Last week, I wrote about things traveling has taught me. Today, it’s about things I still don’t know how to do despite my 30+ years on the planet. When did being an adult get so complicated?
How to dance.–Even though my best friend is a dance teacher.
How to cook anything that isn’t tacos.–I mean I can follow a recipe but those people who can whip up amazing dishes with random ingredients in their pantry a la Chopped!–those people have real talent.
How to flirt. It is shameful the things I don’t know about flirting.
How to say no to something I really don’t want to do. I have been on a few dates with people only because I couldn’t say NO without making up something or coming across like a bitch. I have also done things I wasn’t overly thrilled about doing just because I couldn’t say no. And I’ve worked way too many extra shifts and done way too many extra projects because I didn’t want to say no.
How to wear make-up. You’d think that every female alive would know how to apply make-up properly. I am not even talking about special occasion make-up. I don’t even know how to do much more than put on lotion.
How to run. Properly. Seriously, who can’t run. That would be me. I have never managed to eek out more than 0.25 miles before collapsing in a heap of rubble thinking “Who would do this on a regular basis?” And I have managed to trip over a root and break not one, but two bones while running.
How not to take criticism personally. I try. I really do, but when someone say to me “That poem sucked.” or “that photograph is pretty generic” or “this dish is rather bland” what I hear is “You suck. You are generic and bland.” and then I think no one likes me.
How to sew. Clothes. Skin I can manage, and I did learn to darn socks when I was a child, but who does that anymore?
How to air-kiss. I mean what’s the point. Kissing should involve lips and tongues and attractive men. Otherwise, what’s the point…just shake hands. Or hug. I only wish people in France, Brazil, or basically anywhere not in the USA [or Japan] would come around to my way of thinking.
How to change a diaper. And I work with kids. In a hospital. Where diapers are being changed constantly. Who knew people at home didn’t actually weigh the diapers to see how much pee it contained. They just tossed them away. So cavilier–these people we call parents.
How to use a budget. I can set one up just fine, and I always have a very good estimate of how much money is in any given account and/or how much I owe. I am just not every good at following a plan.
How to drive a stick shift. I am ashamed to admit it. It has held me back in some of my travels. I have only owned 3 cars in my lifetime and none of those have been stick shifts.
How to manage time well. I often get distracted by things that are much more fun than the task I am currently doing. Cleaning out the file cabinet–boring. Reading all the stuff I found stuff in the file cabinet–much more interesting. Let’s not even get started about all the things I find on the internet at 3am.
How to have meaningful conversations. I am sarcastic at times. Snarky even. I make light of serious subjects. Humour is a defense mechansim and I use it well. Becuase when the time comes, how do you really bring up serious conversations. And if you can manage to braoch the topic–how do you have a honest conversation about the serious parts of life.
How to tell people what I want. Whether in the more personal aspects of life or the more general. How do you say no, I really don’t want to go to that party with you. I’d really rather just stay home.
16. How to ask for help. I grew up super independent. No one ever had to check my homework, wake me up for school, or tell me it’s time for bed. I probably went years without asking anyone for anything. Now that I am an adult, there are situations that I am in where I really need help. At work—you can’t save a dying person by yourself. At home–Christopher and Lucy need someone to look after them when I travel. In life–maybe just how to do all these things I don’t know how to do.
17. How to say I love you. Especially when I really mean it. I can tell the kitties I love them all day long, but people–especially the ones I am closest too–saying I love you usually causes me to break out into an episode that looks strangely like a heart attack on an EKG. But to those people–and you know who you are–I love you. I am glad you are in my life. There I said it. Just don’t think this will be a regularly occurring event.
18. How to tip people? I mean why is this even necessary. [and yes, I have worked in the service industry where most of my income was from tips] I am not going to tip someone for getting a bag out of the car for me. Or turning down my sheets [not that this happens often as I don’t usually take taxis or stay in fancy hotels] But why should I tip someone for doing their job. No one tips me when I save their life or their child’s life and I’d argue that CPR is one damn important service. I don’t even get a ‘great job on the rescue breathing’ or ‘those were some awesome chest compression you did’ so I don’t see the rationale behind giving a tip to the person who cuts my hair or cleans my hotel room.
19. How to break up with someone. Hasn’t been much of an issue of late because generally the guys break up with me. And while that sucks. At least I am not the bad guy.
20. How to select produce or meat. Grocery stores present a huge challenge for me. I usually walk around looking lost. And I don’t generally buy more than bananas. It’s the only thing I know I can’t mess up. Unless I select a plantain by accident.
