How to keep hold of all your belongings and stay safe
Wandering around amazing places, surrounded by bright colours, interesting smells and mind boggling sights, can heighten some of your senses. Unfortunately, it can also dull your perception of safety.
Whilst thankfully serious crime against volunteers is extremely rare, petty theft is not. Here is some easy advice that will really improve your chances of hanging onto your stuff!
Day to day advice
To all external appearances volunteers appear wealthy, and arguably in comparison, most of us are. Because this can be a temptation to some, a volunteer has a responsibility to keep personal possessions private and out of sight. If it can’t be seen, it has little chance of being taken!
- Crowded spaces the world over are a risk. Sew a 2″ or 5cm strip of Velcro into the top edge of your pocket that holds your cash and you will never lose it……….
- Only keep small amounts of cash in your ‘everyday’ cash pocket, keep a backup reserve somewhere else. Then when you buy a coffee or a roadside treat you only pull out a modest amount of cash, not your whole bundle! In East Africa local people often pop a few notes into the top of a sock to keep it safe!
- Be aware in unfamiliar places, be perceptive to who is behind you or close to you. Personal space is often crowded in some cities but investigate bumps or pushes immediately.
- Be careful if travelling long distances on public transport and you want to sleep. Make sure that your belongings are secure, close bags and ‘wrap an arm’ over them or use them as a ‘pillow or cushion’ etc.
- Use common sense when strangers offer help, 99% of the time it will be genuine, but be aware of that 1%!
- Remember that a well used bag or small backpack will attract less attention than a brand new for the trip, ‘all singing and dancing’ day pack!
- Go native! Seriously, look around you. What is everyone else doing? Look at the locals if you want to at least avoiding looking like a tourist or backpacker. Keep it sensible though.
- Know where you are going and look like you know what you are doing; looking lost or uncertain can make you vulnerable in the city.
- Establish clear communication lines both to your field office and also with your folks back home. This will be reassuring to you in case of an emergency and also socially, especially on those days that are just a little bit too much. Fortunately most places now have mobile networks and even wireless connectivity.
- This is a ‘live’ list……do you have any advice? Ping me an email or leave a comment!
Now I want to select this list and delete it! Why? Well, because it sounds terrible and paranoid when it’s written down in black and white!
But relax, volunteering abroad is not full of trauma and disaster! Be sensible guys, follow these tips above, add some of your own experiences and you will avoid any trouble. Just keep it all in perspective OK?
And above all, talk to your fellow volunteers, especially those who have been around for a while as they will be your best source of relevant and up to date info on what to look out for or be wary of.
Your volunteer organisation will have an evacuation plan should the worst happen, which fortunately is very, very rare. However, personally you can have your own ‘escape’ pack which should contain as a minimum:
- Your passport and any local or volunteer ID you have
- A few local currency notes, enough to grab a taxi and a meal or two
- A valid credit card
- A list of your Next of Kin contact details
- Your mobile phone with spare credit
- Any medication that you need
The reason I call this your ‘escape plan’ is because it contains everything that you will need to simply escape or flee your current environment.
To explain; cash to get a cab/pay someone to take you to the airport/embassy. A passport and credit card to book a ticket out if required. A phone to contact your family to let them know what is happening and that you are safe (ish!) and your meds if you need them. End of. Evacuated.
The theory is that if you prepare for the worst, you’ll never need it!