When I was twenty-two, a friend and I were midway through our European backpacking adventures and we were on the beautiful island of Corfu. We’d had a couple of drinks and decided it would be a greeeeeaaaaaaaat (yes, we were Tony the Tiger after a couple glasses of wine) idea to take a walk on the beach to watch the sunset.
That’s where we met them.
We ran into three Albanian guys. One went straight for my friend who was a blonde haired beauty, then there was me. I’m not being unkind when I say I wouldn’t have been the top pick, I call it realistic. Anyways, the guy that spoke English seemed to get first choice, and he chose C. That was JUST fine by me, because it meant my chances with the Chris Pine lookalike were massively increased.
The guys convinced us to go for another drink with them. We happily obliged. Drinks arrived at the table, but the bizarre thing was that the guys had ordered coffee, while they encouraged us to drink wine. It didn’t seem a big deal at the time – I felt the wine improved my Albanian language skills.
The english speaking guy convinced C that we should visit the restaurant that they all worked at. By this point I was less impressed with the idea, but she was keen, so I pulled out my good-friend-mojo. The more we talked and walked, the more I realized that we were heading away from the centre of town, away from people and away from streetlights. I was NOT having it. After putting my foot down C conceded and let us head back to town.
I think translator dude still thought he had a chance, because we stopped at the beach and he told C that she made his heart beat fast. He took her hand, placed it on his chest… then slide it down to his crotch. Yeah, we were done. We made our way back to the populated area of the village and booked it back to our hotel.
What did I learn from this? A whole hell of a lot, and it was probably the most defining moment of my travel in terms of challenging my carefree and trusting attitude. I took away the following travel safety truths that I’ve carried with me ever since:
1. Don’t get drunk with strangers. Now, I’m not saying don’t have a drink or two, provided you feel confident you’ve got your wits about you. Alcohol makes you more trusting, more willing to take risks, which is exactly what predators are counting on.
2. Travel in Twos. Had I left C to go off with the guys, I hate to think what would have happened. And this goes back to the don’t get drunk with strangers rule. If one of you wants to let loose, one should stay in control. Watch out for each other.
3. Don’t Flash your Cash. It never ceased to amaze me how many guys were shocked when they were mugged. Um, your wallet is hanging out of your back pocket! Don’t give people a reason to rob you.
4. Travel with a Mobile Phone. It doesn’t need to cost much, but buy a cheap SIM card and load it with some cash in each country you go to. Make sure to learn the emergency numbers for the place you’re in. Also, if traveling with someone and you separate, this gives you a way to check in.
5. Passport In Line of Sight. There are rare circumstances where hotels will request to keep your passport overnight. If you can talk them into accepting copies of your passport, do, but in some cases you can’t avoid this. Your passport is your ticket home, no matter the situation, so keep it in sight at all times. If you have the luxury of dual nationality, always travel with both passports and keep one for emergencies.
6. Make a Plan. I get into the habit, whether in my hometown or abroad, of making a plan with my friends. We’ll go into a giant store and make a plan of where to meet if we get separated. It’s simple, quick and fuss-free, but could save you hours of stress one day should you lose your travel partner in a crowd.
7. Learn the Language. I’m not expecting you to be fluent in ten languages, but you should always know some key words to get you out of a tricky situation. Help. Where is the embassy? Police. Hospital.
8. Communicate. I thought it was overkill when my mum asked me to travel with a Blackberry – back before Smartphones were EVERYWHERE. Now, it was definitely pricey, but well worth it. For the two or three times where I needed to use it on a long trip, it made all the difference and was worth the cost. Let your relatives know where you’re going to be, roughly, and what your travel dates are.
9. 99/100 Ninety nine percent of people are good. Don’t let one or two bad experiences ruin your travels. Trust your gut and rely on intuition. Be smart. You’ll be fine. And check in with your Mom… she’ll make your life miserable otherwise – this comes from the girl whose mother hacked her email account because I didn’t check in ONE TIME. Love you, Mom.
Happy and safe travels.