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Best Practices for Staying Safe While Traveling

I have traveled to many places in the world and have never had anything stolen or felt threatened in any way. Once in Seville, Spain, my husband and I accidentally left our hotel room door open for several hours when we went out to dinner. This was during “Semana Santa”, the Holy Week leading up to Easter weekend, and is the is business tourist week of the year in Seville. When we returned to the room several hours later, our computers, cash, jewelry, and passports, none of which were in the safe, were exactly where we had left them.

We were incredibly lucky that day in Seville and now we lock everything of value in a safe and make sure the door is securely closed when we exit. You can’t tempt fate too many times!

From talking to other travelers, as well as getting advice from locals, we have learned a lot more about the Best Practices to employ in order to avoid becoming a victim of crime while traveling.

Most traveler related crimes outside the United States involve stealing personal property. There are exceptions of course, but crimes that involve personal injury are rare in most places.

Here are a few simple things you can do to protect you and your property or reduce the financial impact if something is stolen.


Our mobile phones are often our most valuable possession when we travel as they are vital links to the world around us. They are also one of the most common items stolen as we often use them in careless ways out in public.

There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of your phone being stolen.

  • Google Maps is a great way to navigate when traveling and we use it extensively but walking around with the phone in your hand is not the best way to follow the guidance. Determine you are on the right course and then put the phone away in your pocket immediately until the next turn. Or better yet, use your Apple Watch to guide you. All of the popular navigation apps can also be used on your watch.

  • If you need to look at your phone for a long period, step into a doorway or stay close to a building. If you have someone with you, have them be a lookout for you while you concentrate on your phone. Don’t stand near the actual street where a thief on a motorbike can grab it and be gone in a second. Teams of two thieves on motorbikes are fairly common in many countries.

  • We all love to take photos with our phones. When you are taking photos in a crowded location, consciously keep a strong grip on the phone. Also, be very suspect of handing your device to anyone who offers to take your picture.

  • The phone itself may not be the main objective of the theft. Access to your financial apps on an unlocked phone may likely be the objective of a savvy thief. Make sure your financial apps are password protected and have two-factor authentication to prevent someone from transferring money through banking and financial apps such as Venmo. It only takes a minute for a sophisticated thief to access your financial apps on an unlocked phone. Also, reduce the time your phone is unlocked without activity, so the thief has minimal time to act.

  • Phones sitting on tables in restaurants while people are dining are easy targets. Take your foodie photos and then put the phone away in a safe place.

  • So, what happens if your phone does get lost or stolen? You should prepare for this by setting up the Find My app on your phone with your traveling companion. If you have lost possession of your phone, you can use this app on your friend’s phone to locate it, get directions, play a sound, or even erase the device entirely.

  • Not all phones that are lost, are stolen. Some are left behind in taxis or restaurants. To assist and encourage a good Samaritan to return your phone, put a sticker on the back of your phone case stating, “if found, please call xxx-xxx-xxxx for a $100 reward”. Better to pay a reward than have the hassle of buying a new phone!


The best practice for keeping your jewelry safe is to leave it at home. Necklaces are especially easy fodder for “grab and go” thieves who can snatch it off your neck and are gone before you realize what has happened. If a piece of jewelry is irreplaceable or just means a lot to you, leave it at home. Stick to costume jewelry in your travels. We have good friends who wear matching rubber wedding rings while they travel and leave the real wedding rings at home.


The most common pickpocket scams require someone touching you. In Argentina and Mexico, for example, I heard many reports of the “bird poop” scam. A stranger or two serendipitously squeezes mustard on your back and then approaches you telling you that a bird has pooped on you and starts helping you clean it off. Before you figure out that there was never any bird involved, they have taken off with your wallet and phone.

The bottom line is, don’t let anyone in your personal space. Whether it is someone asking for directions or trying to give you something, be highly alert when anyone is in range of touching you. I know I hate making a scene and always want to help people, but I have become very comfortable with a firm NO, if anyone gets too close to me.


Your mama probably told you "Nothing good happens after midnight” and she was right! A lot of stories I have heard about personal crimes involve being out late at night (and perhaps some level of intoxication.) Late hours are no time for an evening stroll. Take a taxi, even if it is only a short distance.


Take only what you need when you travel, including what's in your wallet. My husband and I have multiple types of credit cards. We take different ones in each of our wallets so if one is stolen and needs to be canceled, we still have access to another credit card. The same with debit cards. We also take another backup credit card that we leave in the hotel room safe in case both cards are stolen. Finally, we take only the cash that we need for the day with us.


You rarely need your passport other than border crossings so leave it in the safe most of the time. There are a few exceptions. You will absolutely need them when checking into a foreign hotel or renting a car. Occasionally you may need them to enter a museum or historical venue so check requirements in advance before visiting those. On the off chance your bag with your passports is stolen, keep copies in each piece of luggage and pictures of them on our phones.


There are lots of transportation options for getting around in cities. If comfort is your top priority, then a private driver may be your best option. But do not be afraid to take taxis, uber, and other local ride-share companies outside the United States.

There are a few tips that you can use to make sure you arrive safely and cost-effectively at your destination. When arriving via an airport, oftentimes you will find a taxi stand within the airport where you pay for your taxi ride in advance in accordance with a set fare schedule from a regulated taxi. Do not get into a “gypsy” or unmarked taxi or use anyone approaching you in airport offering to give you a ride.

When taking taxis throughout your visit, especially if you don’t speak the language, show the taxi driver the address of your destination on your phone. Many bad taxi situations come from a simple misunderstanding. Also follow your trip on Google Maps. If the taxi driving is veering substantially off-course, then reconfirm your destination with the driver. If you still do not feel comfortable, ask to be dropped off immediately and get another ride.

Once in Puerto Vallarta, we had an Uber driver heading in the entirely wrong direction with an ETA of 40 minutes on what should have been a 10-minute trip. It turned out that while Google Maps had the correct location of the restaurant, Uber had not updated their records to reflect its new location at the driver was following the UBER guidance. We were very glad we were following the route on our phone and corrected the mistake before we went 40 minutes in the wrong direction!


Dangling purses, unattended backpacks on the floor, and phones hanging out of your back pockets are all invitations to be robbed. For men, wallets and phones should always be carried in your front pants pockets. For women, a cross-body bag is a must I use this one that I got at the Container Store in the travel section. It’s so lightweight that I rarely take it off, even when I am dining in a restaurant. I especially love the small front compartment. My cellphone fits in it perfectly. It is very secure when zipped, but it is also very easy to access quickly.

If you have backpacks or other bags, try to sit with your back to the wall or in a corner in public places where a thief cannot casually stroll by and pick up the item and keep moving while you are distracted.


Situational awareness goes a long way toward staying safe. If you feel uncomfortable, then listen to your instincts. We are adventuresome travelers and have been down many a back alley and felt totally fine. However, there have been times when things just didn’t feel right, like the time when we were lost and heading straight toward a prison outside Lisbon! There is no shame in changing course if you are uncomfortable.


No possession is worth risking your personal safety. In the unlikely event, you are held up and told to give up your belongings, do just that. Don't make eye contact, don't argue, and don't chase after the thieves. Most thieves are just looking for a quick and easy hit so it's best to always have some cash on you to give them and they will move on. Hopefully, you have limited the overall potential loss by limiting what you have with you.


Traveling can be a wonderfully enriching experience, but safety concerns often deter people from exploring new destinations. While crime can occur anywhere, it's important to note that most places are full of friendly and helpful people. Nonetheless, taking some simple precautions can significantly increase your safety and protect your belongings. These tips are not a guarantee, but they can help make your travels more secure and enjoyable.


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