Planning to travel safely begins long before you board the airplane. In fact, there are many decisions you can make while packing your suitcase that will pay dividends for peace of mind once you arrive at your destination.
When in Rome
My goal when I travel, especially to popular tourist destinations, is to lower my profile and look more like a local. Aesthetically, the goal is to blend in. Avoid things that will make you stand out in the crowd: T-shirts, jerseys, and sweatshirts with big team logos will attract unwanted attention and identify you as a foreigner. The same rule applies to bright colors or patterns – in general, colors are darker and more conservative overseas. Of course, if you dress as if you have a lot of money, you will raise your profile and attract more unwanted attention.
Thinking like a thief
When packing, keep in mind that thieves are looking for the easiest target. If it is obvious where your wallet, cash, or valuables are located, you significantly raise the odds of being a target. Wear clothing with hidden pockets; do not make it obvious where your wallet, cash or valuables may be. Expect an equally high prevalence of pickpockets, especially if your itinerary includes highly visited tourist destinations.
Divide and conquer
If you are carrying large amounts of cash, divide it up into several different pockets or an under-the-clothing pouch or money belt. In Skopje, Macedonia, I was on a first-name basis with the grade school-aged thieves thanks to my travel companion, who called them out while we were fending them off. The little pickpockets would walk up and pat my pockets to locate my wallet, but since I split my cards and cash between a front pants pocket, zippered shirt pocket, money belt, and concealed pouch, they were unable to find what they were looking for.
If you are thinking like a thief, then a purse will immediately appeal to you. A bag and its contents could be valuable and easy to run away with. Here are some things to keep in mind with your purse when you’re traveling:
- Flashy and expensive handbags will attract attention.
- Make sure your purse securely closes– zippers are best, but a clasp is better than nothing.
- Do not hold the handbag in your hand; instead, carry it across your body with an over-the-shoulder strap.
- Zipper it closed when not in use, keeping the zipper towards you, not behind you.
- Placing a hand underneath the bag will deter someone from slashing the bottom.
Cultural and religious considerations
Keep in mind the religious views and norms of the country or locations you visit. I toured the Vatican in the July heat and watched as security turned away dozens of individuals due to their wardrobe decisions. In Muslim countries, it is respectful and sometimes mandatory for women to dress conservatively; at a minimum, wear long skirts or pants, and, in some countries, women must wear a headscarf. Research the cultural and religious views of the country before you leave.
General dress code for religious buildings:
- No open-toed shoes.
- No shorts or tank tops: Your shoulders and knees must be covered.
- If you are wearing a tank top, take a scarf with you and use it to cover your shoulders. Some locations, e.g., the Blue Mosque in Turkey, will allow you to borrow a headscarf to enter.
Dressing to blend in, concealing your valuables, practicing good purse etiquette, and being aware of religious and cultural considerations are great techniques to minimize your profile and drastically increase your personal safety while traveling abroad. In the end, there is always a risk that someone will separate you from your valuables; if so, having travel insurance can be the best thing to get your vacation seamlessly back on track.