Here at WiFi Tribe, we love adventure, but at the heart of our core belief system is the idea of making the world our home. We thrive when we are travelling to different places and enjoying new cultures. But as beautiful as this world is, it’s no secret that as a community, we need to keep our security at the forefront of our minds. Even if you’ve travelled for years, some places are just tougher to navigate than others; your security challenges in Italy for example, are not going to be the same as they would be in Brazil. The risks vary, but it is still important to get into good habits regardless.
This is a comprehensive look at this whole subject and it's lengthy, so get yourself a tea.
Holidaymakers vs Digital Nomads
Before we get into the tips we want to share, one thing to note, is that digital nomads don’t travel the way holidaymakers travel. Most holidaymakers will stay in a hotel, be pampered by hotel staff, experience the tourist attractions, eat an obscene amount of food and go home. For us digital nomads, we take more of the attitude of an expat, and try and integrate into the culture of a place. We stay in Airbnb’s or in people’s homes, we work, we experience living as the locals do. Yes, we go to the iconic places that are present within the environment where we are staying, but we take it a step further and actually live in a place. We make it a home.
But what that means is that our security challenges and needs are different, and our approach needs to be much more thorough. We don’t have hotel safes to protect us, or armed security guards at the hotel complex. Our safety is almost solely our responsibility, and so we've got to take it seriously. We’ve been travelling as a Tribe for over two years now and as a result, we have a lot of things that we have learnt along the way that we’re delighted to pass onto you. These tips come from us as a team, but also from our members currently on location in Florence as well, so consider this a community contribution to the whole discussion around travelling safely.
Let's get started.
BEFORE YOU GO...
1) Do your research - KAROL - TRIBE MEMBER
Karol recommends doing some thorough research about where you’re staying. Do it before you leave and then do it when you arrive. Diego has this top tip;
2) Stay out of warzones - AMANDA - TRIBE TEAM
As an added point under the "research" banner, I wanted to raise this. Unless you are a war zone photojournalist, if there is civil unrest at a dangerous level, a war happening, or an event that makes it dangerous to be a foreigner in your chosen region, steer clear until things settle down. We love adventure as much as the next person, but life is valuable, and if you are not there adding to the greater good, or providing a public service, we advise you not to risk it. Anything can happen anywhere, it’s true, but to wilfully put yourself in harms way seems like such a waste. International travel alerts can generally be found on your government’s website, so check there in the first instance for up to date information on the safety of the countries you’d like to travel to.
3) CHECK THE WEATHER - BRITTNEY - TRIBE MEMBER
Keep an eye out for unusual weather systems that can cause havoc across the globe. Some things are predictable but things like the direction of hurricanes and storms and tornadoes can flag up various surprises. Whilst you can never account for all freaky weather behaviour, check and double check each time you travel to a place regardless of whether you've been there before. It's an obvious point, but complacency can cause you to miss it and it can cost you dearly.
4) DOWNLOAD GOOGLE MAPS...OFFLINE - AMANDA P - TRIBE MEMBER
As much as digital nomads do all they can to ensure an almost constant wifi supply, sometimes when you need it most, it's not available. So prepare. Downloading google maps offline means that if you're in a fix, you can still get home or get to where you need to be.
Whilst we're on the subject of maps; have a quick study of the route you're planning to use so that you don't have to worry so much about carrying your phone in your hand constantly. If you're memory skills aren't great, then Tribe Member Nolan suggests putting your earphones in so you can hear the travel directions as you go, and minimise the amount of time spent holding your phone.
5) CHECK THE Dress Code - wt team
The reality is that, what is considered appropriate clothing in some parts of the world, is not going to be well received in other parts of the world. Be wise and pack with the different cultures in mind. (We don’t condone harassment of any kind based on what ladies wear, but if dressing a little differently facilitates a more comfortable travelling experience, it’s definitely worth doing). For the guys, whilst this issue may affect you less, it's still good to check that you've got appropriate clothing for where you're going.
Another point about this is to check what works with the climate - it's not always a culture thing. Sometimes you need to wear a headscarf to protect your head. You may need to cover up to protect your skin. So check it out and act accordingly and don't get into hot water over poorly thought out wardrobe choices.
6) SURVIVAL SKILLS AND KIT - BRITTNEY - TRIBE MEMBER
Brittney recommends that you get yourself trained in first aid; you never know when you might need it. Also she advocates preparing a survival kit - she includes a first aid kit, head lamp and water purifier in case you get caught out. It shouldn't take up too much space or add to much weight. Better to have it and not need it I'd say.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
1) “When in Rome...” - Andre - tribe member
"...do as the Romans do."
When you’re in a new place, it’s likely you’ll stick out like a sore thumb at first. So once any jetlag has subsided, put your glasses on and observe how the locals behave. The quicker you acclimatise and assimilate, the less unwanted attention you’ll draw and the more you’ll enjoy the travelling experience. This is going to be easier in some places and harder in others, but do your best to make the effort.
WiFi Triber Pia, recommends at least learning a few key phrases in the local language, so that in the event you’re away from a typically tourist-y area, you can communicate at least a little bit. In short, ditch the socks and sandals unless the locals are well into that as a fashion trend. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not putting on a disguise, but as a nomad, you want to at least look settled.
2) MANAGE YOUR MONEY - wt team
Keeping your funds secure is a concern for all travellers whether you are holiday making or remote working. I've grouped the money tips together just for ease but there are some excellent points that will make you go "I did not think of that!"