21. How to match shoes and purses with my outfit. Which is possibly the real reason I don’t carry a purse. Or have a wide variety of shoes to choose from.
22. How to really work my cell phone. It’s a phone, people. And that is what I use it as. Occasionally I use it to look up something on the internet or post something to Facebook, but that’s about it. I don’t tweet, pin, or do much more from my phone other than talk and occasional text. I know…I sound so OLD. [I am getting better at this one though]
23. How to do cool things on the computer. Ok, so I have a blog. I am fairly good with a camera, but Photoshop–I have no clue. Making cool videos–no idea. I can crank out research papers with the best of them, but figuring out how to present them using SMART technology is beyond me.
24. How to work an ipod…or any MP3 player. I am probably the last person in the USA who has never owned a MP3 player. In fact, I have no apple products of any kind [see #22–what would I do with an iphone].
25. How to pack a real lunch. I always end up packing too much or too little. It’s never just right. Especially since I work the night shift at a place that has no cafeteria service overnight, I have to bring everything that I might want. [Well, they do still have soup, applesauce, and milk]
26. How to walk in heels. Especially the spiky ones.
27. How to network. I am horrible at this. I hate talking about myself in general, and I especially hate promoting myself. But I have taken small steps to work on this. Baby steps are better than no steps
28. How to use a fire extinguisher. Only because I have never had to. I have to take the yearly competency exam at work. I know what PASS stands for, but what if I can’t get the pin out?
29. How to kick someone’s ass when necessary Literally and figuratively–I struggle with this.
30. How to properly start a fire without matches –and I call myself an adventurer…[shakes head in shame]
It’s birth-week. I am one of those people who prefer to celebrate the entire month, but especially the week of. I am hitting the age where people are asking questions such as “Are you ever going to settle down and get married?” [Maybe] “Are you ever going to have kids?” [ NO] “Are you ever going to get a house of your own?” [hopefully sooner rather than later]. I am sure all of these questions are not intended to make me feel bad about my decisions to forgo a conventional life, but are just out of curiosity. At least, that is how I choose interpret it. So in honor of my 30-ish years on the planet, here are 30 ish things I have learned from traveling.
Mountains, hiking, clouds, history, photography…these are just a few of the things I’ve encountered while exploring the world.
With each new country I visit, I become acutely aware of how many there are left for me to see. The world is a big, amazing place, and I will likely never run out of places that I want to explore.
2. Solo travel is not that scary
I am an introvert. It takes me awhile to get to know people. I don’t always talk to strangers. I don’t like to make plans. I used to think that solo travel wasn’t for me. I didn’t think I could enjoy it. I didn’t think I could handle it, to be honest. But I underestimated myself. I am a different person when I travel. Still somewhat quiet, but being alone makes it easier for other people to approach me. And I DO talk to strangers, and I can make friends. Now, it’s hard to imagine traveling any way other than on my own.
New York City comes to mind. Yes, it has everything. Yes, it is the center of American culture. Yes, it has amazing museums, history, architecture, Broadway, ect, ect. It was interesting. It was enlightening, but I didn’t love it. I think it was just too much. Of everything. I am glad I went. And I don’t think I’ll ever go back on my own. And that’s OK.
4. Technology has changed the way we travel
My first trip aboard was in 1997. When I learned I was to be in England all summer, I went to the local [English] library, researched day trips, and weekend trips. I went to the train station and got a copy of the timetables from Stafford. I wrote letters and sent postcards and used the phone infrequently because international rates were so expensive. I used a lot of film. Now, I can do most of my research from home on the internet. I take photos on my digital camera and upload them to my website wherever I have a wireless connection. I travel with a Kindle and a digital camera. I use my Kindle to read tons of books, my cell phone to Skype people at home, and Facebook is an amazing way to keep in touch with new acquaintances and old friends.
5. The world is not as scary as the media would lead you to believe
I no longer watch the news on a regular basis because if I did, I’d never leave my front yard, but if you’re like most people and get your opinion of the world from the news and movies, you probably view it as a dark, dangerous, and scary place. A place where terrorism is widespread, people kidnap tourists for ransom, and the likelihood of being robbed, maimed, or otherwise harmed is alarmingly high. The reality, of course, is that the world is not actually scary at all, so long as you keep your wits about you. At least, no scarier than some places in the USA.
