I love South America, is one of my favourite destinations.
I’ve been asked several times how can I manage to travel safely in that part of the world. I think majority of my tips are common sense, and they did improve along the years. The more you travel and open your eyes, the more you adapt and improve your travelling style. Touch wood, I managed to visit all sorts of places with no major incidents.
First, I think you should choose your destination based on your level of comfort
It is always great to push your zone of comfort. But don’t try to go too far at once. You will be able to push a bit further on another trip. Look inside. See what you feel comfortable with and pick the right destination for that trip and the right mode of travel. For example, for the first trip to any of the big cities in South America, look for accommodation in the touristic district, don’t adventure into any other areas, even though is much cheaper.
Learn the basic of the language
People around you will appreciate if you make the effort to say hello (Hola), please (por favor) and thank you (gracias) in their language. They are more likely to help you. http://www.learnspanishtoday.com/learning_module/grammar.htm
A smile (and Google Translate) can go a long way, even if you don’t speak the same language. Or even better, download a Learn Spanish course and learn the basics while you drive. The quicker you buy it, the more you will learn, obviously.
Don’t draw attention
People who look like they’re from out of town are especially vulnerable to crime, so try to blend in as much as you can. Choose inconspicuous clothing that won’t attract attention. I would strongly recommend, especially for females, to shop locally. The clothes are super good quality and much cheaper than the rest of the world. You will blend in better.
Be aware of your surroundings
Don’t let your guard down to snap the perfect picture for your social media platforms. Keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times and use good judgment when talking to strangers.
Be discreet when looking at maps and approach people carefully if you need to ask for directions. Don’t be loud to attract attention, especially in big crowds.
Leave the “Bling” at home
It might be tempting to wear your favourite jewellery throughout your trip or take pictures with that new, costly camera, but in the interest of your safety, don’t. If you tour your international destination dressed from Vogue magazine and wearing all sorts of expensive jewellery, you are announcing to potential thieves that you are a worthy mugging target. Keep it simple and appropriate for the place you are visiting, and hide your camera when you aren’t using it.
I never take my own jewellery, I am always buying local hand made. Low key, authentic and helping the local community with my souvenir investments.
Keep handbags/backpacks to your front
Consider replacing your fancy leather designer bag with a canvas/tote/fabric bag. Less opulent and will make you look like a budget traveller. If you love wearing backpacks, wear them in the front. You won’t look silly, majority of the locals are doing the same thing, especially in crowded places and public transport.
Another thing you might be tempted to do is hang your purse on the back of your chair on a sidewalk or set your bags down at your feet. This isn’t a good idea, either, because your attention is going to be attracted to the new sights around you. Keep your bags in your lap or at the front of your feet under the table, with the straps wrapped around your leg.
If you’re using intercity buses and trains, travel as light as possible. You want to keep your luggage close, and you can’t do that with a rigid over 25 kgs trolley. If you need to have it stored away, keep an eye on it every time when the bus stops and other people are taking their luggage away.
Always take your valuables in your carry-on while travelling, never let them in the checked baggage. I learned from the locals that you need a padlock on the checked baggage, and if you’re changing more planes, get it wrapped up
When you project confidence, people are less likely to mess with you. But if you look afraid and hesitant, you will be seen as more of a target. So even if you don’t feel that sure, stand tall, look straight ahead and project confidence
In Latin America, the banks have an ATMs room. That’s the safest place to cash money out from your credit card, especially if you have Gold or Platinum. If you need to exchange money, ask your accommodation what’s the safest exchange in the area, or the bank, of course.
As I’ve said, it is common sense. The list can go on, valid for any other place you’re travelling to.
Make copies of important documents, paper and electronic
You never know when you might need a copy of your passport, driver’s license or another form of identification. Scan these documents to save online and print out several hard copies. That way, you won’t be scrambling to find proper documentation if you need to get home.
Create an electronic backup of your immunization record, itinerary, medical insurance card, passport, plane tickets, insurance, and visas before you leave. Email the file to yourself and keep it in your inbox so you can access the information from your smartphone should the paperwork be lost or damaged.
Know the popular Scams
There are people running scams in every country. Type popular scam in for the country you’re travelling to and read before traveling. When you are aware, you spot them easier and avoid them.
Inform someone of your itinerary and plans
Always keep someone inform of your itinerary and plans. The hotels you are supposed to stay in, or if is something out of ordinary activity, the areas you are supposed to hit for specific days.
Travel with 2 credit cards if possible
For fee reasons, it might not make sense but sometimes is more comfortable traveling with 2 credit cards. If your Mastercard is not accepted, you have VISA as a backup.
Notify your bank of your travels
Don’t forget to notify your bank before you travel – if they see activities from a new country, they might assume your account has been compromised and freeze everything. Not a fun situation to waste your traveling time contacting your bank, proving that you are you and telling them all is ok in the middle of the night when you don’t have data on your mobile.
Be especially careful in crowded places such as markets of train stations
The more people there are around you, the more likely it is that there are pickpockets in the area.
Get a business card of your hotel
Grab the card of the hotel with the address in the local language to show taxi drivers if needed.
South America is just beautiful. One day I will tale 6 months to 1 year off and discover it from one side to the other. Use your common sense, travel light and keep it low profile and everything is going to be alright.