How to Keep Yourself Safe While Traveling Abroad
Eight Safety Tips for International Travel
Traveling internationally can offer even the most jaded traveler an incredible experience: days, weeks, or even months of excitement as you travel through new cities, check out the local cuisine, and experience new cultures. At the same time, international travel poses some unique safety hazards. By taking these key steps, you can enjoy your international adventure without sacrificing your safety, or causing accidental injury to yourself or that of your family.
1. Do your research before traveling.
Before jetting off to an exotic foreign destination, do some background research to assess the safety risk involved:
- How safe is the area? Travelers can’t guarantee their own safety, but some international destinations are safer than others. Start by checking the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory website to learn of any country-wide or region-wide dangers to avoid, which may include danger from political unrest, anti-U.S. sentiment, or health risks. Follow those advisories; if the State Department tells you not to travel somewhere, then don’t. After checking for travel advisories, do some internet research to get to know the local areas you plan to visit on your travels, all the way down to neighborhoods and even individual streets.
- How will you communicate and navigate? Do you speak the language of the country to which you are traveling? Can you count on finding someone there who speaks English? Can you navigate road signs, read menus, and understand social situations? Study up on the local language, and practice using a translator app, if necessary.
- Can you get a cell phone plan that will cover your trip? Your GPS (or the GPS app on your cell phone) will help you navigate around any area in the United States, preventing you from getting lost. Overseas, however, you might face hefty data charges any time you take your phone out—or in some cases, it might not even work. Contact your cell phone company to learn what options you have for travel through your country or countries of choice.
- Are there particular hazards you need to know about in a given country? You may want to take a look at current health hazards before deciding on your itinerary. What vaccines do you need to get to protect yourself? How long before you travel should you receive those vaccines? Some vaccines need time to become fully effective, so make sure you have a solid idea of what you might face as you plan your trip.
- How can you contact an embassy, if needed? You lost your passport or had it stolen, and now you have no idea how to get home. A disaster hit during your travels abroad, and you desperately need help. When things go wrong in a foreign country, knowing how to contact an American embassy can make your life much easier. Take the time to look up those procedures and vital contact information before you head out on your trip.
- What should you wear? Not only do you want to make sure your clothing is weather-appropriate, but some areas also have strict dress codes, especially for women. Make sure you know about any dress code ahead of time to avoid dangerous situations.
2. Make sure someone back home has a copy of your itinerary, and give your bank/credit card companies a heads up.
No matter how much freedom you plan to have as you travel around the world, make sure someone back home has a copy of your itinerary. Include as much information as you have about your whereabouts over the course of your trip and contact information, if possible. Include the following:
- Information about flights or any other scheduled transportation
- The locations you plan to travel through and when you intend to arrive at and leave each one
- Any hotel information you have before leaving
- When you plan to return from your trip
Ideally, you want someone to know where you anticipate visiting and how long you plan to spend there. Even if you take an open-ended trip to backpack across Europe or plan to visit Africa for a long-term safari, provide an idea of where you plan to travel to friends back home. As you check in throughout your trip, update your itinerary and contact information with people who are keeping track of you back home. In a worst-case scenario, this information can make you easier to locate or provide a basis for your last known whereabouts if you go missing.
Separately, call your bank and credit-card companies to let them know you plan to travel abroad. The last thing you want is to have a card declined and frozen when you go to purchase a souvenir, just because your bank flags the transaction as potentially fraudulent. A quick call to customer service can put a note on your account to allow purchases abroad.
3. Learn how to avoid common travel scams ahead of time.
Something about tourists seems to scream target to many scammers. Do some research about common travel scams before you head out on your trip and know how to spot them—and therefore, how to avoid them.
Prepare for the following:
- Taxi scams, when the driver turns off the meter or refuses to turn it on to begin with, increasing your charges as a result
- Group photo offers (a common tactic for pickpockets)
- “Closed” attractions, hotels, or shops
- Fake wifi hotspots or government infrastructure designed to steal information from your digital devices
- Fake event tickets
Take steps to protect yourself from scams throughout your travels. If it seems too good to be true, remember, it probably isn’t true!
4. Trust your gut.
Many travelers have found themselves approaching bad situations with their gut instincts screaming warnings at them, but they ignored those signs. They doubt themselves, perhaps, whether because of cultural differences, language barriers, or a desire for adventure.
Unfortunately, all too many times, failing to trust that gut instinct results in disaster. If an area feels unsafe, avoid it. If someone seems too helpful or eager for your attention, find someone else to offer assistance. While your instincts may not protect you from every potentially negative situation, they can offer a great deal of protection as you travel. Trust those instincts to help prevent yourself from falling prey to many common travel disasters.
5. Consider carefully what valuables you bring with you.
Some people take almost nothing with them when they travel. Others choose to head out with everything they might possibly need to make their vacations amazing.
