Important Travel Safety Tips Everyone Should Know
After traveling the world for the past 10 years, I’ve learned a lot about staying safe – sometimes the hard way. Here are my best travel safety tips for avoiding trouble on your next trip.
For the most part, the world is a pretty safe place for travelers. I don’t want to scare you too much! However it’s wise to be prepared for the worst.
With that in mind, here are my best travel safety tips to help minimize your chances of something bad happening to you or your belongings during your travels.
Useful Travel Safety Tips
Learn Common Travel Scams
Wherever you go in the world, you’ll always find people ready to trick you out of your hard-earned cash. If you’re lucky, they’ll be kinda obvious – but there are plenty of craftier, professional con-artists out there too.
Everyone thinks they’re too smart to be scammed — but it happens.
I’ve come across. I recommend you learn them all – then fire up the Google and do even more in-depth research into the worst scams happening at your specific destination.
For example, the milk scam in Cuba. Broken taxi meters in Costa Rica. Or the ring scam in Paris. Every country has its own special ones to watch out for!
Forewarned is forearmed, and this research can help defend you from being tricked out of hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars (while suffering the kind of frustration and misery that ruins a dream trip).
2. Write Down Emergency Info
If disaster strikes, you might not have time to search for numbers for local police or ambulance services, or directions to the nearest embassy for your country. You may also be too stressed and panicky to think straight.
Don’t put yourself in that position. Instead, record that information in advance, and create an “Emergency Plan” for you to follow if things go badly. Save it on your phone somewhere (I use the Evernote App).
I also recommend you write it down on a small card or sheet of paper, get it laminated (easily done at your local office supply store) to protect it from moisture, and keep it in your wallet/purse.
That way, if something goes wrong out there, you’ll always know exactly who to call and where to go for help.
3. Check The State Department Website
The U.S. Department of State has a page for every country in the world, where it lists all known difficulties and current threats to the safety of visitors.
However, a big caveat for this one: it’s the State Department’s job to warn you about everything that could go wrong, which is sometimes different to what is likely to go wrong.
This means their advice is generally on the hyper-cautious side. Factor that in, while you dig up more on-the-ground information.
But researching travel warnings will give you a general idea of what’s going on in the country you’re visiting, and specific problem areas you may want to avoid.
For example, just because certain parts of Thailand or Mexico have problems, doesn’t mean you should completely avoid those countries.
4: Lock Up Your Valuables
Putting aside the fact that traveling with anything super valuable is usually a bad idea, there will always be something you absolutely cannot afford to have stolen. I travel with a lot of expensive camera gear for example.
Your job is to minimize the easy opportunities for theft.
Firstly, know that most bags aren’t very secure. It’s easy to feel that a zipped, even locked bag is a sufficient deterrent to any thief, and doze off next to it. Waking up to find someone’s slashed a hole in the side!
Always be aware of your valuables, and try to keep an eye on them in such a way that it would be impossible for someone to steal without you knowing. I’ll use my backpack as a pillow on train/bus routes that have a reputation for theft, and will sometimes lock it to a seat.
Secondly, call your accommodation to ask about secure storage options like a room safe, lockers, or a locked storage area. Carry your own locker padlock when staying at backpacking hostels.
5: Get Travel Insurance
You never think you need it, until you do. If you’re really worried about the safety of yourself and your gear while you travel, you can almost completely relax if you have some good insurance.
People ask me all the time if I’m worried about traveling with an expensive computer and camera. I was, when I didn’t have insurance for them. Now that I do, I’m not worried. If stuff gets stolen, it will get replaced.
Everyone should carry some kind of health and property insurance when traveling. Why? Because shit happens. Whether you think it will or not. It doesn’t matter how careful you think you are.
6: Ask Locals For Advice
If you really want to know which neighborhoods are safe and which might be sketchy, ask a local resident of the area.
Most locals are friendly, and will warn you about straying into dangerous areas. On the other hand, if a stranger offers up advice, it’s also wise to get a second opinion – just in case they don’t really know what they’re talking about but simply wanted to help (or worse, are trying to scam you).
Taxi drivers can be hit or miss in this regard. Some can be excellent sources for good information, others are miserable assholes who might actually lead you into trouble.
I’ve found that hostel or hotel front desk workers are generally pretty good sources for local advice.
Don’t be afraid to ask them which parts of the city to avoid, how much taxi fares should cost, and where to find a great place to eat!
7: Register With Your Embassy
It’s free, it’s available for all U.S. citizens and nationals living abroad, and it’s a great way to get reliable, up to date safety information as you travel, along with an extra level of security in case of emergencies.
That way if an emergency happens, like a natural disaster or terrorist attack, the local embassy can get a hold of you quickly to share important information or help with evacuation.
8: Email Your Itinerary To Friends/Family
Once you’ve worked out where you’re going and when, make sure someone else knows too.
