No matter how old you are (or aren’t), how much you’ve travelled or how excited you are about experiencing a destination, visiting a big overseas city can be daunting. When they’re in an unfamiliar city and surrounded by millions of people, it is no surprise most travellers feel at least a little vulnerable. However, there are ways you can stay safe in a big city. Here are 10 ways to be (and feel) safer when you’re exploring a big city overseas.
1. Are there any no go zones?
It is best to do a bit of research and find out if there are any ‘no go’ zones in a city before you arrive. Why before? Because you definitely don’t want to book a hotel there. This also helps keep you safe when you’re out and about. We stayed at an Airbnb in Rome in a safe and picturesque residential area on our last trip to Italy. However, a Google search revealed that the park near our accommodation was a haven for the homeless after dark and best avoided. It was lovely to walk through during the day, and offered a handy shortcut back to our accommodation, but we knew to stay out of there at night.
2. Work out how to get to where you’re going before you leave home
When you first arrive in a city is not the time to be fumbling with maps or trying to find someone to help you work out how to get to your accommodation or around the city. While you could be lucky and find a legitimate tourist information stand or helpful local, you’re just as likely to get taken for a ride (and I don’t mean in nice, clean taxi with a working meter and charming driver who only has your best interests at heart). Find out how the public transport and taxi system works before you leave Australia so you’re prepared.
3. Be extra vigilant when you first arrive
You’re excited, amazed by all the things you’re seeing and – since you’ve flown in from Australia – almost certainly more than a little jetlagged. This is when you’re at your most vulnerable and can be a walking target for thieves, scammers and pickpockets. Take time before you leave the airport and/or your hotel to remind yourself to keep an eye on your possessions and your surroundings.
4. Look the correct way when crossing the street
Cars approach from the right when you’re crossing the street in Australia. In other countries, they’ll probably come from the opposite direction. Also, pedestrian crossings and walk signs are often seen as ‘serving suggestions’ overseas rather than strict road rules which must be followed. If you have to cross the street in a city that has crazy traffic (yes, Hanoi, I’m talking about you), it can be good to discretely stick with a local. They’ve done it a thousand times before and will keep you safe as you weave through the cars. Walk right behind them and do as they do, you should be fine.
5. Employ the ‘five second rule’
It usually takes about five seconds to decide whether you can trust a person or not. If you don’t have a good feeling about someone, you’re probably right. Excuse yourself from the conversation or kindly refuse their offer of help, and find someone else to assist you or hang out with.
6. Keep jewellery to a minimum
I travel a lot in my job as a travel journalist and have ‘travel jewellery’ that I wear on every trip: a chain store silver bracelet (because I feel naked without something on my wrist) and a waterproof Seiko ladies sports watch which isn’t fancy but is nice enough to pass muster at a restaurant. I also wear my engagement and wedding rings as my engagement ring is very simple and understated. If I had a large, signature engagement ring I would leave that at home too.
7. Have a backup plan in case you get separated
Take a minute to work out an easy-to-follow meet up plan at the beginning of each day in case your group becomes separated. Sure, everyone probably has a mobile phone, but what if it gets lost or the battery goes flat? It is always wise to have a backup plan with an agreed meeting place or strategy for finding each other. This is especially true when you’re travelling around a big city with kids.
8. Go easy on the drinkies
This is especially true if you’re travelling alone or going to be out late at night. By all means, have a good time. After all, you’re on holiday. But don’t drink so much that your judgement is impaired.
Disclosure: The writer is a big fan of crossing the street with a local, especially in Asia where the traffic is crazy. It’s saved her life – literally – more than once.