Whether you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of traveler or a plan-and-fret-about-every-detail type, keeping yourself secure while you’re away from home is something even the most adventurous spirits need to think about. But just because you take some smart precautions doesn’t mean you need to lock yourself in an iron fortress; safe travel doesn’t have to rhyme with excess worry, nor require expensive security devices.
Do your part to prevent an unfortunate accident or incident, and you’ll give yourself tremendous peace of mind while you’re on your trip. No fortress required! Here are our top tips to ensure you stay safe and secure on your next adventure abroad– and free your mind to really enjoy it.
Bring Emergency Info & Contact Details Along
Irrespective of whether you’re traveling abroad or staying within your own country, bringing along a handy list of useful emergency information can save you a lot of panic if you find yourself in a scrape. Local police and ambulance information, the location and contact details of the nearest embassy, and identification information for your travelling party are all crucial details to have on hand. Don’t trust yourself to figure these things out when you’re in a panicked fog. An emergency plan on your phone and an offline hard copy that you keep with you can save you a ton of stress.
Secure Your Stuff
Bringing expensive valuables on a trip is inherently a little risky, as your tourist status makes you especially vulnerable to thieves and pickpockets. But it’s inevitable you’ll want something like a camera, laptop, or cellphone with you, so take some precautions with the expensive items you can’t leave at home.
Before you arrive at your destination, check with your hotel or guest house about whether they provide secure locations for valuables. Are there safes provides in rooms? How about secure bike storage areas and enclosed parking lots? Know the terrain before you get there. If you’re staying at a hostel, bring your own padlock in case they aren’t provided for you.
And although a TSA-approved suitcase lock can’t hurt, a determined thief can easily slash into a suitcase and bypass the zipper entirely. Without resorting to paranoia, your best bet is to keep your belongings where you can see them if you’re travelling with them outside the secure storage area at your accommodations.
Read related: Are RFID-blocking wallets a good option for travelers?
Use your backpack as a pillow, for example, when you’re riding on a crowded train. Keep one hand on your purse. Use situational awareness to prevent theft.
Get Travel Insurance
It might seem like an unnecessary addition, but travel insurance can make an unfortunate situation like a cancelled flight or a medical emergency far less stressful. Good travel insurance will replace stolen goods, help you to cover unforeseen medical costs, and give you the ability to speak immediately with a live person if you’re in a crisis. Plus, travel insurance gives you peace of mind, allowing you to really relax during your trip. Knowing you have a backup plan makes everything a lot more enjoyable.
Read related: Top Tips to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling
A quick note: when you’re buying travel insurance, make sure you’ve read the conditions carefully so you know exactly what you can count on with your specific plan.
Register with the Embassy
An easy step to take before you leave home is to register with your country’s embassy in the area you’re visiting. This lets the embassy know you’re coming and ensures you’ll get the latest safety information when you get there. If you ever need to be evacuated, the embassy can get in contact with you and ensure you depart safely. The United States’ Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is free for all citizens, and Canada’s program is the Registration of Canadians Abroad program. Check with your own embassy to find out how to register: this list is a good one.
Don’t Dress Like A Tourist
While you’re on your trip, make an attempt not to stick out like a sore thumb. No one wants to look like a stereotypical tourist, especially not when criminals are involved. Do your research before you go: What does the average person at your destination dress and act like? What are the local manners? Aside from helping you avoid being a target, the cultural research makes you a better and more respectful traveler, and blending in with the locals gives you a more authentic experience. It’s a win-win situation!
Act Like You Know What You’re Doing
Dressing like you belong is only part of getting around your destination confidently and securely. The next step is to act like you belong. Body language is a powerful signal, and projecting confidence and authority as you move through your trip can reduce your visibility to criminals. Keep your head up and stay aware of your surroundings. If you think a pickpocket may be targeting you, meet their eyes to let them know you’re aware of them.
That said, your cultural research is important here, because in some conservative countries you’ll risk offending someone by making direct eye contact. Still, this might be preferable to having your pocket picked. Use your best judgement.
Be Cautious When Using Public Wi-Fi
Online security is just as important while traveling abroad. Be skeptical of public Wi-Fi networks, especially in tourist-heavy areas. Cyber security is a complex issue, and public Wi-Fi is especially vulnerable to attacks. Your hotel or hostel’s password protected network is a much safer bet than what you’ll find at internet cafes and free internet hotspots. No matter where you are, we suggest never loading and consulting sensitive information such as personal ID or bank statements on a public Wi-Fi network.
Stay (Relatively) Sober
While savoring fine wines and beers might be on your list of priorities for an enjoyable trip, avoid becoming wildly intoxicated. It’s hard, if not impossible, to be situationally aware when you’re drunk, and your risk of getting yourself into danger goes up exponentially the less sober you are. While you might feel like you know the city you’re visiting well enough to navigate it at night, alcohol can quickly make even the best laid-out city feel confusing.
If you plan on drinking, always go with a group and designate a sober person to help keep everyone else out of trouble.
Bring some Medical Essentials
Finally, bring a few just-in-case items to pre-empt any medical issues commonly faced by tourists. Your doctor can prescribe medication for traveler’s diarrhea and motion sickness, and you should also pick up some other drugstore favorites, such as sunscreen, ibuprofen, and hand sanitizer. If you do get sick, the last thing you’ll want to do is navigate a foreign drug store or pharmacy, especially if labels are in an unfamiliar language. Trust us.