What starts out as a fun, exciting trip abroad can quickly turn sour if you encounter crime or unexpected unpleasant situations. However, these types of things are not absolutely inevitable. There is plenty you can do before and during your trip to stay safe and protect yourself. Remember too that the U.S. embassy office is a good place to seek additional help when abroad. Browse through these tips to get prepared before you take off!
Things to Pack
The trick to packing for a trip is to pick things that minimize the amount of attention that you attract. Take clothes that will help you blend in, rather than stand out. For example, use a discreet but secure wallet instead of the tell-tale fanny pack. Bring along documentation from your doctor along with any medications, plus photocopies of identity documents.
Things to Leave at Home
Many people make the mistake of bringing expensive cameras, video recorders, and jewelry on trips. Leave all of this behind and take cheaper versions that you can afford to lose. Don't bring along credit cards and identity cards that are not needed on your trip. Leave copies of your passport, itinerary, and other vital information with someone at home.
Study Your Destination
Brush up on customs, locations, and laws of the place you are heading to. The U.S. government's travel website hosts a wealth of information about foreign countries. You might also talk to other people who have been to the same place to get their opinions and little-known nuggets of advice. Make sure to check the news to ensure that it is safe to travel to the area in question.
Arrangements Before Leaving
Before you leave, there is much to take care of! Sort out your itinerary, so that you know exactly where you will be during your stay. Arrange your legal documents, including travel and life insurance, and your will. If you have children or pets, arrange for them to stay with a trusted family member. Register your travel plans at the Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan and inform your credit card companies about your travel plans.
Safety While Traveling
Use Your Street Smarts
When you arrive at your destination, while it may be tempting to head off the beaten path, stay safe by sticking to well-lit, public areas. Especially if you are traveling alone, do not head out after dark. Be careful of whom you speak to. Don't reveal personal or confidential details to people you don't know. In general, stay on your guard even while enjoying the sights and amusements.
Hotel Safety Tips
At the hotel, always keep the door of your room locked, whether you are in or out. If you do have valuables, it is better to keep them in a hotel safe rather than in the room. Avoid talking to strangers in the hotel, and do not allow them to enter your room. Get to know the hotel staff so that you can count on them in case of any emergencies. Finally, take a moment to review the fire escape route that is usually displayed on every hotel room door.
Public Transit Safety
Public transportation is an area where many tourists find themselves a victim of criminal or unwanted behavior. When you call for a taxi, only use well-known, reliable companies. On trains, trams, and buses, don't stay too close to strangers. Be wary around them, especially if they offer you food or a drink. If you have your own train compartment, keep it locked. At all times, keep your belongings close to you.
Driving On Your Own
When renting a car abroad, look for one that does not display blatant signs that it is a rental. Test out its safety features before taking the car and ask if you can do a test drive. Lock the doors even while you drive. Valuables and ID cards should never be left in the car. Don't stop for hitchhikers or in an area that seems shady. Keep a cool head while you drive and don't get involved in road rage incidents by swearing or using obscene gestures (even if the other driver is at fault!). Do keep a GPS unit with you, as well as a paper map (in case the GPS fails) for those instances when you are lost.
Keeping Your Money Safe
Using travelers checks or an internationally recognized credit card is a good way to avoid money being stolen from you. When you do use a credit card, make sure that you can see the salesperson swipe it. Be discreet when punching in any pincodes and cover the keypad with your hand in public. In case of theft or loss, contact the police and your bank as soon as you can.
Staying Out of Sticky Situations
Even though you are a tourist in another country, you are still expected to abide by their laws. Failing to do this can end up with a fine, or worse, jail time. For this reason, don't get mixed up in situations that involve drugs, firearms, or other illegal activities. Keep in mind that in some conservative countries, this even includes alcohol. Photography is another touchy issue. Some countries do not permit photography of military or governmental buildings, while in others it causes great offense to photograph the local people. Be careful when you buy antiques. Make sure that their sale is actually legal in that country, and that it is also legal to bring it back home.
By: Daniel Watson