On the afternoon of November 13th, 2015, we were days from taking off for two weeks across three European countries – Austria, Spain and Portugal. First the murmurs came across the news ticker at work, that an attack had not only occurred in Paris, but was in fact still underway. As the hours passed and the gravity of the situation worsened, Tracy and I became gravely aware that the terror had spread into neighboring Belgium and all of Europe was placed on high alert as the situation climaxed.
Often when we travel, family and friends often ask us if we’re worried about our safety when we’re abroad. We’ve been to places before where we haven’t particularly felt safe, but fear hasn’t been something that has held us back. There are reasons for this that we would like to share with you, as it is an unfortunate reality that one does have to consider safety in a changing world that, while wonderful, can oftentimes feel small and insecure.
Before you go anywhere, whether it’s Northern Europe, Asia, South America or Egypt, research cultural norms and try to blend in from an attitude standpoint. Don’t be loud. Don’t desecrate public monuments. Don’t urinate into fountains. Be aware that you are the foreigner in a foreign land. Treat it with respect, as well as the people. It takes five minutes online to get a feel for where you want to go and what the vibe is. Try to match that vibe.
Embrace The Locals
Provided that the locals understand and communicate in a language you also understand, don’t be too shy to ask the barista at the coffee-shop or the bartender at the restaurant where to go to and where to avoid. In most places, no matter how culturally different you might be from them, everyone’s basic humanity comes out when there’s an opportunity to help someone or give advice. Seek out that advice and embrace it.
Don’t Be Stupid
What do I mean by stupid? Being hammered in the wrong part of town at 3am. Not knowing where the “wrong part of town” is. Wearing that jewelry that maxed out your credit card. Flashing money or status. Don’t do illegal things. Don’t pet dangerous animals. Don’t be Johnny Manziel. Don’t be stupid.
Know Your Transportation Options
Even generally safe areas by day and by afternoon can get dicey at night, so always know how to get out of an area that you’ve gotten yourself into. What time do the trains stop running? What reputation do the cab drivers have? It’s a bad idea to be a half hour from the hotel with a belly full of liquor after the trains have shut down in an area where the cab drivers are dicey. Avoid it by preparation.
Be Cognizant Of Your Important Documents
Listen to me carefully – do not use your passport in public unless it’s necessary for what you’re doing. If you’re going bar-hopping, find a creative and safe place in your hotel room to hide your passport and use your state or province-issued ID for drinks and entry where needed.
Tracy and I are a little different in that we generally don’t use turn-down service in hotels. After all, we can clean up after ourselves and can ask for any supplies we need at the front desk. You should consider the same, and why? By leaving the “do not disturb” sign on the door, you can safely stow your belongings in the room without fear of them being “lifted”. This hasn’t happened to us, but it’s happened to several people we know and we normally try and learn from others’ mistakes as much as we learn from our own.
In addition, make two copies of your passport. Keep one in your bag, and one in your wallet or purse. This way, if you do happen to lose your passport the process of getting home becomes much, much easier.
In conclusion, don’t forget to have fun. Yes, traveling successfully can take some preparation and forethought to do so safely, but once you’ve put the thought and care into making your trip memorable, MAKE IT MEMORABLE. Fortunately, most of the world is still wide-open for people looking to visit with their head on their shoulders, who respect the culture and who look to give a little something while also being given to.
Cover image by Pascal Volk.