It’s important to experience life as much as possible, and one of the best ways to do that is to travel. Wherever you decide to go, with friends or alone, it’s important to ensure and prioritize that you travel safe.
Below are some tips to keep in mind to travel safely while abroad.
Travel Safe: Prepare Before You Go
Preparing for a trip to another country requires some preparation and anticipation of what could happen. This is not thinking negatively or being conservative; this is about travel safety and being smart while you’re far away from home.
1 – Research Your Destination
This goes without saying. You want to know what you’ll be getting yourself into. Look up local customs, local wardrobe necessities, and what you’ll need to do, if anything, regarding dressing appropriately and being respectful in that societal atmosphere.
In addition, look to see if there are travel advisories in the region you’re interested in and why those travel warnings exist. Not every warning will necessitate canceling your trip. In addition, find people who have been where you want to go. They can be your best source of information.
Travel safety warning information can be found on the State Department website. Type in your destination, and warning levels, vaccination, and visa information will all pop up.
Travel Safe While You’re There
2 – Stay Away From Known Crime Areas
This sounds so obvious, but circumstances when you’re abroad can put you in spots you don’t want to be in or didn’t anticipate.
For instance, what if when you’re there, you find out about a cool food spot or local hangout that requires you to navigate some sketchy streets? Depending on your travel budget you may say “hey I can just walk it, I’ll be fine”. You may feel safe because, up till that point, you’ve only been in the safer parts of your destination. That false sense of security can backfire on you.
Don’t let it become an issue. If you know you will have to put yourself in an unsafe spot, do so as safely as possible. Example: splurge on a taxi, so you don’t have to walk; hire a local guide to help you (especially if you don’t speak the language); take the long way around (if this is possible). Or, the safest choice of all: don’t go there.
Some things just aren’t worth it.
3 – Check in With Friends & Family Regularly
You’ve likely told multiple people that you’re going to your amazing destination. Designate an emergency contact and make it a point to check in regularly and tell them that you will. This can be done by connecting to local wifi and shooting a text on Whatsapp or sending regular emails, or even buy a calling card and do a quick phone call.
4 – If Traveling Internationally In A Group: Stick Together
You will be in a better position to travel safe in a group than traveling solo, especially if you’re roaming around in an area that’s known to be unsafe.
….if not possible, or you decide to split up, then have regular check-in times or a dedicated place to meet to ensure everyone remains accounted for.
5 – If Traveling Alone
Personal travel safety is a must. Do number 3, and then see if you can make buddies with people you meet, or if you’re doing a group tour, find a friend in the group. You don’t need to trust these people with your life (and you shouldn’t, you barely know them), but be friendly so that someone notices if you’re not where you’re supposed to be.
6 – Be Vigilant About Your Valuables
To travel safe is to be vigilant.
I’ve heard stories of people going abroad in travel groups, and, for instance, at breakfast, they leave their bags at the table to use the restroom. They assume that others in their group will keep an eye out. Yet, they return to find valuables missing.
Carting all your luggage and huge bags to the bathroom is annoying; however, keep the essentials with you AT ALL TIMES.
That being said, don’t be careless about how you carry your purse (i.e., keep it close to your body, there are pickpockets everywhere!), and make sure the one you have has a zipper. Also, don’t keep your cell phone in your back pocket.
7 – Watch Your Actions/Behavior
Some countries maintain strict standards of behavior, and violating them can get you into a lot of trouble. For instance, my parents used to live in Singapore. It’s a very clean country, and they are crazy about keeping it that way. Spitting gum on the sidewalk, even, is forbidden.
So be respectful and cognizant of where you are. You are a guest in someone else’s country. Honestly, if you’re unable to adapt to foreign customs, then you probably shouldn’t visit (in my humble opinion).
8 – Don’t Follow Salespeople Into Private Areas
As a foreigner, especially from the US, you’ll be approached left and right by vendors trying to sell you something (I’m imagining visiting India in my head as I write this). Many will ask you to follow them to their “shop” or “stash”…
Do. Not. Follow
Stay in public areas and have them bring their merchandise to you, or better yet, find another vendor who’s less creepy. There are a lot of scams that occur in foreign countries. It’s important to keep an eye out for what doesn’t seem right. This is especially important if you don’t speak the language and don’t have a guide with you.
If they keep pestering you and telling you to follow, turn around and walk away.
9 – Trust Your Instincts
Sometimes someone seems super nice and friendly, but you’ll have warning bells go off in your head. Don’t ignore those. Your instincts are not only your strongest guide to travel safe but can also be your greatest source of protection. If something feels off, it probably is. If you experience this, listen up and change whatever you’re doing until you feel ok again.
10 – Travel Safe With Information Handy
In the era of smartphones and the Internet, everything we do and all the information we carry is online, in our email, in the Cloud, or on a Google doc. However, what if you’re phone dies? What if the wifi won’t connect? What if there is no wifi? What if the international data plan you got is failing you?
Take pictures of everything essential: Your passport, hotel name, address, and phone number; US Embassy address and phone number; your parent’s or significant others’ cell phone numbers.
Alternatively, in case your phone dies: take hard copies. I’m personally an Excel spreadsheet fanatic, and I’ll make travel spreadsheets for all my trips with all the info and print it out for myself before I go.
This may sound paranoid, but I have a phone that doesn’t work when I’m abroad and wifi problems are real. Knowing that you don’t have immediate access to the outside world can be scary. I feel better knowing that I at least have the information readily available and could ask for help if I needed it.
If you’d like a travel template to help you keep all of this important information in one place, then enter your email below! The spreadsheet is preprogrammed to total your costs, so you can easily track your budget.
11 – Learn Some Essential Phrases
If you’re traveling solo to a country where you are not fluent in the language, consider doing this before going. Learn some key phrases to help you get around and ask for help, should the need arise.
“Where’s the bathroom?”
“I need help. Can you help me.”
“How do I get to…”
The word for “police” or “official.”
The word for “fire” (because honestly, you’ll likely get more of a response by shouting this than anything else)
“How much is this?” (make sure you aren’t being cheated out of your money)
12 – Travel Safe By Watching Your Health
This is a slightly different take on staying safe, but consider safety in the form of protecting your health and wellness. Getting sick or injured in another country is not ideal. Consider these:
- Wear closed-toed shoes in crowded areas
- Use hand sanitizer judiciously
- Take a portable first aid kit so that you have easy access to basic essentials
- Take Chlorox wipes with you in a small Ziploc bag. If you find yourself needing to touch something that’s less than sanitary, you can use it to clean up a bit
Covid Travel Safety Tips
In today’s global atmosphere and the recent Covid-19 pandemic, transmission of viruses is an added concern. As people get vaccinated, and borders slowly open up, this may still be something you worry about. Here are other precautions you can take:
- Continuing to wear masks in crowded areas
- Washing hands frequently
- Spending time outdoors as much as possible
- Maintaining as much social distance as you can.
If you’re going to an area that exposes you to more risk or planning to take part in activities that could endanger you, consider obtaining travel health insurance.
Most health insurance companies have a clause of buying travel healthcare benefits; if yours don’t, you can look to outside coverage.
Be vigilant – Watch your back and use common sense
Be respectful – Every culture and society is different
Be prepared – You’ve got to have your own back