I get it; people get nervous about what they don’t know. So, when we travel to a new place, we are worried about what could go wrong.
The chances are that nothing does, just like when we are at home. But because it’s the unknown, we become obsessed with things to be worried or nervous about. Our anxiety can get out of control.
Like if you will fit in with your fashion style. Or you won’t be able to speak the language. Or thinking you will get robbed.
Then there’s getting around. How will you find your way? What if you get lost?
And it can go on and on.
Because of those worries, many people tend to book themselves onto tour groups where everything is organised for you. The problem with that is that as your confidence grows you tend to want to explore a bit more, dip your toe in so to speak. But you can find yourself restricted with a highly organised itinerary.
Let’s see how we can address those worries.
Table of Contents
- Pack Light
- Carrying Cash
- Your Handbag
- Be Aware of your Surroundings
- Using ATMs
- Hotel Safes
- Credit Cards
- Learn Key Words
- Be Confident
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The only thing you can do is to go. We learn by our experiences, and even though travel seems fraught with danger, it isn’t any more dangerous than being at home or visiting a new place in your own country.
Of course, there are places you need to be very careful, and for me, I don’t travel to those. With a little bit of research, it is easy to find easy, comfortable and welcoming places to travel in.
Again, you can have a Travel Agent put together a trip for you, or you can take control yourself. Do some research and put together an idea of a trip you would like. A travel agent, or someone like me, a Travel Planner, can help you put it all together. You should check all the details though, and not take it on face value.
Step through your itinerary. Does it flow? Is everything timed well? Learning how to plan your travel sounds daunting, but you can join my free Plan that Trip course that will take you through the process.
Yes, it takes time, but like everything, it will eventually become second nature, and I promise you won’t leave your travel in someone else’s hands again.
When you know every part of your itinerary, you will have more confidence in travelling.
What I love most is when the places I have researched extensively and pictured in my mind, come to life. Walking streets I have traced on maps and shopping at markets I have researched is more rewarding than I can describe. You need to try it for yourself to understand.
What I suggest if you still feel nervous to plan and travel yourself, is to find a small tour group that offers a lot of flexibility and free time and assistance to schedule your free days. Like mine!
That way you learn to plan your days but have the safety net of a group. You should be able to ask questions and seek advice. And you can note what works for you and what doesn’t and take that into account when planning your own trip.
No matter how you choose to travel here are ten ways to stay safe while travelling, and ease those travel nerves.
You might be asking how the heck packing light has anything to do with staying safe. So stay with me as I explain.
Some years ago I travelled to Athens with a friend. We were heading to Santorini and had to catch an early morning train to the port in Piraeus. We had been warned about pickpocketers around the station, so we were on high alert.
I had a ridiculously large bag AND a sizeable overnight bag that was my carry-on luggage, as well as a cross body bag. As I was attempting to wrangle my suitcase down the stairs, a man came along, picked up the other side and started walking with it. I still believe had I not had an iron grip on that thing he would have run off with it. Although, he probably had second thoughts when he felt how heavy it was!
Apart from that man, there was a group of girls and guys, about 8 in total, who got on the train with us. We sat up at the rear of the carriage, our backs to the wall, and hands all over our luggage. Those kids kept coming and sitting near us, then behind other people in the carriage, staring us down. It was the most daunting trip I had ever experienced and was relieved when it was over.
I also vowed never again have luggage that I could not easily carry and look after.
On my last trip, I took carry-on luggage only with a small suitcase, and on travel days I had a small backpack with me as well. Waiting at Verona train station, I had a man come and sit near me, and he kept watching me. That made me nervous, but I also knew I had total control over my things. I wore the backpack on my front (daggy but made me feel better).
So, the moral to the story is, that packing light makes you safer on travel days. If you are travelling through train stations, airports, streets and getting on buses, you will have control and peace of mind. It also means I never have to rely on anyone else to lift or touch my bag.
Always be vigilant, but if you are in control, you won’t be worried.
I am not a fan of money belts. The one time I tried to wear it, I was uncomfortable, and I felt like it was a waste of time. I never walk around with a lot of money anyway, it is usually in the hotel safe, or locked in my suitcase (I will talk about that some more soon).
But I do have a pouch that attaches to my bra. If I had a lot of cash left on my travel days when I was navigating through train stations, I would wear it then.
There are travel bras that have an inbuilt pocket, and I am considering getting a couple of these for when I walk the Camino. Then I don’t have to worry about losing the pouch.
For the guys, they have boxers with an inbuilt pocket on the thigh which might be a better alternative to a money belt.
But for day to day, I don’t bother. I only take what I think I will need for the day. And I disperse that into a few locations in my bag.
I have yet to work out how to access the money from a money belt if I were in a store and wanted to buy something unless I do so in a bathroom. But those can be hard to find in public places in Europe.
Make sure that whatever you use is not visible beneath your clothing. If you do wear a money belt or pouch of any kind, please don’t access it anywhere in public. If there are thieves or pickpockets about you can be sure they are watching you.
