Your big trip is on the horizon, your excitement is bubbling over. But all of a sudden your best friends warn you about muggers and protesters and all the other odd things that can spoil your long awaited vacation. Not to worry. We put together this super-duper list of travel safety tips from both our own experiences and those of others, so you won’t have to think about all that.
Exploring this crazy amazing world is generally a pretty safe thing to do, and learning some important travel safety tips will make it even safer.
For first-time travelers and those who haven’t done much traveling, venturing to another country can be unnerving. Unfamiliar surroundings, processes and procedures that confuse, people speaking a language you don’t know, stories about crime, and even news stories, can make all of us uneasy about traveling. It’s normal.
I had no idea taking a self-defense class as research for one of my novels would have an effect on other parts of my life. Travel is one of them.
After taking the class, I became more confident and less anxious about the unfamiliar. It wasn’t the actual self-defense skills that made the difference, though. I’m not going to be out there kicking butt like the heroine in my novel, but the knowledge that I could defend myself, even in a small way, gave me more confidence than I’d felt before. I have some control over my own travel safety.
No, I’m not advocating everyone should rush out and become a Ninja Warrior. But knowing a few basic travel safety tips can have the same effect and help make you a more confident traveler. Especially when traveling alone or overseas.
Knowledge is your Super Power.
Feeling confident comes from being sure about what you’re doing. We’re confident driving to the store because we’ve done it hundreds of times. Knowing what to expect is a freeing thing.
This is especially true when traveling. The more you know, the more confident you become. The more you do it, the more you know.
The first time I gave a speech to educate a roomful of people, I was so scared my hands shook and droplets beaded on my forehead. I envisioned big wet rings of sweat appearing under my armpits and ruining not only my new shirt, but also the talk I’d planned for weeks. But after I answered a few questions, I realized I could easily answer any question that came up. Why? Because I knew my subject well. My fears faded and I’ve been more comfortable speaking in public ever since. I simply need to know my stuff.
Knowing your travel safety stuff works the same way.
So, keeping in mind that knowledge is a confidence builder, following this super-duper list of travel safety tips should not only boost your safety level, but also help you become more confident when traveling. Being proactive is the best way to stay safe.
One caveat. There are so many things to consider when traveling, whether on the road, in the air, when you’re out and about, and even at the hotel, that it’s impossible to cover all of them. So, these travel safety tips cover the things I think you’re most likely to encounter in your travels and which, combined with a reasonable amount of preparation and logic, should keep you out of trouble.
Travel Safety tips: before leaving home
- Be sure to drop off a copy of your travel documents (passports, driver’s license, flights, and itinerary) with a close family member or friend. I also email our itinerary to family and close friends. That way if something does happen, they’ll at least have an idea of the place or part of the country we’re supposed to be visiting and when.
- Keep emergency contact details of friends or family with you in case you need them.
- Check the website of your home country’s embassy in the country you are traveling to for further tips and contact information. Most embassies keep a list of approved doctors and dentists for health-related problems. If you run into trouble, you’ll want to have the phone number of your embassy so you can seek help. Some countries’ foreign ministries offer smart travel options where you can register the details of your trip, along with your contact information in case of an emergency. Absolutely do this if it’s offered.
- Tell your bank and your credit card companies where you are traveling. Strange purchases will alert them if something is amiss. If you need extra money when traveling always use a bank, not an ATM.
- Become familiar with the cities where you plan to travel beforehand. Most every city has its questionable areas, so be sure to find out if any areas are more prone to crime than others. Odd as it may seem, highly trafficked tourist areas are both the safest place to be…and the place where pick-pocketing is common. More on that a little further on.
- Learn the exchange rate ahead of time. Don’t wait until you’re paying for something and can easily make a mistake.