The best way is to email the full itinerary to a few family members (and double-check with them that they received it – don’t just assume it landed in their Inbox, make sure it did). Then, if you can, check in from time to time.
Before I travel anywhere, I make sure my parents know where I’m going, what my general plans are, and when I should be back.
That way, if they don’t hear from me for a few days after I’m supposed to return, they can help notify the proper local authorities, the embassy, etc.
9: Don’t Share Too Much With Strangers
If you’re ever tempted to make your itinerary more public, say in a Facebook post, just remember it can be a roadmap of your movements – just the sort of thing someone with ill-intentions would love to know.
I also don’t recommend sharing too many details about your travel plans or accommodation details with people you’ve just met. For example, don’t tell a local shop owner or street tout where you’re staying when asked.
If someone does ask, rather than be rude, you can be vague about an area of town rather than the name of your hotel. Or lie and name a hotel you’re not actually staying at.
Sometimes people will ask if it’s your first time visiting their country or city. If you don’t trust them yet, you can pretend it isn’t your first trip. Because sharing that you’re new might also signal you’re a good target for scams.
When feeling vulnerable in a strange place, little white lies won’t hurt.
10: Be Aware Of Your Clothing
When it comes to travel, the wrong clothes scream “TOURIST” and make you a target for scammers, thieves and worse. The less obviously a visitor you look, the less attention you’ll get from the wrong kind of people.
Wearing the right clothes is a sign of respect.
However, it’s possible to stay within the law and still offend locals with what you’re wearing – generating a lot of hostility towards you in the process. Ignoring local customs can come across as both arrogant and ignorant.
In conservative countries, it’s just safer to dress more conservatively yourself. Obviously as a foreigner you’re still going to stand out a bit, but much less than those who ignore the local customs.
11: Splurge On Extra Safety
If you’re traveling as a budget backpacker, like I was, it can be tempting to save as much money as possible with the cheapest accommodation, the cheapest flights, the cheapest activities.
But it’s important to know that this isn’t always the safest way to travel.
Ultra cheap backpacker hostels aren’t always the safest places. I’ve stayed in some without locks on the doors, that felt like make-shift homeless shelters for drug addicts and other seedy people.
Budget flights can often arrive in the middle of the night — usually not the best time to be hailing down a cab in a dangerous city and hoping the driver doesn’t abduct you.
Sometimes it’s worth the extra few bucks to splurge on a slightly better hostel, a more convenient flight, a taxi home from the bar, or a tour operator with a strong safety record.
12: Stay “Tethered” To Your Bag
Most quick snatch-and-run type robberies happen because the thief can do it easily, and has time to get away. Therefore, anything that slows them down will help prevent it in the first place.
If you can keep your bag tethered to something immovable at all times, and do so in a really obvious way, thieves will consider it way too risky a job – and leave you alone.
A simple and effective method is to use a carabiner clip. Even a regular strap around your leg or chair.
It doesn’t need to be secured with a steel cable and padlock all the time, just attached to something that will make a snatch-and-run attempt too difficult.
13: Learn Basic Self-Defense
You don’t need black-belt skills, but joining a few self defense classes is a worthwhile investment in your personal safety.
Next, learn WHEN to apply it. Just because you can kick someone’s ass, doesn’t mean you should in all situations.
“Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape.”
A great way to neutralize a threat is to get yourself as far away as physically possible. If someone with a gun or knife just wants your phone, give it to them, run away, and live another day.
Use force only when your life is threatened & there are absolutely no other options available.
14: Project Situational Awareness
Keep your head up, stay alert, and aware of you’re surroundings. When you’re confident, potential attackers can sense it through your body language and eye contact.
Most will choose to move on and find an easier victim to attack.
In many places, making direct eye contact with potential threats can help ward off an attack, ensuring they notice you see them and what they may be planning. Yet in other parts of the world, too much eye contact might invite trouble…
Generally you should stay aware of who is around you, walk with a purpose, and don’t look worried, lost, or scared (even if you feel that way) — but I’d also avoid staring contests with sketchy looking strangers.
15: Tell Your Bank Where You’re Going
Imagine the agony of doing absolutely everything right and keeping yourself perfectly safe and secure – only to have your trip ruined because your bank thinks you’re the thief, and locks down all your cards.
If this happens and you’re lucky, you’ll be asked security questions to determine your identity. The rest of the time, you’ll get a notification from the bank’s fraud detection team that irregular activity has been recorded on your card, and they’ve put a hold on all transactions until the situation is resolved – which might take days.
The solution is simple. Most online banking services have a facility for letting the bank or credit card provider know about your upcoming travels. Make sure you use it, shortly before leaving – and keep them in the loop if your travel plans change.
I also recommend using your debit card at the airport ATM machine as soon as you arrive in a new country, as this also helps let the bank know you’re traveling.