While the tips that are provided in the Guide to Staying Safe While Traveling are enough to avoid most potential issues in most countries around the world, there are a few more advanced travel safety tips that you need to be aware of if you plan to travel to a risky country.
What’s considered risky can be subjective, but most destinations that would fall under that definition are typically found in Southeast Asia, Central & South America, the Middle East & North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South & Central Asia.
That being said, these regions are also home to some of the most beautiful places in the world and in many cases, the rewards outweigh the risks.
However, when traveling to some places in these parts of the world, more precautions have to be taken in order to ensure your safety since there is generally a higher chance of running into bad situations. The level of risk varies by country and not every country in these regions is risky, but these tips will ensure that you stay safe in them no matter what.
Of course, it goes without saying that a big part of staying safe and taking the right precautions is getting Travel Insurance. You should never be traveling to another country without it! Make sure to read my Guide to Travel Insurance to learn more about it if you haven’t already.
So without further ado, here are the top 15 advanced travel safety tips:
1. Research your destination ahead of time
While this tip was already given in the Guide to Staying Safe While Traveling, it needs to be re-stated here. This is because when visiting a risky country, there are other things you need to look into before you go.
For example, people of certain nationalities, genders, religious backgrounds, ethnicities, and sexualities may not be accepted or may even be openly discriminated against, making it dangerous to travel there.
For instance, many countries in the Middle East & North Africa do not even recognize the nation of Israel, and Israeli citizens, as well as people of the Jewish faith, may be treated negatively upon visiting.
These nations, as well as many others in Sub-Saharan Africa, also tend to have discriminatory views towards women and people who identify as LGBTQ. If you’re a woman, be sure to check out my Female Traveler Safety Guide as well.
And those regions aren’t the only ones to have these types of prejudices either. For example, many Asian societies tend to have a negative view towards darker-skinned people and may also openly discriminate against them.
However, these are all just generalizations and are not the case for every country in those regions so it’s very important for you to do your own research to find out what to expect in your destination, especially if you are part of a minority that is often discriminated against.
2. Make sure you’re vaccinated to avoid diseases
If you’re only traveling to developed countries and you already have all the standard vaccinations that you get in school at a young age, then you most likely won’t have to worry about this, but if you don’t have all the standard vaccinations or you plan to visit parts of the world that are riskier, then this is definitely something you should consider.
You really don’t want to have your trip cut short due to illness or have something even worse to happen to you because you weren’t vaccinated for the specific disease that exists in that country. It’s an extremely important part of staying safe while traveling.
The Destination Guides have a section on each page dedicated to which travel vaccines are recommended as well as links to the CDC page for each country so you can inform yourself of what to expect, but you should also consult a health professional as well to get personalized advice for your travels.
You can also get more information about them in my Guide to Visas & Vaccinations.
3. Try to learn some of the local language
One of the best ways to avoid trouble and get out of sticky situations in foreign countries is by speaking the local language, or at least one of the official languages spoken in the country. Speaking English is the minimum requirement for travelers, but if you can also understand and communicate with the locals in their language, you’d be much better off.
By speaking their language, you’d be able to gain the trust of locals and potentially avoid getting scammed by understanding what they’re saying and catch if they have any bad intentions. It also helps if you do end up in trouble since it makes it easier to speak to the local authorities who probably don’t have the greatest level of English to begin with.
It’s also useful to not actually reveal that you speak their language since this way, they will assume you don’t and it will be easier for you to detect what their true intentions are when they talk to you.
Of course, if you are a hardcore traveler or trying to visit every country in the world, it’s unreasonable to expect someone to learn every main language spoken in every country, but if you have the opportunity to at least learn some of the major ones used around the world like Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic, or Russian, then you’d be at a much better advantage in your travels!
One of the best ways to learn another language is to immerse yourself in it by living for a period of time in a place that actually speaks it, but that’s not an option for everyone. Some other alternatives include enrolling yourself in local classes at home and using online resources like Rosetta Stone.
Hint: you can find out what languages are spoken in a destination in the Destination Guides.
4. You may have to pay more for safer options
If you’re a budget traveler, then this one is going to hurt, but the truth of the matter is that you’re much better off when you spend more money to increase your safety. This is even more important in riskier countries and applies to everything from transportation to accommodation, cuisine, and more.
Don’t go for the cheapest transportation option just because you want to save a few dollars. Sure, you’d get to have a more “local” experience, but more often than not, the reason it’s so cheap isn’t a very good one. From lax safety and security measures to underpaid drivers who may even drink on the job and other issues, you’re better off paying more for safer transportation.
The same goes for accommodation. Cheaper hotels and hostels tend to be in bad areas and don’t provide safes/lockers. It seems like common sense not to stay in a place that seems sketchy, but it’s especially important in riskier countries as theft of your personal belongings by the cleaning staff and other potential issues are more likely to occur if you’re not in a well-secured place.
And ditto for the cuisine. It may be tempting to try the local street food, but the food safety standards and the sanitary conditions those vendors have and use may not be enough to guarantee that you won’t get food poisoning from them (see #14). Try to spend a bit more money and go to higher-end restaurants where you stand a better chance at ensuring that your food is safe to eat.
In general, just accept the fact that you should be spending more money in riskier countries to ensure your safety and security.
5. Limit the valuables you carry and hide them well
It’s already been explained in the Guide to Staying Safe While Traveling, but it needs to be emphasized here because in riskier countries, you are more likely to run into people who will try to pick your pockets and others who will try to rob you. Therefore, you should really limit what valuables you carry when you’re out.
Before you go out, estimate how much cash you need for the day and spread it around, keeping some in your front pocket, some in a money belt that looks like a real belt or in an infinity scarf with pockets, and maybe even some in your shoe.
When paying for things, only use the cash in your pockets, replacing it from your other stashes when needed by going to private areas like washrooms to avoid revealing where your other stashes are. This makes it seem like the cash in your pocket is all you have.
As for a debit card, most of the countries that qualify as “risky” are predominantly cash-based so as long as you have enough cash on you (and you hide it well around your body), you probably won’t need to take one out with you. The same goes for credit cards which you probably only need on you if you intend on renting a car that day or making some large payment.
However, if you do decide to take one with you, make sure it is very well-hidden on your body somewhere and ideally, one that you keep blocked when it’s not in use. This way, if someone ever does find it and tries to force you to take out cash from an ATM, you can pretend like it’s not working.
Another thing you should have on you for safety reasons is your phone since you can use it to figure out where you are and make emergency calls when needed. However, it should go without saying that if you’re traveling to a risky country, you should leave your iPhone at home and take an inexpensive Android phone that you’re willing to lose instead.
This is because most robbers these days expect you to have a phone on you so you’re better off giving them a $200 phone than a $1000 one because no matter how well-hidden you keep yours, there’s a good chance they will find it.
And believe it or not, you can still get a decent phone for $200! Check out my Guide to Travel-Ready Phones to see all the best phones you can get for every budget.
As for actually using your phone, try to limit how much you use it in public and only take it out if and when you really need it. Try to avoid taking it out on the street, don’t stare at your screen for too long, and always be aware of your surroundings.
And finally, the last thing you should be carrying on you is some form of ID. That being said, you should be leaving your passport, driver’s license, and any other important document locked up in your hotel/hostel room and keeping paper copies of them on you instead.
A paper copy of your passport, (and tourist visa if you have one) hidden somewhere on your body, is good enough. In addition, keep a piece of paper with your hotel/hostel’s address and phone number hidden in your shoe. This way, you are still able to find your way back by showing it to locals or a taxi driver if your phone gets stolen.
Apart from these things however, you really don’t need to carry anything else because the more you bring with you, the more you have to lose. And by keeping your valuables well-hidden, you lower the risk of losing them all if you do end up in a bad situation.
6. Carry a fake wallet and don’t be a hero
That being said, you also don’t want to have them too well-hidden either because if you have nothing to offer a person who is trying to rob you, they may decide to take their anger out on you as a result. That’s why you want to keep things that you can afford to lose, like a portion of your cash, in obvious places like your pockets.
And an even better thing to do is to keep a fake wallet in your pocket with at least $20 worth of the local currency as well as some expired debit/credit cards + other unneeded membership cards in it to make it look real. This way you can just hand that over in an emergency and more often than not, the robber will be satisfied with it, not thinking to look for your other valuables.
At the end of the day however, no matter how well you’ve hidden your valuables or prepared yourself for this type of situation, the most important thing to remember is to never try to be a hero.
Your life is not worth whatever physical possessions you might lose and if you ever do find yourself with a gun or knife pointed at you, just give that person what they want and do whatever you can to get out of that situation with your life.
7. But do try to learn some basic self-defence
Most people who point a knife or gun at you don’t actually want to hurt you, they just want to take your stuff. That being said, sometimes someone might actually be trying to cause physical harm to you, and if you ever find yourself in such a situation, knowing some basic self-defence can really come in handy.
If you plan to travel to a risky destination, try to take some self-defence classes at home before leaving just in case, because knowing how to protect yourself is a useful skill to have regardless of your travel plans.
However, it’s important to stress that just because you may know how to hurt someone else, it doesn’t mean you should in every situation. The most important thing you can do is avoid any type of physical confrontation in the first place and when that’s not possible because your life is in danger, only then do you attack or use self-defense techniques.
And even when you are forced to attack the other person to defend yourself, your #1 priority should be to escape as soon as possible and not to get into a full-blown fight with the person. Incapacitate them enough to give you time to escape, even if only temporarily, and get away as soon as it’s safe enough to do so.
And if you want a tool to help yourself in these types of situations, consider getting a tactical pen (and learning how to use it). It has a solid frame designed to cause serious damage to someone when used against them. You keep it in your back pocket and only take it out if you need to. The best part is that it also doubles as a real pen too so you won’t run into any problems taking it through airport security.
8. Cover your drink and keep an eye on it in bars & clubs
When you’re out in a bar or nightclub and you are drinking, it is extremely important that you remember to always keep your drink covered with your hand (when you’re not actively drinking from it) and never let it leave your sight. Sticking to bottles and cans also makes this easier since you can just keep your thumb over the opening.
The reason you should do this is because some people will try to roofie or drug your drink without you noticing. Their intention is usually to rob you (although sometimes they might have even worse intentions) since these drugs make you much easier to influence into doing whatever someone says and also because they make you forget everything that happened the night before.
So always take care of your drink when you are out and if you accidentally forget about it for whatever reason, leave it and get a new one. And while this could be a general tip for all travelers, it’s usually not an issue in most countries. It’s a more common occurrence in riskier destinations which is why it is on this list.
9. Don’t accept drinks from strangers
Similarly, you should never accept drinks from strangers for the same reason. Regardless of how long you’ve been talking to them, how nice they are, or how good the drink looks, you have no idea what might be in it. Of course, this applies to when you are personally handed a drink from a stranger, but it can also apply when you are being offered one at the bar.
This is because sometimes, bartenders will actually work with these shady characters and drop the roofie or other drug into the drink themselves behind the bar as they make it, getting a cut of the earnings that are made from you later on after you get robbed. So anytime you get a drink at the bar, always watch the bartender carefully as they make it.
Here are a few more things you can do to prevent the possibility of getting roofied:
- Only order clear-colored drinks like vodka soda or gin tonic so you can see if they’ve been spiked since roofies tend to give them a bright blue color.
- Watch out for a change in flavor of your drink as the chemicals in the pills tend to make them bitter.
- And if it seems like someone is really pressuring you to drink or is watching carefully as you do, it’s a good sign your drink may have been spiked.
10. Be wary of the police
While in theory, the police are meant to serve and protect, in practice, this may not always be the case. In some places, the police can be fairly corrupt and may even be working with the local criminals. This is because in many developing nations, they are paid an extremely low salary, so they make up for it with bribes and extortion.
Sometimes the bribes can be avoided, such as when crossing a border. Border police are typically just looking for easy bribes and won’t go to extreme lengths to enforce them if it becomes too time-consuming and/or annoying for them. So if you have the time, one way to avoid them is by being stubborn and continuously arguing with them. After 30 minutes of this, they’ll just let you go.
Another way is by making sure your cash is well-hidden and spread around your body so that when you try to show them how much you have in your wallet or pockets (which should be very little if you’ve been following this guide), they have no choice but to let you go without paying anything simply because it seems like you have very little cash on you.
However, if you are in a city, it can be a bit more difficult. This is because they can easily come up with some excuse to throw you in the local jail and confiscate your passport if you refuse to pay whatever fine they decide to throw at you. Some of them may even go so far as to try to plant drugs on you. And don’t always expect to get help from their superiors either as they can often be in on it as well.
