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Having recently returned from honeymoon in the oft-overlooked but not-to-be-missed South-east Asian gem of Vietnam, I am more conscious than ever of the importance of keeping one’s wits about you when travelling abroad. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the newness and novelty of one’s surroundings to the extent that one becomes an easy target for criminals and, before you know it, you’re not only a stranger in a strange land, but a victim in a country the language, geography and customs of which might be totally alien to you. Not a good position to be in.

Despite still bearing the scars of its embattled past in the form of widespread poverty and squalor, Vietnam feels remarkably safe and is home to some of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Even walking around at night, and with the possible exception of some opportunistic hucksters and shoe shiners willing to charge exorbitant prices for their labours, one never really feels in any sort of immediate danger. That being said, we were able to avoid the majority of the pitfalls associated with international travel since we had done a fair bit of reading up prior to boarding a plane bound for the Orient.

But the world can be a dangerous place, which is why your friends here at CENTURION have compiled a list of security tips for you to keep in mind when travelling abroad. Safe travels!

1. Don’t let your passport out of your site

Before we left for Vietnam, my mother-in-law joked that we should even go for a swim with our passports if it came to that; that’s how important that little green (or black, or blue, or maroon) document is, and considering that, without it, and to paraphrase the title of a famous holiday movie, you won’t be home for Christmas. If you are unable to carry your travel documents with you at all times, then hear from your hotel whether it has a safe available where you can store them for safekeeping. It’s also a good idea to make electronic copies of all your travel documents.

2. Avoid seedy-looking areas

While the most spectacular areas do tend to also be the most remote and secluded, if you know that you are travelling to a country with a high incidence of crime, it’s generally best to avoid spots where you are likely to be a target by virtue of there being no one around to help you. Also, if movies like Hostel have taught us anything, it’s that dark alleyways full of guys playing poker (or some local variant thereof) and smoking cigars are best avoided.

3. Invest in a lock

This one saved us a lot of anxiety on our trip. If, like us, you intend on taking a backpack along with you as you explore (we kept water, a map and our mobiles in ours), then investing in a padlock with a settable passcode will help keep your valuables secure. Many cities in the developing world are plagued by pickpockets – many of whom are quite skilled at their trade – and you don’t want your trip ruined by having your stuff stolen.

4. Don’t make it easy for them

Again, if you plan on taking valuables such as cameras and cellphones out with you, make sure that they can’t easily be snatched by thieves on foot or, more commonly, on bikes or scooters that can be used for an easy getaway. Keep your valuables in a backpack that can be strapped to your shoulders (don’t keep the straps around your head or neck – this can be injurious to your health should someone try to snatch it away) and avoid taking out your cellphone in large crowds where it is bound to draw attention and awaken temptation.

5. Beware of scammers

There are many individuals out there who would be more than happy to relieve you of all that troublesome cash you’re carrying around. Whether charging you insane prices for an unsolicited shoeshine or trying to extort money from you for some obviously fictitious wrongdoing, scammers are everywhere and they are surprisingly successful. If someone tries to sell you something you really don’t want or need, stand your ground without being confrontational. They are extremely persistent at first, even slightly threatening, but they let off once you have made it clear that you are not interested.

6. Cash is not always king

Swipe your card whenever and wherever possible. Most hotels accept the major credit and debit cards, and carrying large amounts of cash with you is just asking for trouble that could have stayed. However, markets and roadside stalls generally are equipped for cash-only transactions. Ensure that, if you do carry cash with you, it’s kept securely in your (locked) backpack. It’s a good idea to keep your cash and credit cards separate so that, should either go missing, you have a backup.

7. Have your luggage wrapped

This service costs around R70 at the airport, and will not only help protect your luggage against damage, but will reduce the likelihood of it being tampered with (for example to transport illicit substances) or stolen from.

Bonus “stay healthy” travel tips:

• Always drink bottled water, and use bottled water to brush your teeth
• Ask for drinks with no ice (ice is typically made using tap water)
• Find out in advance what vaccinations you’ll need, and make sure that you get them!
• Only eat fruits and vegetables that you’ve peeled yourself
• When buying from roadside stalls, patronise the stalls that are busy as they tend to have a higher turnaround of ingredients
• Make sure that you take malaria prophylaxis when travelling to affected areas, and use mosquito-repellent. It’s also wise to wear clothing that covers your arms and legs
• Do not pet stray animals as there’s a possibility that they’re carrying rabies
• Be sure to stay well-hydrated (I speak from experience having endured Vietnam’s legendary humidity)
• If you plan on eating meat, make sure that it’s properly cooked and preferably hot
• If you are taking prescription medication, carry some in your cabin luggage. In the words of the kindly nurse who administered my travel vaccines, “it’ll do no good to man or beast if you end up in one country and your meds in another!”. Also, customs officers may ask you to produce the prescription, so be sure to take a copy with you

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