Traveling has led to the most exciting experiences in my life, but it's very easy to drop your guard while you're caught in that moment of freedom.
I've traveled for months by myself in both safe and unsafe countries and have learned some very valuable safety tips that will reduce the risk of running into trouble. There is nothing that you can do to eliminate all the risks, but following basic safety tips is key to a safer holiday.
Watch Your Drinking:
This is by far the most important tip I'm going to give you, be careful with your drinking. We're on vacation, we're going out, we're partying, and we're drinking. A lot. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people get into serious trouble because they were too intoxicated. Go out and have a couple beers, get a good buzz going, then make sure you know your limits so you can get yourself home safely.
Extra Funding & Money Separation:
I wish that I had this tip before I went to Panama. First let me give you some background on carrying money. I never like to carry more than $100 when traveling for safety reasons as well as fear of misplacing it. I'd rather use my credit card as I think that it's safer and it's less to worry about. That philosophy worked all throughout Europe, but drastically changed when in Central America. Here's a good story so you don't make the same mistake that I did.
I'm on an island in Panama called Boca del Toro who accepts the USD. I am carrying $100 on Wednesday along with a credit and debit card which have plenty of funding. On Friday evening I'm down to $20 cash, so I head over to the bank to pull out additional cash for the weekend. Here's the catch, the bank is out of money and there is only one bank and ATM on the entire island. This is not going to be an entertaining weekend.... I had $20 to survive the weekend on an island who did not accept plastic. No credit or debit cards could be used anywhere, and this was in January of 2015. Needless to say, I was eating tuna fish for three days and had to convince the hostel that I would pay them back Monday when the bank refilled its stash.
The lesson here is that we need to be aware of our surroundings. While this would have never been an issue in Europe, apparently it happened all the time in Central America. My suggestion is that you always have emergency funding in case you run into a sticky situation. I now carry enough money for a few days (usually in the $100 range) along with the credit and debit card. I keep a small amount of money in my day pack and enough cash to survive 3 days with a spare credit and debit card with different numbers in my main pack that stays locked up. Boom, crisis averted.
This really depends on the kind of traveling that you're doing. A med kit is not necessary if you're backpacking around Paris and Barcelona. It will come in handy if you plan on hiking the Swiss Alps or climb volcanoes in Costa Rica. I carry one for all my hiking trips but never for a backpacking trip throughout major cities. Just toss the medication you may need in your toiletry kit for those trips and save the weight.
It's important to not only know which language(s) are spoken in the countries that you're traveling to but to also understand the basics of that language. I know, how in the world are you going to speak every language if you're backpacking throughout Europe? I carried a small language book and read it on the bus to get the basics down. Not only does it help you read signs and order your food, you're also more respected and they'll be more willing to help you find your destination. I also found that locals were much more friendly when I tried speaking the language and would then speak English if they could so that I could better understand them. You're traveling in their country to learn about their culture, take a few hours out of your day to learn the language!
Directions & Surrounding Areas:
Being lost on the road is not always as glorious as it sounds. Most travelers tell you the story of how they became "beautifully lost" and found all these hidden beaches and amazing restaurants. They rarely tell you the story of missing the last train back to Brussels in a small town with basically nothing in it and sleeping on top of their suitcase in the rain...
Point of the story is understand where you're going and how to get home. If you're going to a museum an hour and half outside the city to a desolate area, check the return train times. If you're going to a new city in the mountains, you'll most likely have no reception so download or write down directions to your destination. It's easy and will ease your stress of the unknown once you arrive.
I covered this in one of my other posts but want to reiterate it. Very important to have a scanned copy of your documents (Passport, Drivers License, Credit Card) in safe places. I personally had a scanned copy at home with my parents and another set within my email account. In case of theft or just misplacing them, it's good to have that information readily available.
Depending on where you're from or where you're going, you may need a vaccination for your next visit. I recently had three vaccinations so that I can safely travel to Argentina and Chile. Can't hurt to check with your doctor before heading out if you need to catch up on anything to prevent an illness while on the road.
Every hostel has lockers but they never have locks with them. Important to bring at least one lock with you if you're bringing valuable items. Most people only use the lockers for items such as computers and camera's, but how you use the locker is up to you.
Oh look, a puppy! How adorable! Until it bites you or gives you flees.... Living in the US, we rarely come across stray dogs on the street (at least not in NYC), but in other countries it is quite common to have those cute puppies wandering around. A girl in our hostel though one of the dogs out in Costa Rica was precious and let it in the hostel to feed it. The outcome? All of her roommates had flee bites and infected clothing for a few days. Keep the animals outside your accommodation.
You may lose service for extended periods of time. Cell service is reliable in Interlaken, but as soon as you get outside the town it is scarce to say the least. If your parents are like mine and freak out when they're unable to reach you in an hour, then I suggest you give them a heads up before going into a known dead zone. Getting rounded up by the embassy would be quite embarrassing. I usually send a schedule letting them know what cities I expect to be in for that week and the name of the hostel.