When given the choice between rational discussion and hysteria, the media tends to go for option two. From small stories blown out of proportion to bizarre events that get reported as ‘worrying everyday occurrences,’ the news sometimes gives a view of reality that isn’t quite consistent with our observations.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in the travel business. Harmless, ultra-safe destinations are more frequently branded as strongholds of danger and criminal activity, all because of a single isolated event. All around the world, there are people terrified of even stepping foot in Brazil because of the perception that the entire country is a warzone.
If you find yourself lost or short of money in a foreign city, these simple tips and tricks can help you get back on your feet.
The reality is that most of Mexico is fairly safe, ninety percent of Thai scams can be avoided by basic knowledge, and the Japanese Yakuza are a figment of the media’s imagination that couldn’t possible bother tourists. The world is a pretty safe place, and the perception that travel is unsafe makes it tough to experience its real safety.
However, there are times when travel can go wrong. From lost credit cards to scams and hustles, risky situations and downright negligent people can pop up in even the safest of destinations. While the world isn’t a dangerous place, it’s certainly one that rewards people who plan for the worst while hoping for the best.
These five simple travel tricks can help you prove two things to yourself: that the world isn’t actually that dangerous, and that when things do go wrong, there tends to be a simple way to get back on the right track. Before you part on your next trip, try these simple tactics to worry less, relax more, and sleep more soundly.
1. Keep a virtual credit card handy for emergency financial situations.
There is only one situation more annoying than losing your credit card overseas: having your very own bank cancel your credit card for ‘security reasons’ because you didn’t tell them you were traveling out of the country. Being in a new country without a source of cash can seem like a nightmare, but there’s an easy way to end it.
Before you travel overseas, ask your bank about setting up a virtual credit card that is tied to your bank account. Virtual cards are effectively debit cards – they will pull funds out of your account rather than borrowing on credit. One of these cards can be a secure, simple lifeline to your finances if you ever lose your physical credit card.
While a virtual credit card can’t be used to take out cash advances at retailers, it can be used to wire money to yourself using Western Union. This way, if your real credit card is lost, stolen, or cancelled by a concerned risk management employee, you have a secure way of transferring yourself cash to keep yourself afloat.
2. Learn local scams and important language before you catch your flight.
Ninety percent of Rio robberies can be prevented by avoiding two neighborhoods. One hundred percent of Bangkok airport taxi scams can be avoided by walking an extra minute to the taxi stand instead of flagging one down on your own. The ‘petty theft’ hotspot of Barcelona couldn’t be safer when you avoid one street at night.
When people talk about a certain city or country being dangerous, they’re really talking about certain streets and neighborhoods. Just like Beverly Hills is safe but Compton isn’t, most cities are a mix of safety and danger. By learning the popular scams and crime spots in any destination, you can help yourself avoid trouble.
Also, if you’re visiting a country that doesn’t speak English, a good way to avoid being scammed or preyed upon is to show you have a basic command of the local language. An example – yelling ‘police’ at a scamming Argentinian taxi driver isn’t going to do much, but saying ‘policia’ might let him know that you mean business.
3. If you’re traveling for a long time, give your family some control.
There will occasionally be times where you find yourself overseas in an unfamiliar city without any source of income, help, or support. In these times it pays dividends to have some form of security arranged with your family or a close, trusted friend.
This could mean anything from a joint bank account with a family member that contains a small amount of emergency cash for quick wire transfers, all the way down to a simple ‘crisis management’ system planned out with a family member.
By making arrangements for the worst with people you trust, you’ll help avoid big problems from developing. A quick email containing your schedule, hotel address, and planned destinations gives your family useful information if you ever run into any difficulties while abroad.
4. Use a virtual mailing service to stop you missing out on important messages.
You’re skiing down a mountain in Japan’s northern winter wilderness, marveling at the beauty of the world and enjoying a truly life-changing experience. Meanwhile, a letter from the power company warning that your connection is about to be shut off for non-payment is sitting in your mailbox, awaiting your return.
Sometimes travel takes our mind away from real life commitments, be they financial or personal in nature. By using a virtual mailing service as well as a virtual voicemail service, you can keep up with important events and commitments back in your own country without forcing a family member to forward your mail to you.
5. Make a simple ‘crisis file’ for any destination you will be visiting.
Ninety nine percent of travel meltdowns can be prevented by knowing where and how you can get help. By making a simple ‘crisis file’ containing important data on your travel destination, you can reduce the risk of an unplanned event turning into a major disaster.
Before you depart, note the location of the hospital nearest your hotel, the embassy or consulate or your home country, and even that of a travel agent that can help you book tickets or accommodation in an emergency. If you’re allergic to certain foods or sick with a specific illness, having flash cards printed in a local language to inform people of your condition can also save you from visiting the emergency room.