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Travel Hacks To Stay Safe While Backpacking

Travel Hacks To Stay Safe While Backpacking

I spent last year traveling through Latin America, from Mexico right down to Patagonia. Judging from some of the reactions of my family and friends before I left (and throughout my travels), Latin America is a place where danger lurks around every corner. Let your guard down just once and you’ll pay the price.

Thankfully, however, I’m pleased to state this has not been the case. I was a lone female visiting some pretty dodgy places – I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt a little apprehensive on some occasions. But in terms of actual bad things happening? Nada. Nothing. Not one story to report. The worst thing that happened was being ripped off by a Cancun cab driver at 5 A.M. Not exactly the end of the world.

Pretending that backpacking, whether solo or with friends, doesn’t come with risks is silly. Muggings, thefts and accidents can and do occur; traffic jams and unanticipated delays will probably, at some point, disrupt your plans. But with some simple planning and research, it’s easier than you think to stay safe and secure while on the road. Here are my three most useful travel hacks to stay safe.

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1. Keep a clear head

Beginning my tips by saying “Don’t get drunk” isn’t going to make me very popular. And I’m well aware that one of the main points of backpacking is to have fun, to experience new things and meet new people. And often those new experiences and new friends lead to drinking a lot. And I mean a LOT. While there is nothing wrong with a couple of drinks, getting wasted can lead to many problems.

I’ve stayed at many a hostel where guests are actively encouraged (read “pressured”) to keep drinking. No one wants to let the team down or appear boring, so most people oblige. Another shot or three can’t hurt, can it?

Yes, it absolutely can. Almost all incidents where I’ve heard about other backpackers getting into trouble, have been because they’ve been drinking. And drinking can lead to very poor decision making.

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No one thinks it’s a good idea to wander along the beaches of Rio de Janeiro at night when they’re sober – but when you’re drunk, it seems romantic. I’ve lost count of the accidents I’ve heard about where people have done dumb things because they’ve been drunk – from driving motorbikes to going tubing while totally smashed… it leads to trouble.

I’m not saying don’t have a few drinks, if you want to. Do have a drink, but keep a clear head and pace yourself. This is particularly important if you are traveling alone, because there’s no one there who can pull you back when you’re about to do something really dumb.

2. Talk to locals about the risks

If you’re heading to a notoriously dangerous place, chances are you’ve done a fair bit of research yourself. Take Medellin in Colombia, for example. I’d read countless articles about the cocaine cartels and Pablo Escobar, and the gang violence that almost ripped Colombia apart… but it turns out that Medellin today is pretty safe. I spent a month there and didn’t feel uneasy once.

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The thing you should be researching is the smaller things – like scams. You’re much more likely to be targeted by petty thieves after a quick penny than a big time crook, but these small scams often aren’t reported much. No one knows the risks of an area better than a local, so speak to employees at your accommodation about what to look out for.

When I was in Santiago, Chile, a local told me that a girl had been mugged the week before, and that I should carry a “dummy wallet” – a small purse with a few worthless cards and a small amount of cash in it. Then, if I was ever mugged, I could oblige and hand over my purse without losing everything. I never got mugged, but I sure felt a lot safer walking around the streets of Santiago.

3. Do the boring stuff

It’s a given that before you go to a new country, you want to research the fun stuff. Which restaurants will you eat at? Where are the most beautiful beaches? Which neighborhood has the coolest nightlife? I can spend hours looking at travel blogs, planning routes and making fun itineraries, but before you do all that, stop – and get the boring stuff out of the way first.

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The boring stuff means things like getting insurance, then making sure it covers everything. Writing down the serial number of your electronic belongings. Backing up and photocopying your travel documents. Take it from me – this can be invaluable.

If anything happens, this stuff is vital. If you’re injured, or a flight is delayed and you miss your connection, you’ll need your insurance number and policy details. If your laptop or phone is stolen, having the serial number is more helpful than I can explain. I learnt that the hard way, when I lost my camera and nothing could be done.

Sorting this stuff is boring but it doesn’t have to take long. Do it all at once and get it over with; read one of the many travel safety guides around, make a list and tick it off. It really is so simple. Then, and only then, can you get stuck into all the fun stuff!

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Ella Jameson

Freelance writer

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

6. Give for the Joy of Giving

When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

More About Living a Fulfilling Life

Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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