The world is an amazing and beautiful place, and I’ve been lucky enough to see a big chunk of it. 80% of the people I’ve met were friendly and wonderful and welcoming.
That other 20% have a real way of wrecking your day.
So whether you’re evading pickpockets in Galway or fast-talking your way through an impromptu roadblock in Western China, it pays to keep a couple of safety tips in mind while you’re on the road.
Do your homework.
It pays to know the lay of the land, the general political and social situation, and a bit about the culture of the place you’ll be visiting. Forewarned is forearmed.
Keep an eye on the news.
If there’s something big going down, be it extreme weather or a revolution,you’ll want to know ahead of time.
Learn a bit of the local language before you go.
At a minimum: Hello, goodbye, please-thank you-you’re welcome, up, down, left, right, yes, no, where is the bathroom, and I like your beautiful country. English speakers have a reputation for monolingualism. Don’t be that person. There is the well know Rosetta Stone program if you want a full understanding of the language or other free apps like Duolingo and other that will help you learn the basics.
About cultural sensitivity:
Do your best to follow the rules of your host country and avoid the major faux pas, but don’t sweat the small stuff. I can tell you from experience that Muslims won’t panic if you pass the tea with your left hand, and the Chinese will gently correct you if you screw up. You’re from another land with different customs–they know this and will allow for it.
Make friends with the locals, wherever you are.
They can keep you from wandering into places you shouldn’t while showing you the hidden gems. Trust me: the really cool stuff is always off the beaten path. And you can show off your language skills!
Eat real food, made by real people.
Yep, there are risks, and you should be aware of them, but breaking bread is a critical cultural interaction. And most of it is really good.
Don’t carry things that look like weapons.
The local law enforcement won’t be happy. Your self-defense needs can be met in many other ways, so work on that instead . Even pepper spray is verboten in much of the world. Knives and firearms are generally out of the question.
Watch your drinks.
Keep an eye on your drink, even while it’s being poured. Try to stay reasonable sober. And as for illegal drugs: it’s not worth the hassle. Get high at home, if you must.
Terrorism is real, and I’ve written about it elsewhere. Stay out of the hotspots, and if confronted by a political conversation, listen and ask questions rather than jumping on your soapbox.
Cash on hand and thieves
Keep your cash dispersed about your person, and learn the tricks for avoiding thieves and pickpockets. A lot of those are country-specific; again, do your homework.
Hotels are inherently insecure.
Barricade your door at night–a simple rubber doorstop does wonders. Keep your valuables out of site, and put anything really expensive in the hotel safe.
Lastly, register with your embassy if you’ll be in town for long.
Above all, get out there and have fun. There are amazing places to see and fantastic people to meet. Oh–one last thing: the world’s greatest noodle shop is on on a side alley off of Qianmendajie street, just south of the Tiananmen Square in Beijing. I won’t tell you how to find it; that’s half the fun. You’ll know it when you see it, though. Say hi to the owners for me.