It is thought that the first 24 hours in any new place is the riskiest from a safety perspective. When everything is as new as it can be, you might find yourself a little off your usual balance and there will always be people prepared to take advantage during this period of potential safety weakness. Sadly the risks increase if you are a female traveller, on your own, or both. Here are some tips on how to stay safe during the first 24 hours in any new place.
1. Know before you go
Flying into the Democratic Republic of Congo comes with a very different set of safety considerations than if you’re taking a weekend break in Cornwall. Understand your destination and its potential dangers and any customs to adhere to before you get there.
2. Grab some sleep before you arrive
One of the first things to leave us when we’re tired is our wits. From last minute packing to time zone changes, fatigue can hit hard when we travel so try and build in some time for rest, even if it’s a couple of hours sleep on your flight as you’ll want your wits about you especially during the first 24 hours in a new place.
3. Arrange a pick-up or onward transportation
Coming out of the airport or bus station with all of your valuables, bleary eyes and little knowledge as to where you are and where you’re going is a sure indicator to opportunists. Ideally, pre-arrange transport otherwise at least know how you are going to get to your accommodation so you can avoid the look of bewilderment when you arrive.
4. Explore your new surroundings by daylight
Landing in a new country or city is exciting and usually prompts the urge to go out exploring. However, tiredness and an unfamiliar location can work against you if you arrive after dark so it’s best to leave any major exploring until daylight when side streets are less sinister and landmarks more clear.
5. Ask for local advice on any hotspots
No-one knows the risks quite like the locals so don’t just take the advice of your guidebook and forums, ask at your hotel (receptionist, cleaners, bell boys) their tips for keeping safe. From hot spots for pickpockets to areas where gangs frequent, finding out early on places to avoid should keep you safe for your entire trip.
6. Understand the risks
Safety risks can take many forms from pick pocketing, mugging and kidnap to fake gem and rug sales, inflated taxi prices and unsafe tours. Again, check in your guidebook, on the internet and ask locally to find out what issues are prevalent so that you can prepare.
7. Learn the local transport options
You may be able to spot a licensed cab from a private, unlicensed vehicle in your home town, but what about your new destination. The one thing you will do a lot as you explore is use different types of transport. Make sure you understand the options, their relative levels of safety and any tips for making sure you don’t get ripped off using them.
8. Keep a map and hotel address to hand
When you’re out and about, it’s always good to know your ‘exit strategy’ in case things go wrong, and that will usually mean your hotel. In the first 24 hours you’re less likely to remember exactly where your hotel is so keep a discrete map on you at all times with your hotel marked as well as a card with your hotel name on it. Try not to check it too much in public (it screams ‘tourist’) but do use it to catch a taxi back to your hotel if you feel lost or at risk.
9. Secure your valuables
When you arrive in a new country you will have all of your valuables on you, which puts you at risk of theft. As soon as you get to your hotel make sure that you secure all those items you won’t need immediately – passport, laptop, extra cash, spare credit cards – in the hotel safe and only ever take what you need out with you.
10. Keep your evening alcohol intake low
The first night in a new country can be exhilarating, but don’t let it go to your head in the form of alcohol. Stronger ABVs, dehydration from heat, altitude and other foreign conditions can make you more susceptible to alcohol and, worse than tiredness, inebriation is a very powerful method of stripping you of your sensibilities and leaving you at risk.
A t-shirt from your home town, a camera around your neck, a rucksack and a map in hand is a green light to opportunists. The best way to avoid being singled out for pick-pocketing, scams or otherwise making yourself a target is to blend like a local. Take particular care with your clothes and a casual fold up shopping bag is a great place for keeping your valuables – thieves are less likely to snatch what they consider might hold milk and bread.
Do you have any other tips for keeping safe in a new country?