6. A country’s history is not indicative of its present or future
If that were the case, I would have never visited Colombia. Or Serbia. Or I may be planning a trip to Mexico. Certain parts of the world have particularly dark pasts — war, genocide, communism, terrorism… But the truth is, NO country can boast a completely peaceful history. [Especially not USA] Instead of judging a place by its past [and perhaps avoiding it because of that past], it’s better to look at a country as it is right now. Don’t write a destination off just because of something that happened there 10, 20, 50, or even 100 years ago. By the same token, don’t automatically choose a destination you loved 10 or 20 years ago without taking into consideration today’s current events. People change. So do countries. And governments. And policies. [Let’s just say I would be planning a trip to the US if I didn’t live here].
7. I am incredibly lucky to have the passport that I do.
Yes, it was a pain to get my Bolivian visa, and $135 to boot. Yes, I had to make a trip to the Brazilian consulate in Atlanta to get my Brazilian visa [another $150], but there’s no doubt about it– my American passport is a very valuable thing. With it, I am able to travel virtually anywhere in the world. Even though I have to have visas for some countries, I realize how lucky I am to have been born in the United States and have all the rights and freedoms associated with my citizenship.
8. Being an American does not have to be a negative thing
I know some Americans who are ashamed of where they come from — especially when they travel. They say they are from Canada, or wherever. I have done this once, but only after someone assumed I was a Spaniard -I didn’t correct him. Big assault rifles were involved. People were ‘escorted’ off the bus. They didn’t get back on.
This one is particularly difficult for me. I have state pride. I often readily admit I am from South Carolina, one of the United States, but when I just say USA, a lot of people say California? or New York? When I say that I am closer to Cartagena than California, people don’t believe me…until I break out a map. But I am getting better. Most people I’ve encountered around the world love Americans. They don’t necessarily love our government or world policies [and to be fair, I don’t necessarily love our government or world policies], but they love us and are open to learning more about us.
South Carolina has beautiful mountains with many creeks and waterfalls in addition to a gorgeous coast on the Atlantic Ocean.
9. You cannot judge a culture that you know nothing about
There is just enough true about stereotypes to make them true. Having said that, I believe that having an open mind will help you realize that stereotypes never fully represent anyone. You cannot judge a culture if you do not understand it — and basing your understanding on a stereotype does not equal understanding. Before you pass judgment on traditions or beliefs, take some time to get to know the culture you are judging first.
10. It’s OK to keep returning to a place you love
Even though the world is huge with endless places to discover, I’ve realized that some places will keep pulling you back. I visit the SC coast at least once a year. I will probably go back to Argentina and Colombia at some point in the future. You will leave bits of your heart in different corners of the globe, and those places will call to you periodically. And this is OK. You don’t always have to go somewhere new to be a “traveler.”
I’ve been to London 5 times, and plan to return every single time I visit Europe. It is a magical city.
11. Having an open mind will take you far
It’s OK to have a plan. It’s better to scrap the plan if something better comes along. Traveling with an open mind will allow you to have amazing, unforgettable experiences. Forget what you think you know, and life will be much more rewarding.
12. We are not so different after all
At the end of the day, things like language, skin color, religion, and culture differentiate us much less than we think. No matter where you go in the world, people want the same things: To be successful. To be happy.To care for their families. Keep this in mind whenever you start thinking “us” and “them” thoughts. Because, at the end of the day, our dreams and goals are not that different. Even if we have different definitions of successful and happy.
13. People back home may never understand
You are the only one who can truly appreciate your travels. When you return home from a trip and have all these amazing memories and experiences buzzing around in your head, chances are your friends and family back home won’t be nearly as interested to hear about your adventures as you’d like them to be. They won’t care you taught health classes in Spanish with the Caribbean looking over your shoulder. They make look at the photos–once, but while you were off traversing the world, they were carrying on with their normal lives. [One friend had a baby. Another got married. And those with kids already–well, those kids weren’t babies when I returned home.] They may never understand, and I’ve learned that you just have to come to terms with this.
14. Every destination has something to offer — you just have to find it
I didn’t love New York City. Or Lima, Peru. Or Santiago, Chile, but I found something in each place that was cool. In NYC, it was the zoo and Central Park. In Lima, it was its proximity to the coast, and in Santiago, it was just hanging out in the main square people watching. Maybe I’m just an overly positive person, but it’s my belief that every place — no matter where — has something interesting to discover about it. I try my best to discover these redeeming qualities about a place wherever I travel, and I think it helps me enjoy the whole travel process more.