It’s important to mention however, that these sorts of incidents are not very common and are not representative of the police in every country and that in general, there are less corrupt cops out there than there are normal ones.
That being said, these sorts of things have happened in the past, can still happen, and are typically more likely to happen in riskier destinations, so being aware of the possibility can help if you are ever confronted with such a situation.
11. Be cautious with beggars and panhandlers
While in most places, beggars and panhandlers are simply unfortunate people that are down on their luck, that’s not always the case in riskier destinations. Often, these people are “professional beggars” whose sole job is to convince tourists to give them money.
And sometimes, if they manage to convince someone to give them a few bucks, they will take advantage of it by grabbing the person’s wallet when they pull it out and then making a run for it. Don’t be surprised to see children being the ones that do this either.
Often, children are recruited by their parents to beg for and steal money from tourists since they are able to guilt-trip them into helping them. Any person with a heart who sees a poor child on the streets will instinctively want to help, but that’s exactly how they get you.
And don’t think that by giving the money to the smallest child in a group, you are doing a good thing either because what usually ends up happening when you do that is the rest of the children in the group just gang up on that smaller child later and just take that money away from them (human nature sucks sometimes).
12. Share your itinerary and plans with someone you trust
When visiting riskier destinations, you should always share your itinerary and plans with someone back home and always keep them updated on your whereabouts, especially if you’re in sketchy areas. This won’t prevent you from getting yourself into any bad situations, but it will help if you do since other people will know where you are and what you’re doing.
It’s also important to stress that you need to be careful about who you share this information with. Don’t tell the person you just met at your hotel/hostel or some other stranger. Only tell people you trust such as your family back home or the people that you are traveling with.
This is especially important if you are traveling solo since there is nobody else who will be looking out for you if something happens to you or know where you’ve gone.
And if you want an added security/safety measure for peace of mind, you can share your real-time location via Google Maps, either for a specific period of time or until you decide to turn it off. This way, if something ever does happen to you, someone else will still be able to find you (assuming you still have your phone on you) and use that information to help assist in keeping you safe.
13. Change up your routine often to prevent kidnappings
While sharing your itinerary, plans, and location with someone you trust is a great way of helping you out in case something does happen to you, the better thing to do is to prevent getting yourself in a situation where you would need that type of help to begin with.
Unfortunately, while it’s not a common occurrence, kidnapping for ransom is still something that can occur in riskier destinations and you need to know what to do to prevent it so that it doesn’t happen to you.
And while it can occur at random such as when you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, most of the time it is actually premeditated, meaning that the kidnappers typically plan it ahead of time. The way they do this is by watching you and taking note of your routines. They then use that information later to pick the optimal time to strike.
So to help prevent this, the best thing you can do is to change up your routine often. Don’t eat at the same breakfast/lunch/dinner spot every day, take different routes whenever you head back to your hotel/hostel, and stay in different hotels/hostels within the same city during your trip.
In addition, you should always keep your doors locked when you’re in a car and don’t be afraid to drive off if suspicious-looking people approach it. Lots of cars these days automatically unlock the doors when you get into an accident so you need to remember that if someone hits you, you need to re-lock the doors asap so that they can’t just open the door and grab you.
And if you do become a victim of a kidnapping, remember that the best time to escape is in the initial stages. Make as much noise and draw as much attention to the situation as possible. However, if you are already in their hideout, do your best to comply with their demands and work with them to pay the ransom since your life is more important than whatever it is they ask for.
14. Drink clean water & eat safe foods
This point was already touched upon earlier in #4, but it needs to be expanded upon here since there are other things you should know about the water you drink and the food you eat when you are in riskier destinations.
More often than not, these destinations do not have clean tap water and you should never drink it since they may contain some nasty diseases. Whenever you can, always choose bottled water unless filtered + purified water is available, or you travel with a water filter & purifier (which is a great solution if you want to prevent adding more plastic to the oceans).
It’s important to know the difference between filtered and purified water. Filtered water refers to water that has had the dirt, microplastics, bacteria, and other physical items in it removed whereas purified water refers to water that has had all the potential bacteria and viruses in it killed. Filtering water doesn’t always remove the bacteria and viruses in it so if you really want to be safe, you need to purify it as well.