TELL THE BANK
Don't forget to tell the bank that you'll be using your card abroad. It'll save you the hassle of having to sort out all your transactions being blocked by an overzealous fraud team. It won't stop them blocking card purchases that they perceive to be a bit dodgy but it should make the transition much easier. Just give them a call and they'll see you right.
Carry what you need
ATM's are in most places, and unless you're in a really remote area, most places will take card payments. What that means is that the days of carrying huge amounts of foreign currency are over. Carry enough to eat something when you're out, maybe get an impromptu souvenir, and most importantly, enough to get home. Know how much that is before you leave your accommodation.
The same principle applies with carrying bank cards and ID documents; don't put all your eggs in one basket. Take one card and a small amount of cash for example as opposed to every bank card you own. Should the worst happen, it'll be far easier to recover and you'll still be able to get money out.
Not all ATM machines are made equal. Indeed, some of them are in fact the electronic version of a Venus flytrap. Don't get caught out.
Other top tips include, using a pre-paid credit card if you're concerned about ATM fraud. As an alternative you can discuss daily withdrawal limits with your bank; mine already has a limit of about £250 but everybody is different.
When you use an ATM check that there is nobody invading your personal space. It might be better to try and go in the bank to withdraw money, or go into one of those secure cubicles to withdraw your cash.
"THE BAIT" TECHNIQUE
Sometimes despite all our prior preparations, we'll still get held up for our cash. Diego suggests using the bait technique. Here's how it works:-
At this point, I'd like to add a great point from the team about staying calm if you do get robbed.
Nothing you own is worth your life. But if you can get away with giving the robbers $30 instead of $100 using this technique, why not give it a shot?
3) KEEP your VALUABLE ITEMS SAFE - WT TEAM
In keeping with the theme of not being robbed, let's talk valuables. As a digital nomad you'll potentially be carrying quite a lot of expensive gear. Laptops, cameras, drones, hotspot devices, phones, audio equipment etc. Travel insurance can insure you against theft, but it would be nice to not lose it in the first place. So here's what we've learnt.
- Don't wear flashy jewellery or expensive watches in an area where it's highly likely you'll be targeted.
- For areas where you're concerned about safety, don't walk around with your phone out. Alternatively, get a case that turns your $800 iphone into a $110 generic phone from Aliexpress to the untrained eye.
- In areas where pick-pocketers are particularly active (think busy tourist areas, carnivals, festivals etc) consider sacrificing your inner fashionista and wear your backpack on your front instead. If that is more than you can bear, you can store your valuables strategically. Clothes that are cut close to the body like skinny jeans can be great for hiding away cards and cash. For the ladies, the use of undergarments as storage facilities has been going on for generations. Nothing can hide cash like a good bra.
- Avoid using your laptop in dodgy areas where you can be seen by unscrupulous characters who might want to catch you out later on.
Nomad Tip to protect your laptop
Look out for Tricksters - DIEGO - WT TEAM
- Ignore people who want to sell you something on the road. Say no, don’t make eye contact, keep walking and don’t be bothered. Especially at night. The chance it might be two of them or they try to steal something while they talk to you could be high
- Keep your phone in your pocket or away from easy access to the street or passers by. We've had two phones stolen that way, in one case the person literally sat down next to us, sold us a pen, and left with the $10 for the pen and an iPhone. A common trick is to put a leaflet, product, paper, etc. over your phone while it's lying on the table next to you and when pulling away the paper, the phone gets pulled with it.
- Try to keep your bag right next to you, ideally touching your leg, so that no one gets the idea of pulling it away while you're 'in the zone' working.
5) CHECK YOUR TRANSPORT - andrea - wt team
Andrea recommends using Uber rather than normal minicabs where possible. The reason for this is that Uber rides are tracked and can be traced if something were to happen. If that isn't a possibility then really obviously take a photo of the drivers license plate or get your friend to do it. What this does is signal to the driver "I'm registering this drive, don't do anything stupid."
An added tip is to find a registered, trusted taxi company and only ever call them to pick you up and drop you off. This hugely minimises the risk of you hailing a cab ride with a weirdo.
6) TRAVEL IN GROUPS - WIFI TRIBE COMMUNITY
At night, especially in less safe areas/cities, try to buddy-up to walk with someone. If alone and a bit concerned for safety, I usually latch on to a group of other people by walking closer to them. There's safety in numbers! Also aim to stay on the busiest roads with light. If there's a short-cut that's not very busy with people/traffic, avoid it at night.
7) CHECK THE BATHROOM FOR BATS - SAM - TRIBE MEMBER
New places means new creatures, and new...insects. I don’t need to elaborate on this scenario, but check the room, check the bed, and make sure that if you’re in bed with that tarantula, in the living room with a lizard, or in a bathroom with a bat, that it’s an intentional choice. Know what you’re likely to come across in the region where you are staying to minimise the chance of you getting eaten by an exotic creature. That’s all I will say on the matter, thanks to Sam for raising a hilarious, but perfectly valid point to end quite a serious post.
So that's it! This is a community effort so as always, wack your thoughts into the comments section below. A massive thank you to our Florence Tribers and the wider WT team for their input into this post. If you're looking for an adventure to put all these tips to the test, you can check out our next locations and apply. We really hope the information will help you avoid some of the pitfalls and keep you and your livelihood secure.
Stay safe out there!
Amanda Scott is the editor in chief for The Wifi Tribe blog and passionate about creating an excellent resource for remote workers near and far to draw from. When she's not editing and writing, she's either cooking, eating or reading a good book. You can never go wrong with a good book.