If you’re brave enough to be venturing out into the world and travelling on your own, the last thing you want playing on your mind is your safety. Don’t worry! Plenty of young people set out on the trip of a lifetime every year and Thailand is a perennially popular choice for backpackers young and old. Most of them will tell you that it’s the best thing they have ever done! There are a number of safety tips that I picked up on the road for situations that I never would have pre-empted, so here are some top tips.
The whereabouts of your valuables will probably be at the forefront of your safety worries. When travelling, your purse, passport and phone (if you take one) will all become your lifelines and connections to the outside world so it’s understandable that you’d be even more precious about them then when you’re at home.
The one rule to live by is to never, ever store all of your valuables in one place or one bag – this is an instant jackpot for any would-be thieves or the worst case scenario if you lose that particular bag. A better idea is to store your valuables separately – consider investing in pouches that strap to your body or even under your clothes. When sleeping, keep your valuable items in bed with you, either under your sheet or maybe even under your mattress. It’s the classic place to hide your millions!
You may think that a padlock will solve all your troubles but it can actually attract attention and won’t stop any potential thieves from slashing your bag open instead (this is uncommon but does happen!). A good tip is to instead use your padlock as a decoy, placing it on an area that is actually just full of your unwashed socks, meaning that any would-be thieves that only have seconds to go straight for what they think is your treasure will be thrown right off-track.
When you’re out and about, keep your bag strapped firmly to your body and, if possible, on the side of you furthest from the open road to prevent drive-by snatchings. This actually happened to me – albeit in nearby Vietnam – with a motorbike speeding past me and the rider slashing my bag strap (although with unbelievable luck, he clumsily dropped my bag a few metres down the street). If you’re wearing a shoulder bag, wear the strap across your body or, more sensibly, just use a backpack.
Another situation to consider is the whereabouts of your valuables on night buses. There are reports (however true or not, worth keeping in mind) of bags and valuables being stolen from the very feet of passengers by the staff hiding under their seats as they sleep. If there’s a time to keep your passport or purse strapped under your clothes, it’s on a night bus where you’re probably sleeping surrounded by strangers. Don’t let this scare you, I haven’t met anyone who knows anyone this had actually happened too – but it’s always best to be prepared for all eventualities.
Of course, it’s not fair to say that every shop owner or tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok is out to scam tourists but it’s best to keep your wits about you. Whatever you do, avoid being driven to a location which your driver has decided he wants to persaude you to go to i.e. avoid any detours. Your driver might come across as being helpful but these kinds of situations are notorious for being tourist traps. For example, your driver may take you to ‘a friend’s’ jewellery store where he receives great commission for the farangs he brings inside, who are sometimes not allowed to leave without making a purchase.
When you groggily disembark from your night bus after a long and sleepless journey, you might be reassured to see a taxi, motorcycle or tuk-tuk driver greeting you with a sign with your name on and offering to take you to your hotel, hostel or next destination. It might seem like a pleasant convenience but these drivers have simply stolen your name from the booking list of your night bus company. The faux-reassurance means that you’ll probably jump right in and be faced with extortionate prices for your journey or being taken straight to an overpriced hostel where they’ll earn commission. Luckily I was warned of this by another traveller because admittedly when it happened to me, it seemed perfectly natural to go with the driver holding up the board with my name on – but if you didn’t arrange it, it’s always best to find your own transport.
For the sake of saving a few pennies, you should never compromise on your safety. It may be easy to get wrapped up in the idyllic travelling bubble but don’t forget that you’re in an unfamiliar country – don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home! However close to your hostel you are, don’t walk home alone at night time, especially if you’re just doing it to save a bit of money on a taxi! Also, it’s worth not scrimping on accommodation and going for a dodgy looking hostel. Pick a cheap, no-frills one for sure, but a good tip is to make sure it’s filled with other like-minded and happy looking travellers.
It’s a typical female problem: being caught needing the toilet with no bathroom in sight. Most of the toilets of Thailand will be exactly as you’re used to at home, but a few may be more Eastern style. Whatever the situation, it always pays off to keep tissues or baby wipes on you at all times for any emergency that may arise!
Further Information: If you are planning on exploring the beautiful and richly cultural Thailand, don’t let your safety worries hold you back! You can find flights to Bangkok with companies such as Expedia and if you are also interested in other place to go travelling solo this summer, make sure to read our article about places to go backpacking.
Written by Paul Symonds.