Live abroad

10 ways to stay safe abroad

Joanna Horanin

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Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

‘Will I be fine? What if something happens to me?’ I asked myself before moving abroad and travelling. The fear of the unknown paralysed me. I really had no idea that chances of something bad happening to me were really slim. It was all in my head.

So, to calm myself down a little I read a lot about how to stay safe. I followed some of the advice I found and I did my research on countries I was going to visit.

Once I left, safety was still my concern, but I stopped worrying. I came up with 10 rules that I always follow to stay safe and which help me whenever I get stressed about my safety again, and today I would like to share them with you.

Get an insurance

Don’t even think of leaving your home without it. Travel insurance is the first thing you should think about. If you are really concerned about your safety then don’t delay purchasing one of many available options.

If you are planning to move to a different country and you think you’ll be staying there for a little while, then consider going for international medical insurance – a more expensive option, but one that covers you for all kinds of accidents and doctor’s visits.

Read before you leave

Familiarise yourself with things you can and cannot do in the country you are visiting. Memorise the most common customs, so you don’t offend anyone and don’t get into trouble. Remember to always be respectful of the local culture.

Don’t get too drunk

Accidents do happen and when you’re drunk you don’t think straight, and you are more prone to do something irresponsible. Why do you think there are so many clinics in Had Rin?

Remember that a drunk person is an easier target. Many people get robbed because they sway on their feet and are too intoxicated to recognise what’s going on around them.

Watch your drinks and don’t leave them unattended. You don’t want to be drugged and then robbed or worse – raped.

Look like you know where you’re going

This is something I learned at a self defence class once. If you look confident and it seems like you know where you’re going, people who have bad intentions won’t be so keen on attacking you.

If you need to stop and look at your GPS, or a map, hold your bag in front of you and stand on a side of the road.

Dress appropriately

A sad reality is that in many countries women can’t wear what they want. Wearing shorts and tank tops in a Muslim country will not only attract unnecessary attention, but might be perceived as offensive.

Men are not much freer than women. In Thailand not wearing a shirt, as many foreign men like to do, can be an invitation to a fight. When visiting a temple both men and women need to cover their shoulders and knees.

Hide the most important things

Keep your money, cards and documents in your hand luggage and always keep the bag with you. You can buy a smaller backpack, where you can put your laptop, your camera and other valuables. On busses I keep it under my feet and if I take a night transport I put it next to me, or use it as a pillow. It’s not the most comfortable way to travel, but it works!

Know the emergency numbers

Make a list of emergency numbers in the country you’re visiting. Write down your embassy’s address, email and telephone number. This will help you to contact authorities quicker, if you get into trouble.

Buy a padlock

Padlocks are always useful. I don’t normally use it for my backpack as that means you have something valuable and is a clear invitation for thieves. A padlock is useful when you stay in dorms, or cheap hostels. Quite often they provide lockers, where you can store documents and electronic gadgets.

Lock your door

That was a lesson I learned in Munnar, India. I was staying with a very nice family and felt safe enough to keep my door unlocked for the night. Once I woke up and saw the owner trying to get into my bed. That taught me to always lock my door, even if I feel absolutely safe.

Don’t worry too much and use your common sense

Your gut is your best guide. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. I was lucky in Australia when I escaped a very creepy and clearly psychotic couchsurfer, only because something told me I was in trouble.

Don’t let the worry about your safety ruin your travel, but be vigilant enough to recognise that you might be in danger.