I know people are worried about being robbed, but honestly, I have never felt unsafe, even in crowds. Only on trains and stations, but that is so much better now that I scaled back my luggage.
And that leads me to my next point.
This is the best thing for travelling. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a specially designed anti-theft bag or a good quality leather one.
What is important is that it is sturdy, like leather, is a good size to fit what you need without being bulky and that it fits all the items I need to access easily at different times. Like my travel wallet with my passport when I am going through the airport.
The always sits on the front of my body, and it is a natural habit always to be holding it as I move through a crowd. I figure even if the strap were cut from behind I would still have a grip on it.
I don’t want to jinx myself, but I have never had a problem. I am always aware of my surroundings, look people straight in the eye, and stay out of very crowded situations if I can.
I hate crowds anyway, so that’s not hard for me.
Nothing is ever foolproof, but I think by having a bag that is not too large, is made of sturdy materials (although you don’t want it cumbersome if you are carrying it around all day) and being aware of your surroundings helps. I am by nature a people watcher, so it’s normal for me to be paying attention to others.
Some people like to use a backpack. I don’t. I used a small backpack as my personal item on the plane on my last trip, and I was constantly paranoid about it. I like to be able to see my bag at all times, and a crossbody bag allows me that.
Never use a regular handbag. And always keep your bag zipped up, locked if it makes you feel better.
In the future when I travel more with Dan, I am happy to have what we need in my bag and not worry about a backpack for him. I think it’s too easy for someone to slit the bottom of the bag and get easy access to the contents.
Following on from the point above you should always be mindful of your surroundings.
Yes, you may get lost and be trying to find your way. Yes, there may be something beautiful you want to admire. And yes, there might be a commotion in the street you want to see.
But heed my warning. Be aware of your surroundings at all times!!!!
I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, and you don’t have to be constantly worried and nervous all the time. That shows too and makes you a target.
All it means is that you don’t get so caught up you aren’t aware of what’s around you.
So what to do:
If you get lost, step to the side out of foot traffic and somewhere safe, find a street sign or point of references like a shop, or monument, and get your bearings. Whether that means taking your time to search on Google Maps or similar app or a traditional map as I use.
Last time I travelled I was stunned by the number of people walking along staring at their phones following the arrow on their phone app.
Firstly, you are missing your surroundings completely and secondly; you are opening yourself up for any pickpockets if they are around. How can you focus on your surroundings if you are looking at your phone?
Whether you use a map on your phone or a traditional one, stop now and then to get your bearings, memorise the next few points of reference like the following two streets you need to pass (or similar) and then put it away safely and walk.
The other thing to be wary of is people approaching you in places like train stations offering to help you with the ticket machine.
Unless you can see that they are another traveller and purchasing their own ticket, then don’t be tempted. Most likely what will happen if they do help you is that they will expect payment. If the person becomes pushy, put your hand up and say no in a firm voice.
If you need help ask another traveller, or better yet enquire at the ticket desk or booth. I usually prepurchase my tickets online and then screenshot my ticket on my phone (just in case I cannot access the internet). This alleviates any stress for me. Once I become confident then I use the machines.
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I exchange a sum of money before leaving so that when I land, I don’t have to worry about it. A lot of people advise you to withdraw cash from an ATM at the airport upon landing, but that would increase my level of anxiety.
And after 25 hours or more of travelling (time from Australia to Europe), I don’t need to add anxiety to my list of discomfort.
I have also been told by one fellow traveller that when they landed at their destination the ATM was out of order and they had to make other arrangements to get cash.
So even though I may be paying a bit more on the exchange rate, it’s worth it for my piece of mind.
When I am travelling, I use ATM’s that are located in a bank or a prominent position. If in doubt, I ask at my hotel’s reception. Or like my time in Bologna I was unsure of the ATM near my walking tour meeting point but asked the guide first before using it.
In three weeks, I only needed to withdraw cash twice. It will depend on your spending I guess, and some countries like Italy tend to use more cash, unlike Iceland where credit card seems to be more accepted.
When using the ATM be aware of anyone standing around. Check the machine to see if it is in order. I pull on the place where you insert your card to know that it’s intact (or nothing is fitted over it). And be discreet when punching in your PIN. All the things you should be aware of at home anyway.
Once you have withdrawn your money, quickly put it away as best you can and move away. If you would like to disperse it to other areas in your bag move to another area away from the ATM.
It should go without saying that putting money into your money belt should be done out of sight from anyone.
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I disperse my cash later in my room by placing my spending money for the day in my crossbody bag, some in the bottom of my suitcase, perhaps in a sock, and the rest in a pouch that I might use for electronics. This, of course, is when I am using my lockable suitcase, when I am on a tight budget and staying in cheap hotels.
If I am staying in a hotel with a safe in my room, then I use that. I know people worry, but I guess I think that if someone wanted to steal from me, they would find a way. Most thieves are opportunists so don’t make it easy for them.
