While I travel a lot, I’m very particular about going to places that are either known to be safe, or that I think I’ll be able to safely navigate.
Below are some tips to keep in mind to travel safely while abroad:
Before you go:
1. Research your destination
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’s a travel safety warning in the region you’re interested in and why that travel warning exists. Not every warning will necessitate cancelling your trip. I’d also recommend finding, and talking to, people who have been where you want to go. They can be your best source of information.
Travel safety warning information can be found at the US Dept of State website. Just type in your destination and warning levels, vaccination and visa information will all pop up.
While you’re there
2. Stay away from known crime areas
I know this sounds so obvious, I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes, 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 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, then 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: just don’t go there.
Some things just aren’t worth it.
3. Check in with friends and family regularly
I’m sure you’ve told multiple people that you’re going to your amazing destination. So make it a point to check in regularly. Tell them that you will. This can be 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 in a group: stick together
Traveling in a group is better than traveling solo 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 make sure everyone remains accounted for.
5. If traveling solo:
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
I’ve heard of stories of people traveling abroad in travel groups and, for instance at breakfast, they leave they’re bags at the table to go 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, I get it. However, keep the essentials with you AT ALL TIMES. Even here in the states, when I use the restroom at restaurants, I take my purse with me. I never leave it behind.
That being said, don’t be careless about how you carry your purse (i.e. keep it close to your body) and make sure the one you have has a zipper. Also, please don’t keep your cellphone in your back pocket.
7. Watch your actions/behavior
Some countries maintain strict standards of behavior and violating them can get you into uber 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; have them bring their merchandise to you; or better yet, find another vendor who’s less creepy. 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 keep telling you to follow, just 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. As I talked about in my recent Dating Chronicles, your instincts are not only your strongest guide, but can also be your greatest source of protection. If something feels off, it probably is. If you experience this, then listen up and change whatever it is you’re doing until you feel ok again.
10. Have 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 parents or significant others’ cell phone numbers (yea, I don’t have those memorized either).
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. It can get scary knowing that you don’t have immediate access to the outside world. I feel better knowing that I at least have the information readily available and could ask for help if I needed it.
Sample spreadsheet template in case you’d like to make one: travel template
11. Learn some essential phrases
I usually end up doing this when I’m there, but if you’re traveling solo to a country where you are not fluent in the language, then I’d recommend you do 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)
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
Do you have any travel safety tips to share? Comment below!
(photos courtesy of Unsplash)