Only you can decide what you really need to take with you when traveling internationally. If you work as a freelancer or need to be on call for work while traveling, for example, you may need to take along your laptop or other work supplies. Most people choose to travel with their phones, no matter where their travels take them. Other valuables, however, you may want to leave behind, such as expensive jewelry, pricey electronics, and other items that you cannot afford to lose.
If you do take valuables with you, have plans for securing them. Keep in mind that your hotel room or room on a cruise ship, while secure, may leave maids open access—and a Do Not Disturb sign may not stay in place on the door or stop a determined maid from sneaking in. Secure your valuables with a padlock or an in-room safe, rather than taking chances. Remember that a thief can easily unzip a backpack or pick your pocket without your conscious awareness. Go into your trip with plans for properly securing all of your valuables.
Also, carefully consider how much cash—both American dollars and local money—you carry with you when traveling. Your debit card or credit cards will usually offer a certain degree of protection against theft. Cash, on the other hand, may prove impossible to recover following a theft. Stay conscious of how much cash you carry and where you place it. Avoid flashing money in any circumstance.
Finally, have a plan for what might happen if you lose a valuable item. Consider keeping valuables in several different locations so that even if you face the theft of one item, you do not lose everything. Keep your passport and one emergency credit card, for example, separate from all of the other items you carry. Also, password-protect your digital devices and enable location features, such as Find My Phone, that allow you to delete contents remotely if a device goes missing.
6. Choose what you eat with care.
Food poisoning and local bacteria that your digestive system is not accustomed to can turn even the best trip into a nightmare. No, you cannot avoid eating while abroad. However, you can choose where and what you eat with care.
Consider the following:
- Cooked food is typically safer than raw food. Proceed cautiously when eating any raw food, including fruit and veggies. Fruits with thick rinds, like bananas and oranges, pose less of a risk than apples, grapes, and others that you eat whole, skin-and-all. Favor cooked veggies over raw ones. If you do eat something raw, ease your way into it. Have a nibble or two your first night, see how that goes, then add a little more the next.
- Do you see other people in the restaurant? As a traveler, you may want to travel off the beaten path to find those hidden gem restaurants that locals, rather than tourists, enjoy—especially in tourist-filled areas of the world where you may find it easier to find a restaurant offering American cuisine than one that offers local food. On the other hand, exercise some judgment about the number of people in a restaurant. If you come in to find it empty at a time of day when people should normally fill the restaurant, consider moving on to somewhere else, just as you would at home.
- How do the chefs and waiters handle food? If you can see into the kitchen or food preparation area, take a look at its overall cleanliness. In some areas, you may have little choice about how food gets prepared, but in others, you can choose to visit a restaurant that takes food safety seriously. If you notice servers coughing or sneezing into food or failing to observe proper food handling procedures, you should choose a different restaurant.
7. Avoid oversharing information about yourself.
In today’s social media-driven society, it takes only a few taps of your fingers to share an incredible amount of information about yourself. You may want to post photos from your trip or share information about your plans with everyone on your social media list.
While social media lets you keep incredible memories about your trip right where you can access them at any time, as well as allowing everyone you love to keep up with your travels, it also provides a wealth of potentially useful information to people who might want to harm you.
- Your social media information may inform thieves when to break into your home. As you travel through France or England, you may have no one at home to watch over your house. That leaves it vulnerable to a break-in.
- Your social media pages can make it easier to scam you. As you chat with friendly locals, keep in mind that they may use your social media information to hatch a scam or plan against you. The more information you provide publicly on social media, the easier you make it to scam you.
- Over-sharing can make it easier for people to find you. You do not want to fall victim to a stalker or kidnapper, or even a thief. Avoid giving specific names of places that you plan to visit or the hotel where you stay in each country until after you leave, especially if you add new local “friends” to your list while traveling.
8. Take out travel insurance, maybe.
When you travel, especially internationally, insurance can give you peace of mind. Travel insurance refers to a potentially wide range of insurance products, some useful, others less so. Coverage against trip cancellation and property replacement often sounds more beneficial than it actually is, because such policies often have lots of exemptions that limit when they will pay benefits.
On the other hand, overseas medical insurance supplements, particularly insurance that provides you with emergency transportation out-of-country to seek medical care, can save your life and your finances. No one wants to pay for a life-flight out of their own pockets. Finally, if you plan to travel somewhere known as particularly dangerous for foreign (especially American) travelers, consider purchasing a kidnap and ransom insurance policy to give you and your family a modicum of support in a nightmare scenario.
Traveling abroad offers enriching, magical experiences, but only when you take sensible steps to keep yourself safe and sound. We hope the steps above help you make the most of your next trip across borders or overseas. If you have sustained injuries on an international trip, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today.