- Get travel insurance. I can’t stress this enough, especially if you carry expensive laptops, cameras and other electronic equipment. World Nomads is a good place to get insurance for short-term travel. (less than six months)
- Call your hotel in advance right before leaving to make sure they’re open and nothing is happening to prevent you from staying. (see taxi driver scam at the end of this article)
25 TOP TRAVEL SAFETY TIPS: Know Before You Go
Air travel safety tips
Statistically, the number of air-related malfunctions or crashes are minimal compared to car crashes and other types of accidents, but there is always a chance.
And it’s always best to do what you can to make any of your travels as safe as possible. Some of the things you can do involve the choices you make.
- Book your own flight. This can make it so much easier if there happens to be a delay or cancellation of your flight. There are other reasons, too, as you’ll see further on. I know, a lot of you hate making flight arrangements? I dislike it myself. Checking website after website to find the best fares takes so much time, and then you never know if it’s the best deal or not. Well, never fear, Next Vacay is here. Next Vacay is an online App that does all the work for you. Just put in your trip details and you’ll get emails with all the results for the cheapest flights that apply to your trip. You will also get instructions on what to do from there to book your flight. You can get the free trial of Next Vacay and then later, if you like the service, sign up for the ridiculously low annual price of $25. If you don’t get results within 6 months, you can request to have your payment refunded.
- Choose an airline with the fewest incidents historically. Sometimes simple human errors are the cause of air disasters, and the experience of ground and support staff may vary from one airline to another. Some airlines have better safety ratings than others, so check to see if that information is available. The Internet is amazing when doing this kind of research. I swear you can find almost anything. Even old high school boyfriends.
- Choose a flight that has the fewest stops or layovers. This cuts down the number of take-offs and landings, which are considered the most dangerous parts of the flight.
- When booking your flight, make sure you don’t land somewhere in the middle of the night and then need to find your way to the hotel.
- Choose to fly in a big aircraft. Statistics show the chance of survival in larger aircraft is greater than in a smaller plane. This information is available for every flight on every airline.
- Pay attention to the in-flight briefing. The briefs give you important information regarding water landings, oxygen masks and emergency exits…instructions that could save your life. For extra safety, wear your seatbelt at all times, pay attention to warning lights, and listen to the flight attendants. If the flight attendants are asking you to stay in your seat during a moment of turbulence, there’s a reason. For answers to some of the most asked questions about flying, check out “This is Your Pilot Speaking” in which I interview a pilot with a major U.S. airline.
Ground Transportation Safety
All modes of transportation carry a degree of risk, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with a country’s safest methods of transport. For example, you might want to stay away from using the metro or rail system in some parts of a city where there may be a high level of criminal activity or incidents.
- Read travel blogs and tourism websites like tripadvisor.com or lonelyplanet.com to familiarize yourself with the safest routes to get about a city. How do you plan to see the various sites? Do you plan to walk, take the metro, a bus, train, or taxi? A little research and familiarity with what’s available will save you a lot of time when you arrive. Make sure you know which taxis are safe and won’t rip you off. The city’s tourism office should have this information. Coming from the airport, a hotel shuttle or airport shuttle is usually the safest if one is available.
- Make a quick trip to the city’s Tourist Information Center to get current maps of the city and ask the staff which places are safe and which to steer away from. I have always found the staff at Tourist Information Centers incredibly helpful.
- Most major cities will have a type of hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus that provides a safe way to get an overview of a city. In some cities we like to buy a day pass and use it as our mode of transportation to get around the city we’re visiting. We bought a two-day pass to see all the major sites when in Florence, Italy, and then walked to others sights from there. It worked beautifully.
Travel Safety on the Road
If you’re planning a road trip when on your next overseas vacation, it’s imperative to take a few precautions before getting behind the wheel. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), automobile crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for US citizens abroad. So, take these precautions.
- Make sure your car insurance coverage is good in the country where you rent a vehicle. If not, be sure to buy additional insurance. Some credit cards include car rental coverage if you use their card to rent the car, but not all incidents may be covered, so be sure to know before you go.
- Use a reputable car rental company and ensure the vehicle is safe and has working safety features like seat belts, mirrors, and emergency brakes. Keep a fully stocked emergency car kit when travelling on the road with back-up batteries, flashlights, reflective vests and a few tools in case you run into trouble.