But you don’t have to be paranoid or nervous, work out how you are going to do it and follow those steps every time you leave the room.
I do the same thing with my passport. I have never carried my passport with me during the day when I am travelling. Upon arrival at the hotel, especially in Europe, the reception will want to take your passport to photocopy it. I always wait while they do it, I don’t leave it.
I carry two copies of my passport. One gets locked in the safe or my suitcase, the other I have on me at all times.
Most new suitcases have an inbuilt lock which I find extremely handy. If yours doesn’t have one, carry a lock and use that.
I have never needed to show my passport. That’s not to say that I never will, hence the photocopy. I feel my passport is much safer in my room than with me in my bag.
I also carry a couple of passport photos, kept from the last lot I had done. A scan of my passport is also stored in the cloud in something like Dropbox as well as emailed to my partner. You could also scan all your travel documents and email them to yourself for easy access if they were ever required.
I take two credit cards, or one debit and one credit card. Nothing is more unnerving than not being able to access money while travelling. That is a sure-fire way to ratchet up your anxiety and stress.
Some years ago, while in New York with a friend my only credit card stopped working. I had no more cash and no credit card. I had two days to go on the trip.
Luckily my friend just paid for everything, and I paid her back once I got home. But lesson learnt in a big way and never again will I make that mistake.
Always have a back-up.
You might be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. So here goes.
Particularly if you are travelling solo, there may be times you may not feel confident enough walking around at night. Most places are safe, and the usual precautions should be followed, like don’t walk in deserted areas alone, don’t walk down dark alleyways and don’t go anywhere with strangers.
However, in cities like Florence that are pretty much on the go all night, I felt very safe. But then my hotel was in a great location, and I was never far from home.
But in Verona, when I stuffed up and booked a B&B 15 minutes from the city centre, I was not brave enough to walk back and forth at night for dinner, hence why I moved to a hotel that was closer. It probably would have been fine, but it didn’t feel right to me.
Instead of missing out, especially in places like Italy where the food is AMAZING, splurge on lunch instead. And in the evening enjoy an aperitivo, or drink at a nice bar or cafe before it gets late and head back to your hotel. If you think you will be hungry, then stock up on something for the room.
I found by eating a massive lunch I wasn’t very hungry at night, and something from the market or supermarket was more than enough to fill me up. You could always grab a slice of pizza to go, or a tub of cooked pasta to have back in your room.
I like to have choices, and I don’t like missing out on good food.
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It’s not easy learning a new language. I know, as I have yet to master it. But I at least try to learn some basic polite phrases before travelling. Some countries couldn’t care less if you can speak their language or not, some don’t like you to massacre it.
Think about Dutch and German and all those guttural sounds!
But I still think it’s polite and people will be more inclined to connect with you and help if needed.
Failing learning the language, download the Google Translate app onto your phone, or something similar. This way you can at least check signs if you are in doubt and connect in some way with locals if there is an issue.
This is an excellent website for anyone wanting to learn at least a little bit of a new language – Fluent in 3 Months.
This one is hard to do if you aren’t feeling it. For me, most of my life I was not confident so faking it was almost impossible.
Ironically, it was travel that made me more confident. Getting to a place I had set out to find was like winning the lottery.
This is how I act confident when travelling:
- Check my map before leaving my room so I know the general direction to start walking and the places I should pass.
- When I get lost, which is often, I take myself out of the foot traffic and stand to the side and look around like I am sightseeing. What I am doing is looking for a point of reference, a street sign or shop or building and discreetly consult my map. You can use your phone or like me fold a map to pocket size, so it’s not obvious when I take it out to look.
- Get lost. Yep, that’s what I said get lost. Sounds like a contradiction. But if you give yourself the time to wander and get lost, you will learn your way around quickly. As opposed to following a guide or a friend. Just make sure you don’t go too far afield, so maybe consult your map every 10 minutes or so to see where you are.
- Create a Plan, which sounds like a contradiction again to getting lost. But you can allow some hours in your day just to wander. A loose plan for your day gives you purpose and focus. The plan can always change, it’s just there to help you start your day with confidence.
Being aware of your surroundings helps a lot to make you feel safe. If by chance you are out at night you will have the confidence to navigate your way back to your hotel without getting lost.
You can start getting to know the area your hotel is in by walking up to a couple of streets away and once you become familiar with the area broaden your explorations. That is the reason I like slow travel, staying longer in one place. Then I don’t feel pressure to see “everything”. I can take my time getting to know an area.
I promise your confidence will build when travelling if you take responsibility for navigating your way around. And nothing makes you feel safer than familiarity in a foreign place.
I hope these tips help you to feel more comfortable and safe when you travel. Remember that things can happen at home just as easily as they do when you travel. Always be alert, but enjoy yourself and don’t let nerves and anxiety take over.
If they start to, stop, breathe and take some time out. Sit in a park, a square or a piazza. Take in your surroundings, people watch and enjoy the scene before you.
Before moving on formulate a plan of where you are going next, how you will get there and what you will do once there. Planning helps.
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