15. When the universe sends you signs, pay attention
Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of signs from the Universe, pointing me down this path or that one. And, finally, I’m starting to pay attention. Whether it’s related to travel or not, if Fate or God or the Universe or whatever is sending you signs, you’d better be listening.
16. You and your excuses are the only things holding you back
People often tell me how they wish they could take a month off to go somewhere. My answer: Well go. Their usual reply: I can’t. I’ve got ___________. Maybe that’s true. Maybe its just an excuse. If you want to travel but currently aren’t it’s probably because you are making excuses. YOU are the only thing truly holding yourself back. You can make time by prioritizing and planning ahead. You can save money by staying in hostels and using deal websites like skyscanner.com. You can manage the responsibility smartly. You can bring children with you. And you can overcome the fear.
I love traveling abroad. It has a certain amount of glamour associated with it, but over the few last years I have traveled to Washington, DC and New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle. The entire USA has so much to see from the Grand Canyon to Florida Keys to Crater Lake to barrier islands. I could never leave the USA and still see something amazing on every trip I take.
18. Being nervous is natural
Being nervous is natural when it comes to traveling. I’m not any braver than you are. There have been several times when I’ve seriously considered canceling a trip or an activity at the last minute because I was scared. [OK, I actually did cancel a couple things] Scared of the unknown because travel is full of unknowns. It’s pushing through this fear and nervousness that really make you brave.
19. You really can make lifelong friends while traveling
Yes, it’s true that traveling long-term often means having to say a lot of goodbyes. Frequently. But it also allows you to meet a ton of amazing people who love traveling just as much as you do. Occasionally, you’ll form bonds so strong that things like distance and time won’t matter. With technology today, maintaining international friendships is easy. And having friends all over the world is never a bad thing.
We were neighbours in Peru; then I vistied her in San Francisco and Seattle.
20. Getting lost can sometimes be a blessing in disguise
I get lost all the time–even in my own hometown. Sometimes, though, losing the map and just allowing yourself to get lost can be a great thing. As long as you don’t find yourself lost in a bad neighborhood or otherwise dangerous situation, being lost can help you discover a place in a unique way that you just can’t do by following a map or a guidebook’s suggestions. You’ll stumble across tucked-away restaurants, funny street art, and scenes most people probably don’t see. You may even get to talk to some locals about non-travel stuff!
21. Being able to read a map is crucial
Despite smartphones and Google Maps and all that, being able to read an old-fashioned paper map is still a great skill to have. Why? What if you end up somewhere without internet access! Or travel without a smartphone. [I never take my smart phone out of the country]
22. Hostels are a great invention
I love hostels. I love that I can have a room without having to pay for the entire room. As a solo traveler, I loathe paying for an entire hotel room that charges the same price for one as it does for two or four people. They are affordable, usually centrally located, and allow you to easily meet other travelers wherever you are. Sometimes they are really nice, too.
23. A travel style can change
Just as there’s no one travel style that works for everyone, there may not even be one travel style that works for you all the time. As you grow and age and gain travel experience, your style may well change. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A backpacker can stay in a 4-star hotel, just as a comfort-seeking traveler can rough it in the bush.
24. Don’t compare your travel style to anyone else’s
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that they know the “right” way to travel. There’s only the way that works for YOU. Whether you’re a budget backpacker or a luxury seeker, just travel the way that you want to and ignore everyone else. In the end, you will be a much happier traveler.
25. No one cares about my eating/drinking habits
I’ve never been a very adventurous eater, and I don’t drink alcohol [anymore]. I always figured people would judge me for this. But I’ve learned over the past few years that trying weird new foods can be fun. And I’ve learned that most people accept that.
26. Travel gives you wisdom. On so many levels. Culturally, socially, historically. I can’t think of an area where travel hasn’t helped me in some way.
27. You will learn patience when you travel
You have to. I am a fairly patient person to begin with, but traveling and especially taking public transportation in out of the way locations you have to be patient.
28. Say ‘yes’ even when you want to say ‘no’
I have said ‘yes’ to lots of things while traveling that I wouldn’t have agreed to at home… Saying ‘yes’ to a date with a matador. ‘Yes, please’…Signing a lease on an apartment in a foreign country. ‘Yes’ twice–actually…Spending the night in a stranger’s house ‘Ummm, yes’ [not without hesitation]…Eating strange foods ‘yes…um ok’. It is easy to say no, especially when you are out of your comfort zone. Say yes. As long as you don’t die, it will at minimum be a learning experience.
