Survival Tips Every Traveler Ought to Know

March 07, 2017

Sometimes when you’re an urban traveler in foreign countries, you can end up in a ‘bit of a pickle’ if you don’t do proper planning and preparation.  So…to keep you ‘out of the brine’….following are a few situations that may arise, together with survival tips on how you can plan ahead in order to keep travel safety in the forefront.

Situation #1:  You’re in a city where English is a foreign language

Part of the fun of traveling to foreign cities is the new culture, foods, and language that you’ll experience.  But when you need some assistance to make yourself understood, these travel tips should help.

  • Download an app that offers a translation:  There are now apps available that will let you speak English….and voila, your words are translated into the language you need them to be! Both Android and Apple offer various apps for you to download – some are free, others are not.  Google text-to-speech, Google Translate, iTranslate, and iProTranslate are just a few of the many apps you may wish to check out and download.
  • Carry a bilingual dictionary:  Find the English word in your pocket dictionary, then show the equivalent word in the local language to whomever you’re speaking with. Hopefully, you’ll be able to get your point across.
  • Learn some keywords/expressions:  Before you get there, learn to say basic greetings like ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’, polite terms like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘you’re welcome’;  and, of course….the most important phrase of all, ‘Where is the nearest public restroom?’….or maybe I’m the only one who thinks that phrase is really important :-).

Situation #2:  You need to get from Point A to Point B across a large city

If you’re visiting Amsterdam, you may want to fit in like a local by taking a bicycle across the city.  However, if you’re not into risking life and limb in strange surroundings, your travel safety may remain more intact with one of these options :-).

Fit in like a local

Try to fit in like a local.

  • Find a bus:  Taking a local bus is usually the cheapest means to get from one spot to…or close to…another.  It is not, however, the quickest.  Ask locals where the bus stop is located.  Unlike North American cities where we are used to designated ‘bus stops’, other parts of the world may use places that look nothing like bus stops – the front of a local restaurant or store, a nondescript area on a road where there may be a crumbling brick wall or some other equally obscure place.  Ask the driver where you will need to get off to be closest to the place you want to walk to.  Be sure to ask the driver if your return trip will be from the same place… or elsewhere.  And, ask what time you need to be back to catch a return bus.  Of course, you’ll need to recognize the spot again, so pay close attention to where the driver lets you off.
  • Download the Uber app:  Uber is available and gaining in popularity in many countries including the U.S.A, Mexico, China, and India.  However….Uber also is banned in many countries.  Check online before you leave home to find out if Uber is operating in your destination city.
  • Take a taxi:  Ask at your hotel (or look it up online) for the names and contact information of local cab companies. It’s often wise to ask a hotel to call a cab for you.  Whether you are a guest of the hotel or not, by having the hotel make the call, you are assured of getting a legitimate taxi cab for your crosstown trip.  For your own travel safety, beware ‘phantom’ cabs that are rampant in many cities.  These drivers are not legally licensed to carry passengers and may charge you more than a legal cab would.

Situation #3:  You’re in a city with many homeless people asking you for money

In some cities, there are much more homeless than in others.  Of course, you’re not heartless and do want to help others….’there but for the grace of God’….and all that.  However, if you were to give even just $1.00 to every homeless person with hat or cup in hand, you may end up way over your own travel budget by the end of your trip!  These survival tips should keep you from breaking your own bank while allowing you to do something charitable at the same time.

  • Split a meal:  Ask your restaurant food server to divide your meal in two, and take half ‘to go’.  Offer this ‘to go’ portion to a homeless person.

Split your food with a homeless person

Split your food with a homeless person.

  • Shop at a charity:  Most cities have shops or second-hand stores where at least part of the proceeds from sales they make are donated to a local charity. Pack light, then shop here for some great casual clothing deals…..even donate them back to the same shop before you leave for home. Everybody wins!
  • Offer to purchase a meal:  Rather than handing money over with no guarantee that it will not be spent on booze or drugs instead of food, offer to buy food for a homeless person who no doubt is in much need of sustenance.

Situation #4:  You have food allergies/intolerances to contend with

The last thing you want to deal with when you’re on vacation is an illness caused by eating something you shouldn’t.  Here are some survival tips to keep that from happening.

  • Carry medication:  If you are allergic to peanuts, seafood, or other foods, it is imperative that you carry with you the medication you require in the case that you inadvertently ingest one of these food items.  Be sure to carry a letter from your doctor explaining your requirements; otherwise, you may not be allowed to take items like an EpiPen (epinephrine injection) or insulin needles with you on the plane.
  • Pay close attention to foods:  If you are gluten- or lactose-intolerant, pay close attention to the food you order.  Throughout most of Europe, gluten-free food is much more readily available than it is yet in North America. Write down the translation for each of these terms so you can show it to your server for a better understanding of what you require. In French, it would be ‘repas sans gluten’ (gluten-free meal), or ‘sans lactose’ (lactose-free).  In German, ‘ich laktose-intollerant’ (I’m lactose intolerant).
  • Purchase one of these cards:  If you suffer from celiac disease or are gluten-intolerant, these translation cards may be the best thing for you ‘since sliced bread’…that’s gluten-free sliced bread, of course :-). These travel translation cards currently are available in several languages with more being added.  Check them out here:

Situation #5:  You don’t want to wind up in the ‘bad part of town’

It’s easy enough for this to happen, especially if you’re walking and chatting, enjoying the sights and sounds.  All of a sudden….your surroundings become ‘rough’ looking – lots of garbage on the streets, people loitering in groups, boarded up shops/homes. Uh-oh…

  • Ask locals:  Don’t hesitate to get information from your hotel desk clerk, your cab driver, your server at a coffee shop.  Ask them directly if there are areas of the city that you should avoid for your own travel safety.  The citizens want tourists to have a good time and to see the best of what their city has to offer, so they will be happy to share with you both where you should go….and where you shouldn’t.
  • Do research:  Before you leave home, do some online research on the cities you plan to visit.  Your research should give you a feel for the city and the best places in that city for you to see, to dine, to shop, to see attractions, etc.


Before you leave home, do some online research into the cities you plan to visit.

  • Trust your gut:  If you think the area is a bit ‘sketchy’ and you start to feel unsafe, leave….immediately.  Never doubt the power of your own intuition in keeping you out of sticky situations.

Situation #6:  Your bank unexpectedly suspends your credit card

Well….this could prove to be embarrassing!  You’ve just enjoyed a delicious meal and…..horrors….your credit card is ‘declined’.  Here are a couple travel tips to keep you ‘out of the red

  • Advise your bank/credit card company:  Sure, the entire world of Facebook doesn’t need to know when/where you are traveling.  However, it’s very important that you let your bank/credit card company know that you are leaving the country, how long you will be gone, and in which country you will be using your credit card.
  • Carry separate credit cards:  If two of you are traveling together, each of you should have a different credit card so that if some mix-up occurs with one, you have another to fall back on.
  • Contact your credit card company:  If a problem should arise, your credit card will have a toll-free number listed on the back.  As soon as you’re able, call that number to report the problem and get this less than ideal situation rectified as soon as possible.

Written by Emma Ghattas