- It’s also helpful to check stats on highway routes to establish which routes have high accident zones. A good GPS system will also alert you if there’s trouble ahead. Some rental cars are equipped with a GPS system to help you navigate the country, but if not, you can always rent a portable one. Most smartphones will also have a GPS system to guide you, and there are a number of Apps you can use. I also like to carry a map so I can double check the route because GPS systems aren’t always accurate. Trust me, I know.
- Perhaps the most important thing you can do when renting a car in another country is to familiarize yourself with your host country’s driving laws. Know the speed limits and how to navigate roundabouts. If you’ll be driving on the opposite side of the road than you’re accustomed to, it’s even more important to know the roadways and be alert at all times. You might even take a practice spin around the rental lot a time or two to familiarize yourself with the car before venturing out.
Before booking your hotel stay, use the Internet to read reviews and look at maps and pictures of the immediate vicinity surrounding the hotel of choice.
- Be sure to check out all the exits in case you need to leave the room in a hurry. Make sure all the functions in your room work when you arrive. Do the door locks work properly and all the lights work? Is there hot water? Do you have the supplies that should be there, towels, soaps, hangars, a safe, and any extras promised by the hotel when they booked your reservation? Finding out something is wrong before you leave to tour the city will save you a lot of hassle when you return tired and just want lock the door and relax.
- Always keep your valuables in the locked safe in your room. Lock away your travel documents, money, electronic devices and other valuables. Do this even if you’re leaving for a short period. You never know who has access to your room or who might gain access. If your room doesn’t have a safe, reception will have a secure location to store your valuables while you are out. Remember to empty the safe when you check out. It’s easy to forget when you’re in a hurry to leave for the airport or parts unknown.
- Be sure to use the dead-bolt lock and the safety lock when turning in for the night. If you want extra protection, you can use a portable safety lock in addition to the ones on the door. We always bring an extra safety lock along on our travels. When leaving the room for the maid to clean, we put the safety lock in the safe or bring it with us.
- Don’t automatically answer the hotel room door if someone knocks. If there’s a knock and you’re not expecting visitors, it’s a good idea to check with hotel reception to see if they have sent a staff member up to you for service.
- When we leave the room for any length of time, we leave the television turned on, generally to a news channel, and we put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. (except for the period when the room is scheduled to be cleaned) If we’re only there for two or three days and have plenty of towels, I’ll ask that they skip cleaning the room until after we leave. That way fewer people will be entering the room when we’re gone.
Travel Safety and Self Protection (again)
Oh-kay..if you really do want to go out and take that self-defense class, I won’t try to dissuade you. Knowing a little self-defense is always a good thing, but there are plenty of other things you can do to stay as safe as possible. We can never be fully protected, but being proactive and being aware of your surroundings when traveling is your best bet in staying safe. And here are some final tips to help even more.
- If you must walk around with your luggage, make sure it’s secured with a lock or a belt and never let it leave your hands when in a crowd. Or ever, really, unless it’s secured someplace.
- If you’re carrying a backpack that contains valuables, use both straps to make it difficult for someone to rip the bag off your body.
- Carry a cross-body purse for the same reason. I used to lug a large cross-body purse but have found a small one works best, especially if I’m doing something that requires a backpack. I can toss my small purse into the backpack if necessary.
- When walking around in an unfamiliar place, make sure you have an escape route. Get acquainted with a local map and avoid dark areas. Keep a mental note of landmarks and buildings, or a busy place that you could go back to for safety.
- Be alert. Situational awareness is critical. We tend to “switch off” when on vacation and ignore simple warning signs. Be friendly, but don’t share too much with strangers, especially details of where you’re staying and your itinerary. No need to be rude, but being vague is just fine. You can even say it’s not your first time visiting a certain place. This doesn’t mean looking at every person as some kind of threat. It means being aware of unusual situations and circumstances. See “Common Scams” at the end of this article. Stay in areas that are busy with other tourists and areas where incidents are less likely.
