I've spent the past year travelling through Latin America - a place where, if you believe certain people, danger lurks around every corner. I'm happy to report this has not been the case at all.
As a lone female traveller, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been worried on some occasions, or even felt a little fearful. But most of those times it was just my imagination conjuring up worst case "what-if" scenarios. My real worst case scenario? Being ripped off by taxi driver in Cancun at 3AM. That's the very worst story I have to share.
Of course, it would be silly to pretend that long-term travel doesn't come with the potential for many problems: theft, accidents and ill-health may happen; strikes, delays and traffic that upend your travel plans almost certainly will. But with some basic sense and preparation most people can stay safe, happy and healthy. Here are my top takeaways.
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Keep Your Wits About You
One of the main purposes of leisure travel is to have fun. And if you're young or just like to party, often that fun can involve alcohol. I've been to too many hostels and bars where you're strongly encouraged to keep drinking - some would even say pressured to keep drinking.
While there's nothing wrong with a drink, getting too drunk can be dangerous for travellers, particularly women. If you're a lone traveller, it becomes even more dangerous because there's no one to look out for you. Most incidents I've heard about when travellers are robbed or mugged happen at night, when the person has been drinking. That's not even mentioning the bad decisions people make when drunk, like driving a motorbike or going tubing. Pace yourself, keep a clear head and keep your wits about you.
Now I know that before I travel or visit a new country, all I want to read are inspiring travel blogs and beautiful city guides, and all I want to do is plan my route and all the sights I will see. But it's essential to plan the less-interesting aspects too. I can't begin to explain how helpful it has been to have all your important travel information and documents necessary backed up.
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Should anything bad happen, this will be invaluable. If you have an accident, you will need things like your insurance number and details of your insurance policy. If you have any belongings stolen, details of the serial number will be incredibly helpful. Take the time to read travel safety guides; granted, they're not as fun as travel blogs, but they're much more important.
Do Your Best To Eat Well
You really don't want to get sick in a strange country, especially when you don't speak the language. But when you're drinking more than usual (it happens!) and not following an especially balanced diet, you'll likely notice an effect on your health. It can be incredibly easy when travelling to eat mainly carbs (chips and pasta are always cheap), and healthy juices and salads can often be more expensive.
Visit local markets when you can to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables, but consider buying some vitamins and supplements to take with you. I didn't do this before leaving - supplements are expensive! - but after coming down with a cold I couldn't shake, I did order in some vitamin C, iron and turmeric, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Get Advice From Locals
No one knows the dangers or problems of a certain area better than a local. Speak to staff at your hostel or hotel about which areas are safe/unsafe to walk around, and which scams you should look out for. When I was in Rio, for example, an employee at my hostel told me to prepare a "decoy purse": a small purse containing expired or worthless cards and bit of small change. That way, if a mugging DOES occur, you can hand over your purse and stay safe without losing lots of money.