My other half started travelling to Israel on his own aged 7 - his parents dropped him at Heathrow, his grandparents picked him up in Ben Gurion.

    • ReuVera profile image

      ReuVera 9 years ago from USA

      Well, now my son is 21 :-) I started taking him places around Israel (besides to the sea or to the zoo) when he was 7. I took him abroad for the first time when he was 10. I think it's a good age to start travelling abroad, as it teaches a kid lots of things, how to be responsible, attentive, etc.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      How old is your son now?We're planning to take Isaac to India when he's about 5/6 years old.

    • ReuVera profile image

      ReuVera 9 years ago from USA

      Very good informative hub which anyone can use, even an experienced traveler.  I travelled with my son to Europe from Israel a lot when he was a kid and I usually used to book only a flight and three days of a hotel beforehand. If we liked the hotel, we could book more, also we used to utilize one flight to Europe and then used to go by bus to other countries around.  Also, when flying to America through Europe we usually booked our flight with a couple of days gap in connection in Europe to see the place. Thus you can fly with different companies utilizing different countries.  I never travelled with my son anywhere except Europe and America, as he was not big enough.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      Not everywhere, not by a long chalk! I've been to the USA once, never been to Africa, south America, or Australia, so more places yet to see.

    • profile image

      C. C. Riter 9 years ago

      Great info LondonGirl. I will need this when I cross the pond to see you. Boy, you've been everywhere. I'd love to see London some day. Good hub

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      I've never taken any jewellary with me travelling, and nothing remotely expensive when going on holiday to one place. Not worth the risk!

    • MellasViews profile image

      MellasViews 9 years ago from Earth

      Great Hub. I check local newspapers online before I book anywhere. Im an ultra paranoid person. lol. But yeah, sometimes things can get dangerous. My sister was vacationing in mexico a few years back and the ppl next door to her in the hotel room were shot to death and robbed.

      Things can be scary if you dont play it safe. -, I read that too about leaving jewlry home when traveling to poorer countries. If your too flashy, you can become a target.

      Ive also been told not to party with locals...especially if you do not know your surroundings.

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 9 years ago

      another good hub

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      Thanks - the comments have definitely added a lot!

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Good tips, from the hub and the comments. I like these practical help hubs.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      They sounds great, I'll look out for them.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      This link is to a pic of Magellan's overpriced fasteners:

      Mine were whitish, had no numbered tag to up the price, and a bag of 50 cost around $2. Think I got them in the travel gear dept of Target or K-Mart, but I've also seen them in automotive and home improvement stores for the same price, because they're not just for fastening luggage!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      the wallet tied on is a great idea, and so are the plastic closers. I've not come across them before, but they sound good.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      LG, my first trip abroad - and alone - was 6 days in your wonderful city, and then a week in various parts of the South of England. 

      For women traveling alone, several things (besides the money belt!) are essential: a set of wedding rings *appropriate to your age*, even if you're not married; a cell phone (even if it doesn't work, pretending to use it will deter would-be mashers, IF they aren't deterred by the rings); and a pkg of plastic shark-tooth fasteners to secure and re-secure your bags in your room while you're out sightseeing (I kept the extras with me); and a wallet with a ring that one of those coiled neon-colored thingies (for keys) that looks like a phone cord can be attached to and the other end to the inside of your day bag.  The last was to deter pickpockets.  If they did get their hand around the wallet, they wouldn't know it was attached to a neon-yellow coil thingy until they tried to walk away! But it was easy for me to get to to make small purchases, plus I didn't have to worry about forgetting to return it to the day bag after paying.  (Peter, a London Walks guide, thought it was a brilliant idea!) 

      The plastic fasteners work *much* better than padlocks because they have to be cut open, and unless your room attendent (maid) happens to have a pkg of the same fastener, you'll know if he/she has been snooping while you were gone.  (Just be sure to keep a pair of scissors with you, not in your bags!)

      As you said, leave the expensive clothes and jewelry at home.  Try to blend in, not stand out.  Also, BE AWARE OF PEOPLE AROUND YOU!  On my way to a performance of "Midsummer's Night" in Regents Park, I didn't notice the weirdo standing just inside one exit of Baker Street station when I asked a safety officer directions to the park.  To make the situation worse, the officer pointed to the other exit, and the weirdo was there when I came out.  Followed me for a block or more before I decided I'd rather waste the ticket than get mugged (or worse) once in the park, and went back to the station and the hotel instead.  Never occurred to me until I got home that I could've taken a cab to the theatre from the station.   

      btw, this ties in nicely with my Packing Tips hub which includes a few common sense ideas on how to not look like a tourist, and therefore a target for thieves and muggers.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      Common sense is absolutely essential, I agree.

    • NDBEES profile image

      NDBEES 9 years ago from DEVON

      Great info LondonGirl. I find common sense goes a long way to keeping safe, anywhere in the world. There are some very naive people that just don't have clue. They think mummy and daddy will always be around.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      All very sensible suggestions, thanks!

    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 9 years ago from Washington, USA

      LondonGirl- A few more suggestions I would like to add are as follows: contact the police/traffic person in countries like India near Railway stations or Airports who register the commercial taxi hence the person doesn't take us to unknown locations where we maybe more vulnerable. If possible have more than one person along to travel(esp woman). Never appear too rich with expensive clothes or jewelry. Keep cash in multiple places not just in wallet/purse. Always take a GSM (appropriate band) phone and buy a local sim card. It is worth knowing the local emergency numbers like Police in India (100) or USA (911). Also learn a few local language words (like in most of India some basic Hindi words would be sufficient). Don't get too friendly or trustful of strangers. I am not trying to scare anyone just trying to minimize the vulnerabilities which everyone faces both foreign and local tourist. I hope nobody takes these words otherwise.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      thanks - glad you enjoyed it!

    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 9 years ago from Madrid

      Hey LondonGirl -- spoken like a pro traveler! And your conclusion is so spot on!! :-)


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