Traveling the world, meeting new people, and picking up a new language is probably the best decision you will ever make. The important thing to remember before embarking on a new adventure, may it be to Europe, Asia, South America – or wherever, is to stay safe, especially if you are traveling alone, or if you’re a woman. Here are some tips to consider before your next backpacking trip:
1. Research – Although I really love the idea of being able to arrive in an exotic location and explore my surroundings, it’s important to have a plan before leaving home. If you don’t look into shady neighborhoods or areas better left undiscovered beforehand, you might find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. This doesn’t only refer to dark alleys in Eastern Europe either, popular tourist destinations like Rome, Paris, and Barcelona, to name a few, have zones that you should avoid.
Being informed also means to avoid situations that may leave you in an uncomfortable situation. Missed the train at 5:00pm? Take a screenshot of the train schedules on your smartphone, or write them down – especially the first and last service of the day, so you don’t find yourself stuck in a train station at night.
2. Emergency money – Many university aged students decide to travel during the summer break, myself included. However, considering most students travel on a student budget, meaning hostels and McDonalds, one can forget how important money may be when you are thousands of miles away from home. There are tons of people who will tell you, “you don’t need money to travel!” Yes you do. If your train is delayed, you need to change travel plans, find a new hotel, or take a few unexpected cab rides, it adds up. Moreover, in Southern Europe things aren’t organized like they are in Canada. As a Canadian, I expected my 8pm train to depart at 8pm. It was cancelled unexpectedly about 15 minutes beforehand, leaving me with no option but to spend the night in my layover city. Oh and customer service that will refund your train ticket? Yeah, no way. Having an emergency credit card is essential.
3. Language – This is obviously a hard one to master, but believe me, if you can speak even a little bit of the language of the place you are traveling to, it will help you out. I’m multilingual, but that’s because languages are my passion, but I know not everyone feels this way. Many North Americans expect everyone to speak English, but that’s not how the world works. Survival phrases may help you out in a small town where service in English is hard to find. While in Greece, a Spanish woman was able to help me out even though I can’t speak Greek, and in the Middle East, a woman was able to translate what a taxi driver was saying into French. When English isn’t an option, another language may save the day.
4. Tell your friends and family back home everything!- Tell your parents everything about your travel itinerary. Tell your friends that you are expected to arrive in London at 4:00am local time, so if they don’t receive a message because something may have happened, they can help you. Once again, if you are a woman traveling alone, have someone that you can call to check in with when you arrive at your destination, or after a late night out.
5. Hold on to your passport- Under no circumstances should you give your passport to another person. If you are entering a nightclub and they ask to hold on to it, say no and leave. If you are at a hotel and they ask for photocopies, provide them with one, or wait for them to do it in front of you. Many hotels will want to take your passport and give it back to you a day later, say no.
6. Instinct – If something feels wrong, maybe it is. If you meet someone you aren’t entirely comfortable speaking with, stop talking. If you don’t want to go out with other English speaking travelers at your hotel or hostel, don’t. You don’t have to make any apologies for your behavior. Don’t drink too much when you are around unfamiliar people in a foreign country.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Couch Surfing. It’s a website where people offer their couches, bedrooms, or apartments free of cost as a form of accommodation. It can be a great way to meet people your own age from other parts of the world. Although all users have reviews and must be verified, it’s important to be cautious. I had a guy obsessively message me over 30 times before my arrival. Let’s just say I didn’t take him up on the offer.
I hope some of these tips will be useful!