One of the oldest and easiest methods of purifying water is by boiling it, but there are other methods too such as using UV light or adding specific chemical solutions to the water. You can get some pretty good travel-sized water purifiers and water filters on Amazon. You can even get 2-in 1 reusable bottles that both filter and purify the water you put into them!
As for food, one way to ensure that you get good-quality food is by paying for it. Higher-end restaurants will usually take the right precautions to ensure that your food is safe to eat. However, you can still get safe food from street vendors and smaller restaurants as well, as long as you know what to look out for.
Here are some tips to stay safe when eating in risky destinations:
- Stick to freshly-made, fully cooked food: avoid raw foods, buffets, and other foods that have been sitting around for long periods of time.
- Avoid going to restaurants during off-peak hours since their food will not be as fresh and might have been sitting around.
- Stick to popular places with long line-ups (that also ideally consist of women and children) since that’s a good sign the food is safe to eat (and tasty too!).
- Try to watch how your food is prepared and avoid places where the cook touches raw food and cash without washing their hands or wearing gloves.
- Stick to peel-able fruit that you peel yourself and avoid other fruits and raw vegetables that have already been peeled or that are eaten whole.
- Be wary of drinks made with ice or water since you don’t know where the ice came from and if the water has been filtered and purified.
- Carry a card that lists your allergies & other food restrictions and that is translated into the local language so you can show it to local cooks.
- Ensure the cutlery is clean by wiping it down with some disinfectant wipes before using it (or just bring your own cutlery!).
- Take Dukoral before you travel. It’s an over-the-counter oral cholera vaccine which also helps prevent traveler’s diarrhea for up to 3 months.
15. Know how to handle wild animals & prevent rabies
Another issue that you might run into more often in riskier destinations is aggressive wild animals. Apart from the obvious concern of getting attacked by them, there is also the added risk of potentially contracting rabies if you do, which is a terrible disease that has no cure if left untreated and a near-100% death rate once symptoms start to appear.
The absolute best way to prevent rabies is to get the pre-exposure rabies vaccine. It comes in 3 doses that are administered starting from at least a month before your trip. However, it’s not the only way to prevent it since you can also get treated for it after you’ve already been exposed to it, if you choose to go that route.
So if you do get bitten or scratched by a dog or other wild animal, the first thing you should do is immediately wash the bite with soap and water and then go to a doctor as soon as possible. If you already have the pre-exposure rabies vaccine, you will be administered 2 additional doses, but if you do not, you will be given the post-exposure rabies vaccine which consists of 4-5 doses over a period of 14 days.
It’s very important not to take any scratch or bite from an animal lightly as all it takes is a little bit of their saliva to enter your bloodstream and pass rabies on to you. And if it is passed on to you and you do not treat it, you are at a very high risk of death once symptoms start to appear.
The good news is that it usually takes a few weeks to a few months for symptoms to appear so you have time to get treated. That being said, that does not mean you should wait to get treated; you should be going to a doctor as soon as possible.
In addition, you should be trying to prevent bites and scratches from animals in the first place. Avoid touching or petting wild animals, no matter how cute they are.
Scare off dogs and other hostile animals by picking up a rock and pulling your hand back as if you’re about to throw it at them. And even if you can’t find any rocks nearby, just the motion of pretending like you have one is enough to scare them off.
And those are all the most important tips!
Just like in my Guide to Staying Safe While Traveling, I really want to emphasize that this guide is not meant to scare you into not traveling to riskier destinations at all, but rather just inform you about all the possible ways that you could run into issues while abroad in these types of countries.
Also, not every one of the situations outlined above are common occurrences in every country so you shouldn’t take this guide to mean that you should be expecting these types of things to happen every time you visit any risky country. This is why it’s important to do your own research ahead of time so you know what to expect.
And most of the time, if you follow the tips in the original guide as well as the tips outlined here, you won’t have anything to worry about and your trip will go without a hitch, but it always helps to be prepared in case something does happen to you.
In addition, if you are a female traveler, there are even more important things to be aware of that apply to you specifically which you can read about in my Female Traveler Safety Guide.
Let me know in the comments below if these tips helped you out! And if you want to learn about how to make sure you’re prepared for your trip financially, check out my Guide to Managing Money While Traveling!