Safety should always be a consideration whether you are traveling or staying at home. This modern world is filled with danger everywhere. The question is how do we stay safe while enjoying traveling abroad?
- Use common sense;
- Be alert;
- Check in with locals;
- Some simple points to look for in your surroundings.
There are things you can do to make sure you keep yourself and your family safe when you travel abroad.
First, use common sense. Common sense is not so common any more. It seems that many people no longer have the sense to come in out of the rain. This may seem like an unnecessary statement, but it really is your first line of protection when traveling abroad. If an area seems like it is dangerous assume it is. If there are people milling around and they seem to be angry, move along, you do not want to be on the evening news.
If you see riot police lining up along the street where you are, you might want to move along. My family and I experienced this in Athens, Greece a number of years ago. We were getting on the Big Red Tour Bus with the second deck seats out in the open to tour the city. We noticed that riot police were lining up right beside the bus in front of the Greek Parliament. We went over to someone working for the tour company and asked what was happening. They explained that they were protecting the Parliament, but were not actually expecting trouble in this area, it was merely a precaution. We were assured that the tourist route we were taking would not be in the area where they were expecting protests. As a result of talking to someone who was from the area and knew what was happening, we were able to avoid any issues on that day.
Remember that European cities are the exact opposite of most American cities. Our inner cities tend to be filled with crime and violence. The suburbs are safer in America. European cities are lived in, people live and work in the inner city of Paris, London, Munich, etc. This means that the inner cities tend to be safer than the suburbs. The suburbs are where a lot of the immigrants and poorer people live. This is not to say they are all bad, it is merely to let you know that the problems that tend to come with poverty are found in the suburbs of Europe rather than the inner cities of Europe.
Be alert. Know where you are at all times. Again, this sounds rather simple, but it is important. I was in London right after the London Underground bombings in 2005, literally within two weeks of the attacks. There was still a lot of chaos in the city. One day, I was leaving the hotel where I was staying and was not paying attention to my surroundings. Suddenly, I found myself inside the yellow tape police were using to close down an Underground stop. Police encouraged me to move away from where I was as they thought there might be a bomb in the station I was about to walk by. I can assure you, I obeyed the instructions of the police and got to safety.
On that same trip to London I found myself walking through an Arab neighborhood right up from Hyde Park in Central London. I was walking along, minding my own business, not being very alert, when I noticed that every sign around me, including the permanent signs on the storefronts, was written in Arabic. I saw young men sitting on the sidewalk smoking hookahs, I saw women wearing hajibs or full-blown burkas. There were a lot of people everywhere I was suddenly very nervous. In order to fit in like a local I got out my cell phone. Most Americans do not use their cell phones in Europe because it is still very expensive. I called my wife and continued to walk down the street, talking on the phone, desperately trying to look like a local walking through the neighborhood on my way home from work.
Check in with locals. Any time I am traveling in a city where I am not familiar with the layout I always ask someone at the hotel where I am staying if there is anywhere I should avoid when I leave the hotel. I do this every time I leave the hotel, so that I am aware if there are any changes occurring on a given day. I do this in New York City, I do it in London, I do it any time I am going out to walk or shop in the city I am visiting.
I also check in with locals along the way. If I am going from one neighborhood to another I check at the transition points. Some one running a drink stand on a corner knows how the neighborhood operates. He or she knows if the neighborhood is safe or not. I also check with taxi drivers as well. They sometimes have the best handle on whether an area where I am going is okay to be at the time of day in which I am arriving.
Here are some simple points to look for in your surroundings. I naturally look for police any time I am out in a city. An increased police presence does not always mean that we are in an unsafe area. It might mean that the police are just trying to make sure they are keeping the area open for safe tourism. I also never hesitate to strike up a conversation with police officers. They are usually happy to talk with you, but be sensitive of their time, they are, after all, at work.
Another nice trick is to look at the people who are walking around with you. Women walking by their self, especially at dusk or even after dark, are a sign that a neighborhood is safe. Women walking with children is another sign of a safe neighborhood. You might look for children being allowed to play on the street without adult supervision is another sign of a safe neighborhood. These signs taken together help you understand that you are in a safe area.
Keep an eye on the cars packed on the streets when you are out in different neighborhoods. Expensive cars usually mean you are in a neighborhood that is safe. Cars that are damaged or broken down are a sign that the neighborhood has seen better days and might not be safe any longer.
Finally, keep a look out for other tourists. You are likely to see a lot of tourist on your travels if you are in the areas that draw people from all over the world. Tourists are usually well protected by locals because tourism is a very important part of many of these economies.
The main thing is to relax, even when you are being alert. Enjoy your trip, most of us travel without incident every day and have no problems.