Nobody wants to settle in, let alone visit, a place that is considered unsafe. But it’s also too easy to get distracted by U.S. State Dept travel advisories and online forums with scary warnings. We have found that a mixture of caution and realistic expectations are key to safe travel.
In 2015 our first stop was Colombia, which has a well-known history of violence. But ongoing negotiations with FARC were very encouraging, and eventually, a peace agreement was signed. Our time in Cartagena was eye-opening in how welcoming the country had become and eager to heal from its past.
I think, as anywhere, the level of safety depends on where you are. While we had no issues in Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena, we know from the locals that there are places foreigners should avoid. When I took my Spanish classes in Cartagena, there was an afternoon trip to the market (mercado). My teacher insisted that foreigners should not go alone. I don’t know if that was her being overly protective or offering a dose of realism.
In fact, most of the time you and I seek out the mercados. The activity can be intense in the largest markets, but that, of course, is part of the draw. In all of our travels, we’ve never had a problem and enjoy taking in the local flavor of our new city.
Part of my strategy is to try to look as un-touristy as possible. I dress like the locals, wear minimal jewelry and never have a camera hanging around my neck. I also try to use my cellphone as little as possible in public.
Yes, that’s always good to keep in mind, especially when visiting a busy spot where tourists congregate. Carrying a backpack can also make me a target.
I avoid it when possible and instead use what I affectionately call my “man purse.” It hangs over my shoulder and sits snugly under my arm, making it very hard to get to. I also wear a money belt under my pants to keep our cash secure.
There’s also the question of carrying all of your worldly goods when traveling.
While the hostels we’ve stayed in have locked doors, you have no idea who has access to your room. Fortunately, many of them have lockers for storing anything of value.
It’s ironic that the one time we had items stolen was in a beautiful Airbnb apartment in a “safe” area of Krakow, Poland. Although the door securely locked, someone must have gotten access to a key. Fortunately, everything was easily replaced, and our World Nomads travel insurance covered most of the cost. Better safe than sorry!
Share with us your best advice or your worst experience. We want to hear it all!
by: Mike & Eileen Brill-Wagner