29. People are generally good and it’s OK to talk to strangers
You don’t always have to be on the go in order to meet people. I love nothing more to park myself on a bench/cafe/ect. and just people-watch. Sometimes I even talk to them [gasp!] If you’re like me, you probably grew up listening to the “don’t talk to strangers” mantra and watching videos in elementary school about ‘Stranger Danger’ . But perhaps we should rethink that golden rule. I am living proof that talking to locals and fellow travelers when you travel can only enhance the experience.
30. We don’t need as much as we think we do
Packing seems to be a major headache for a lot of people. I pack basically the same whether I am traveling for one week or six months. You don’t need all that stuff you think you need, and technology comes in smaller and faster packages every day.
31. It takes time to transition to new things
In my first weeks traveling in South America, I felt lonely and unsure of how I would continue to live this new life for so long. Then I transitioned to my new life and the new rhythm of it all and it was okay. I realized that I needed ‘transition’ time every time I changed cities and said goodbye to new friends or even hotel rooms. I would get to my new destination and would feel a bit uncomfortable and a little bit lonely. But I knew if I gave myself a day or two, those feelings would go away and I would have new reasons to enjoy where I was and often times, I found I liked it even better than the last place. This is one of the reasons why SLOW travel is better than flying through an area just to say you’ve seen it.
32. It’s OK to ask for help
Several times I have been forced to ask for help. I hate it every. single. time. I hate having to ask people to watch my cat or check the mail. I hate having to ask for directions in a new place. I hate having to ask where the nearest store is, but you know what? Most people are happy to help.
33. It’s not always about the money
Traveling is almost always more expensive than staying home, but there are ways to make it more affordable. Once I showed up in a resort town on New Year’s Day night without a reservation or a place to stay. I went to hotel after hotel. It started to snow. I was getting very depressed. And cold. And hungry. I finally found a place that had one room left for 200 Euros. I didn’t want to spend that much money, but I took it. It was the best 200 euros I could have spent at that moment. A hot shower and a warm bed did much more than take the chill off; it rejuvenated my soul. And I was much more able to enjoy the rest of my trip.
34. Travel will change you in ways you can’t imagine
There are the things you can think of–such as making you a more educated world citizen, having stories to tell at any occasion, and realizing that people are people no matter where you are. Sometimes, when the timing is right, when the events line up in just the right way, you can recognize the moment that the change happens. Sometimes it can be profound – you can find a life’s purpose. For me, it was running my very own health clinic in Peru. This one volunteer project has changed the course of my life. Sometimes it’s small, like discovering you like gelato or pretzels or ceviche. Sometimes, it is just remembering who you wanted to be instead of who you are today. These changes, big or small, alter us as individuals if we let them. And the really cool thing is that it can become contagious.
Today is Valentine’s Day–a day where couples celebrate their love, or for the more cynical among us, a day capitalized on by card makers, candy purveyors, and jewelry hawkers. Despite any appearance I may give, I’ve been coupled up [and mostly happily coupled] every year since I was 19 years old. My sole year as a singleton, I happened to spend in Italy–a placed designed for romance. I survived asking for a table per uno when dining alone in Tuscany. I was treated to a free tour and then some by an amazing vespa driver who decided no one should be alone in Rome, and no one should be alone on their birthday. Never-mind I was meeting a group of people for a tour the very next day. What happens in Italy, stays in Italy [you know, at least the non-travel parts].
Overall, I am a private person and just because I choose to be on the internet doesn’t mean my partner does. I respect that. My current partner hates airplane travel, and doesn’t really enjoy long car rides– the most distance we’ve traveled together is Florida [about 8 hours in the car together]. And you know what, that’s OK. That means I have an automatic support system at home. I have someone to feed the cats and check the mail. I have someone who can contact banks and such if I’m abroad. Sure, we haven’t invented a way to literally ‘reach out and touch someone’ but with technology being what it is, I can video-chat, talk, text, or whatever anytime I’m gone. And missing someone makes coming home so much sweeter. And there’s always someone to pick me up at the airport. So, I am not a solo traveler. Or at least not by choice. Given the opportunity, I would rather share amazing sunsets or discover interesting things or go on hikes with someone than do it alone. But I’d rather do all these things alone than not do them at all. And therein lies the quandary.