- Don’t be a soft target for pick-pockets. Thieves prey on rich tourists, so if you dress like a tourist and wear a fanny pack, you are a walking invitation to thieves. The same applies to wearing expensive jewelry and clothes that scream rich tourist. Wear costume jewelry if you must. You can easily check the Internet to see what local people are wearing in season and try to blend in. For both women and men, black is always a good choice.
- Carry as little cash as possible and don’t pull out rolls of cash when paying for something. If you carry a wallet with a little cash, you’ll have something to give a thief if ever encountered, but store most of your cash in the safe in your room when you’re out and about. We carry almost no cash when traveling and rely on our credit cards to carry the load. I also carry a cross body purse with RFID protection so no one can scan my credit cards as they walk near me. If you’re getting a new card for travel, but sure to get one that doesn’t have the overseas fees.
First off…you may never encounter a scam in any of your travels. Truly. But it’s important to be aware of the common scams perpetrated on unsuspecting travelers. Some destinations are obviously more prone to scams than others, so do your research there, too. Here are a few of the most common scams.
- Taxi drivers who tell you your hotel is a dump, under renovations or closed, and he’ll take you to a better one where you pay a lot more and he gets a big commission. Tell them you want to go to the hotel anyway. Best bet, take the hotel shuttle if the hotel has one.
- Spills on your clothing – while he/she distracts, someone else rifles your purse or backpack.
- The ATM helper – he wants to help you avoid bank charges, but what he really wants is to get next to you to skim you bank card with his electronic skimmer.
- The helpful tourist guide – wants to sell you discount tickets that are no good, or take you on a tour to get you in quicker, which usually costs more than the actual tickets, and he may ditch you in the process.
- Beggars, usually maimed, injured, deaf, blind or children. I know you’re good hearted, but don’t be tempted. It is a scam.
- Let me take your photo…with your camera…and poof, it’s gone.
- People, usually women or children, who want to give you something, a bracelet, flowers, etc. Then they will demand money. It’s also distracting and someone else may be picking your pocket or backpack.
- Unlocked WiFi and fake WiFi hubs can steal your information. Use only safe hubs.
- Luxury item scams…usually gemstones and expensive carpets. If it’s too good to be true, it isn’t.
- Men in uniform – fake police, usually in large cities. A civilian might approach asking you to buy drugs. A moment later an officer approaches, flashes a badge, then asks for your passport and wallet. Don’t give it to them. Ask for identification and say you’ll call the police department to verify. If they say no, simply walk away.
- Hotel Desk/fake calls asking to verify credit card information. Never give out this information on the phone. Tell them you’ll come down to do this.
- Over complimentary/flirty men or women, sometimes in pairs to distract or take you somewhere where the opposite of what you expect will happen.
Holy Toledo, Batman! That’s a truckload of stuff to remember…and now you’re probably wondering whether that trip is worth it or not. Believe me, it is! Don’t let these scams put you off. Yes, they’re out there, but they’re everywhere, even where you live. The chances of something happening on a trip isn’t any greater than staying at home. Unless you never go out.
Remember knowledge is your super power! Learn these important travel safety tips and soon you will exude confidence, and potential scammers will sense it and move on.
I’ve traveled worldwide for over 20 years and have had only one incident…the theft of a bracelet at the Vatican, no less…and I’d been warned. (see my article on the top 12 travel fears) Travel inherently involves risk, but as they say, no risk, no reward. Truly, if you follow basic travel safety precautions, and these travel safety tips, you are as safe as you are at home.
Looking after your safety is good common sense…and not doing dumb things. Travel safety is all about being a smart traveler, one who’s aware and prepared for the unexpected…and who avoids risky situations.
With all this knowledge (more than 25 hot travel safety tips) you can’t help but become a more confident traveler. And all that’s left is to enjoy the amazing country you’re visiting. Even without taking that self-defense class.
But if you get the chance…