Thursday, June 9, 2011

Safety while Foreign

So I currently have a lot of free time at work since I'm just administering EOCs (End of Course tests) and then sitting around for over an hour while we wait for lunch.  It gives me a lot of time to... well stare into the computer screen while the kids watch the Jamie Foxx Show.  So here's a safety post I promised.

Although I haven't done an extensive amount of traveling, I feel that I qualify as an experienced traveler.  Throughout all my travels I have yet to have any problems as far as safety is concerned.  I've traveled solo before.  And I've even done some questionable things.  There's a few very simple rules to remember while traveling to make your stay as pleasant as possible.

TRY TO BLEND IN.  Obviously you won't look exactly like the locals.  In some places no matter what you do, you'll still stick out like a sore thumb.  But if you don't see anyone wearing shorts, don't wear shorts.  If you see everyone wearing their backpack on their stomach, wear your backpack on your stomach.  It's also important to consider the culture of the area.  If you are in an area that has conservative ideals for women, you shouldn't strut your stuff in booty shorts and a halter top.   Honestly, for a woman it's best to dress conservatively no matter where you are.  Especially if traveling solo.  Notice what the locals wear, what the locals do, where the locals go, and where they avoid.  Try to do the same.

Can you spot the gringa??

DON'T LOOK RICH.  I'm not saying to wear dirty clothes and ripped jeans, but do NOT flaunt your wealth or money.  Do not wear expensive watches or other jewelry.  My tica mama used to warn me to not wear my small gold necklace to the city center.  She said people would snatch it right off your neck.  If you look like you have money, you will more likely be targeted for robbery.  If you look like you live on the streets, thieves might not be so inclined to follow you around.  As foreigners, you are automatically assumed to have money.  Keep that in mind.

Hack down some pipas with a machete and you'll fit right in in Nicaragua.

KEEP MONEY HIDDEN.  This goes hand-in-hand with the previous rule.  Don't leave your bulging wallet in your back pocket.  Keep money in either a deep front pocket, or a pocket that zips/buttons/snaps whatever.  Ladies, keep your purses in front of you and hold on tight.  My friend had her bag slit as she was walking through the city with her purse behind her.  Depending on the area, you might want to consider a "money belt".  At first I thought these things were really dorky, but I eventually used one myself when I went to Peru.  A money belt is basically a cloth baggie with a strap that goes around your waist.  You tuck the cloth bag part into your pants which makes the money/credit cards/etc hard to get to.  Honestly the only time I used one of those was when taking buses early in the morning/late at night.  I kept my debit card and my memory card for my camera in there.

Dorky as hell, but can be a good idea in "rough" areas.

DON'T DO SOMETHING ABROAD THAT YOU WOULDN'T DO AT HOME.  Would it be a good idea to go out to a bar by yourself, get wasted, then walk home at 2am in the city you live in?  Would it be a good idea to do anywhere?  Hell no.  Make sure you have fun, but take the same precautions that you would at home.  Go out with people you know, stay in your right mind, and take a cab home.

Tapas in Granada, Spain encourage copious amount of drinking.  Make sure you're with good people!

FIND OUT SPECIFIC SAFETY ISSUES IN YOUR AREA.  So it might be okay to walk around after dark in Spain, but you don't want to do that in Honduras.  Taxis are always a source of possible crimes.  Make sure you get registered taxis and it's usually best to call for one.  Food could be a problem.  Is water potable, or do you need bottled water?  Find out about weather.  Will it be really cold, really hot, a high probability of tornadoes or earthquakes?  Will you be driving, how is the traffic?  Are there strong riptides or currents in the waters of the beach?  There's a ton of things you could prepare for to make sure your trip is enjoyable.

Active volcanoes in Costa Rica are a huge tourist attraction but can cause catastrophic earthquakes.

DON'T FREAK OUT.  Please don't read the US Government advisory website.  It gives crazy information and will scare the crap out of you.  Yeah there's always the chance that something bad could happen, but the truth is that millions of people travel each year without any problems**.  You can easily avoid most bad situations by making smart decisions and following my safety rules.  Use common sense, and have FUN.  (**Statistic made up.  But you get the point.)

Meeting new friends in Bordeaux, France.