Long-term solo travel is still an uncommon practice in the United States [as compared to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but getting more popular every day] so when I announced my plans to travel around South America for a year plus my news was met with trepidation more than excitement. Perhaps the main issue was that most of my friends, co-workers, and family had never heard of someone taking a year off and heading off without concrete plans. Add in the media hype of danger at every turn outside the US borders and I can *somewhat* understand their concerns.
However, sixteen months after leaving, I returned, all in one piece, only having one real story of danger to report. I have since traveled even more extensively, to places where I don’t speak the language, and *somewhat* off the tourist trail. I have not found the media view of danger at every turn to in fact be a fact. BUT in the early days of planning every time someone told me of ‘something’ happening ‘somewhere’ I wondered if I needed to be prepared for that–whatever ‘that’ may be [‘That’ ranged from the plague to kidnappings to earthquakes]. Eventually I said fuck-it-all, and just went with the fact that I’ve successfully gotten myself ‘un-lost’ on several occasions, have survived natural disasters, and have even managed to disentangle myself from unsavory characters while at home.
So while safety was always the first thing someone brought up upon hearing my plans, the ‘solo’ aspect was immediately next as in ‘aren’t you afraid to go by yourself?‘ or ‘what if you get lonely?‘ or several other well-meaning but misguided questions. The truth of the matter is that as an only child who grew up in the country instead of a neighborhood full of other kids being by myself is the least of my concerns.
For me, it was always the opposite. I am/ was worried other people would get on my nerves and I’d have no alone time. I have since learned that as a solo traveler I can have as much or as little ‘alone’ time as I want, and it’s always easy to meet up with other travelers for activities, day trips, or whatevs.
At 19, I planned to go to England with my then-boyfriend. I worked my entire freshman year of college to save up enough money for flights, train tickets, souvenirs, ect. A last minute change of plans on his part meant either go by myself or not go at all. And so I went. By myself. Which was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I hate asking for directions, or talking to strangers. I don’t trust easily. But I went anyway. And I had fun. I learned to trust my judgement. I learned not to be scared of everything and everyone. I hung out in pubs in England. I discovered the joys of hiking in Wales. I discovered Harry Potter in Scotland. Sure, I read some when I was out eating. I didn’t eat a whole lot of dinners in restaurants. I was 19! I wouldn’t have felt comfortable eating in restaurants with someone.
What I did learn is that young, solo female travelers are pretty much on the lowest of the low of in terms of travelers. Couples have safety in numbers, even groups of 2 or 3 females traveling together have it made compared to the single traveler, and male solo travelers — well, it’s just different for a solo man. And as I’ve gotten older, well, let’s just say I attract less attention than I used to– and I am more than OK with that. Of course I still get nervous if I get lost and followed by strangers; that’s just the evolutionary equivalent of being chased by saber toothed tigers.
There is no one-size fits all rule. Life, and travel, is about constantly assessing a situation, making predictions, observations, and acting based on those assessments. I do this everyday at work. Seeing people, assessing the situation, making decisions based on those assessments. Traveling [and working in healthcare] has greatly increased my ability to size up a situation and a person and make an accurate judgment. In talking to people from all walks of life, all cultures, backgrounds, attitudes I have created a mental book of knowledge from which I pull when I encounter something new. If safety is the topic, then I have only increased my safety by traveling and added new experiences from which I can draw in uncertain situations.
So what have I learned
Understand local cultural norms…. don’t expect them to conform to you. I always try to learn a bit of the local language before I arrive– even if it’s just hello.
Involve others in your safety…. let others [even if its just the hotel staff] know your plans.
Stay sober…. being fucked-up greatly diminishes your situational awareness
Know basic self-defense…. even if you never plan to use it
Carry travel insurance… stuff can be replaced; you can’t
Pay for your safety [even if that means a paying more for a cab or hotel versus the metro, u-bahn, subway…].
Enjoying local beverages should be fun; getting drunk while doing so should be verboten!
Which brings me to my final point– Anything can happen anywhere.
I have never been robbed while traveling. But I have had my wallet stolen and my car broken into in my driveway while I was at home [upstairs] minding my own business.
On the other hand, I left my backpack in a taxi en route to the Cancun airport in 2002 and not only did someone return it to the airport lost & found, but everything was intact, including cash [$MEX and $USD] and credit cards.
I’ve never been physically hurt while traveling… I can’t say the same for life at home.
Other than a few cat-calls while in Mexico and Italy, I’ve never been sexually harassed while traveling. Not so for life in the good ‘ole U S of A.
Above all, whenever you are out and about – at home or abroad – be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts. If something feels wrong, it probably is.