Commuting to cities can be challenging and sometimes there might be some real safety concerns. This becomes more so when commuting to a new city, or while traveling overseas for work. Short and long term commuting to new locations can be made easier and safer if you can take some simple steps to know your environments, understand local customs (when relevant), and be aware of what to do in cases of emergency.
This post shouldn’t provide anything new to anyone, but sometimes a little refresher is good. All these things are common sense.
Before you go, understand the place you are going to travel to. There are many things you can do to get information on many levels. You can search online for information, and you can check websites like the State Department Country Information.
The more you read and familiarize yourself with this new urban environment, the better you will be prepared to deal with the commute.
Research should include, among other things, how to get to the hotel, or place you are staying, to and from the airport, the best routes to and from the office or work location, alternate ways to travel, whether public transportation is safe or not, whether you can rely on local law enforcement or not, the location of your embassy, or at least its phone number, and areas of potential danger (crime, etc) that you would need to avoid while in this new city.
I know it sounds paranoid, but think ahead how you’d react to a crisis, or an emergency while in this new location. What would you do? Who would you call? Things always happen when you least expect it, and based on my experience, counting on your employer or local law enforcement to get the help you need doesn’t always work well.
One thing I would suggest is that you enroll your trip in the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), if you are in the US.
And finally, prepare your stuff:
Again, all this might sound a bit paranoid, but based on experience, things happen, even in first world countries and cities.
Ideally, you are staying in a hotel close to your office or customer, allowing you to walk there. In this case, before you arrive, understand how to go from the hotel to the office, and back. Have a few routes ready. Use Google Maps or something similar to not only map these routes and know the streets, but also use the “street view” mode to familiarize yourself with the area.
If you need to take public transportation, like buses, trains, subways, trams, or taxis, research which of those are the best option, both in time and safety. You have to know when it’s best to commute, avoiding rush hour, and big crowds. If you will be stopping in a cafe or any other place, factor how to go to and from that place, and the delays this stop will bring. Plan ahead!
While commuting, try to not bring a big backpack or anything that signals that you are carrying anything expensive. Also, try to learn (research) how the locals look. If you are in a business area it’s ok to look like a business person, but if you are in an area where everyone is wearing jeans and tshirts, you will stand out.
Always keep your wallet slim. Only bring the things you need, and leave everything else at home. Keep the wallet and phone in your front pockets, and always remove your backpack (if you carry one) while on public transportation. Place the backpack with the front facing you, in front of your legs or crotch. This will help protect your stuff and you.
I’ve talked about general safety tips while commuting and traveling before, and I wanted to add to that post something a little more focused. It all comes down to common sense and knowing before you go. If you spend a little time researching where you are going, and what to expect, you have a better chance to have a pleasant commute. Always research, and remember the Urban Commuter Philosophy: