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How to stay safe on a holiday abroad

Heading abroad to soak up the sights and sounds of foreign climes can be an exciting adventure filled with a whole host of new experiences. But while venturing to a new country is largely a positive experience for travellers from all walks of life, there are still dangers to be aware of and precautions to take. As the old adage goes ‘to be forewarned is to be forearmed’ so the better prepared you are about what may face you in your destination of choice, both good and bad, the better equipped you will be to deal with any potentially negative scenarios.

Whether you are travelling alone, or as part of a group, here are some key considerations to bear in mind to ensure that you stay safe on your holiday abroad.

Read up on common scams and crimes in your destination of choice

Fraudsters and thieves are well aware that holidaymakers are at their most relaxed on holiday, and as a result they may let their usually cautious guard down for the duration of their break. This then gives unscrupulous criminals, whether organised or opportunist, a window in which to carry out their crimes.

Having a knowledge of the most common scams and crimes in your destination of choice before heading off on holiday, will mean that you put the appropriate measures in place to make yourself less vulnerable in the eyes of criminals abroad.

Many leading guidebooks contain details of these scams, which may have been in existence for years if not decades, and increasing your personal security may simply be a matter of locking up your possessions in a hotel safe or using a money belt when out and about.

A recent survey of 2,000 people revealed that Barcelona was the worst city for in Europe for scamming. Barcelona’s lead was followed by Paris (2nd), Rome (3rd), Amsterdam (4th) and Istanbul (5th)*.

While these and other scam hotspots in Europe and beyond don’t need to be avoided altogether, it is important to be aware of which areas or times of day tourists need to be most alert. As an example there has been an increasing problem with pickpockets in Paris around the Louvre.

Take the official line

While it may be tempting to hop in the nearest taxi to head back to your hotel, or go on a supposedly cut-price tour offered by street hawkers, in countries where crime levels are high it may be best to take government-backed services.

Organise for the hotel to pick you up from the airport, and make a beeline for an official tourist information office the first day your venture out and about. Here you will be able to ask about government-approved tourist services, and any safety advice that is particular to that region.

Official tourist information offices are also a great place to stock up on maps and transport timetables, ensuring that you never have the opportunity to be duped by false directions from those who may be involved in a local crime ring.

Keep those back home informed

Before you head off on your holiday it is essential that you leave details of your itinerary, contact details of your accommodation etc with friends and family.

This is to ensure that if you are don’t turn up as and when expected at a given time or destination, that others will be able to treat this as a cause for concern and alert the appropriate authorities.

For those that don’t have a fixed itinerary in mind, and plan to go with the flow on their break, then keeping those back home regularly informed of your whereabouts via Skype, email or social networking sites will help to allay their fears.

If you have a smartphone it may be worth downloading WhatsApp, an App which lets you send free text messages both locally and nationally.

Observe local customs and laws

Each country will have its own set of local customs, some of which may be dictated by the dominant religion, and it is important to observe these to avoid causing offence.

The Tanzanian island of Zanzibar recently hit the headlines after an acid attack on two British tourists during Ramadan. While the government’s travel advice on Tanzania highlights that ‘most visits to Tanzania are trouble-free’**, and outlines that the above incident ‘appears to be the first acid attack in Zanzibar targeting foreigners’, it still advises tourists visiting the island to be vigilant at all times.

Like other countries where Islam is the dominant religion, it may be advisable for tourists to dress modestly***.

Other local customs and laws to be aware of include laws on public displays of affection, drug possession and more.