It was 11pm, I was lying on the bed staring at the ceiling of a seriously lacking hotel room in Panama City. My friend had left earlier to go out dancing. It was our first night in a new city and we were just starting our 3 week adventure in Central America. I was too tired that night to go out with my friend. After debating whether she should go alone or not, she decided not to go too far, to a place close to our hotel that advertised salsa dancing. We were in a safe part of town, so at the time it didn’t seem like a bad idea.

We agreed if she wasn’t back at 1am I should start worrying. My friend didn’t come back at 1am, and not at 1.30 either.  About this time I started to worry. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Our room didn’t have WiFi to google “what to do if you lose your friend while traveling abroad”. I decided to stay calm and hope for the best. Maybe she was enjoying herself and I shouldn’t panic just yet. I would go downstairs and explain the situation to the hotel reception if she wasn’t back by 2am.

Don't be afraid to visit new places - most dangerous situations can be avoided with a little research and common sense. Here are our top safety tips.

At 2am my friend did come back, but not with the story I had hoped. She was taken by her taxi driver far away from the hotel to be robbed. She immediately noticed when she got in the taxi something was wrong, and when her driver started taking her away from her destination she let him know he was not going where she wanted. She kept talking to him.

Luckily my friend had been carrying Mace (aerosol self defence spray), and was able to get away without being robbed. She was able to spray enough Mace that he eventually slowed down and she got out of the taxi and ran. After her escape she found another taxi back to our hotel.

The experience left her terrified and made me wonder how safe we really were traveling abroad. Though we enjoyed the rest of our trip, I don’t think either one of us truly ever relaxed. We avoided taxis as much as possible. Though my friend didn’t blame me at all for what happened, I couldn’t shake the guilty feeling for not going out with her as it might have prevented the situation. I also couldn’t stop thinking about what I would have done if my friend hadn’t been lucky enough to make it back to the hotel. Would I have known what to do?

I am not sharing this story in order to scare anyone away from traveling. This happened around 10 years ago and both she and I have continued to travel and still love it! We both learned from this trip though, and I hope others might learn from our mistakes too.

Don't be afraid to visit new places - most dangerous situations can be avoided with a little research and common sense. Here are our top safety tips.

There are a few things we could have done to be more prepared for the unexpected and to prevent it from happening altogether. Here are 10 recommendations to keep you and your friends safe and prepared while traveling:

1) If you are in an unfamiliar city, wait to explore it during the day.  In daylight it’s easier to judge whether you are in an unsafe area, and it’s less risky than exploring for the first time at night.

2) Find out what official taxis look like before arriving at your destination, and write down the registration number of the taxi before getting in.

3) Buy a cell phone on arrival. In Central America you can find a cheap cell phone for around $20 with minutes. If you plan on bringing your cell phone research international plans with your service provider or purchase a local SIM card. Spending a little extra money to stay safe, on a trip you paid a lot for, is worth it.

4) Many countries have a special tourist police. Find out their headquarter’s location and write down their phone number before your trip.

5) Mace may not be legal to carry on a plane or store in your luggage, but there are other possible options like safety whistles and pepper spray. Always research what you can legally store in your luggage or bring to another country.

6) Carry numbers of friends and family at home so you know who to contact if faced with an emergency.

7) Stick together as much as possible, especially while traveling to unfamiliar places. If you travel alone, find a travel buddy, e.g. at your hostel/hotel, an expat cafe, or the Travelettes FB group.

8) Register your trip with your embassy – the US embassy for example offers a program called STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program).

9) Research safety concerns for your specific destination ahead of time.

10) Don’t go without travel insurance!

Don't be afraid to visit new places - most dangerous situations can be avoided with a little research and common sense. Here are our top safety tips.

After you’ve done everything you can do to prepare for a safe trip, know that traveling in a new country is potentially no more dangerous than commuting in your hometown. You do not have to be afraid to go to new places – most dangerous situations can be avoided with a little research and common sense.


This is a guest post by Ronda Wylie.

RondaRonda currently lives in Texas and dreams of moving to Guatemala. She spends a lot of her time blogging and taking a crazy amount of photos. She cannot imagine life without travel or hot chocolate. You can find her on Instagram @sayhelloblog or read about her travel adventures on sayhelloblog.com