By Dimorsitanos (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Traveling abroad can be exciting, fun, adventurous, inspiring and memorable. You don’t want those memories to come from an unpleasant incident, especially one that might have been prevented.
Many people that travel abroad and those expats that are fortunate to live and work in a foreign location will tell you they love it because of experiencing different cultures and things most people will never see. Most people don’t realize the dangers involved in traveling to foreign locations. They see the beautiful photos and read the great trip reports but are unaware of the pitfalls that can occur.
Foreign travelers in any country are more susceptible to crime because they are unfamiliar with the location and most just plain stick out as tourists. Here is a list of 10 tips to help you stay safe. In no means are these the only things you should consider but here are a few travel safety tips to get you started.
Your passport should be valid for at least six months from the time you anticipate returning from your travels. A lot of countries will not allow you entry unless you have six months remaining on your passport and even if they do you don’t want the hassle of trying to get a passport renewed while traveling. Make several copies of your passport. In the case of a lost passport, the copies will come in handy. Make a copy of the page with your photo, which also has issue and expiration dates. Once you arrive at your destination it is always a good practice to get a copy of the page showing your entry stamp into that country. make several copies of your passport and keep them in your luggage and one in your wallet. Some countries will tell you that you must carry your passport with you at all times. All I can tell you is I do not. I put my passport in my room safe or in locked luggage and carry a copy.
2. BANK CARDS AND CASH
Notify your bank or credit card company prior to your trip and inform them of the dates of your travel and what countries you will be in. This will ensure that your purchases or cash withdrawals are not declined. Having a debit card or credit card to get cash advances will allow you to carry much less cash. I usually have a couple of hundred dollars at the most. When I get to my destination I use my card to withdraw cash from an ATM, just watch those fees. Always get any money exchanged at a bank or authorized exchange location. Never trust some guy on the street no matter how good of a rate he tells you. A lot of street money changers will give you counterfeit or currency that has since been replaced by a newer version. In some cased they will sell it to you then pretend to be the police, telling you that you have just committed a crime by illegally exchanging money. From there they may force you to withdraw money from an ATM or other means of paying more money to avoid jail. It is a good idea to separate the money you carry into two or more batches and put it in different pockets. This will prevent flashing a large wad of bills every time you want to purchase something.
3. AVOID LOOKING LIKE A TOURIST
Some people prey on tourists and the more you act like one the easier prey you are. You have seen them. Hat? check. Shirt that says I heart whatever place they are at? check. Camera hanging from neck? check. Standing on the sidewalk blocking pedestrian traffic while looking at huge unfolded map? check. Carrying the latest guidebook that details exploring the country on a budget? check. Just because you are in a place with a different culture doesn’t mean you have to stand out as a tourist. You want a map? Put a small map or guidebook in your pocket and check it out while sitting somewhere in private. Dress conservatively and restrain yourself from wearing t-shirts or hats professing your love of the city or country you are in. Save those for when you get home and impress your friends. Stay away from wearing lot of jewelry, in fact leave it at home.
4. KNOW YOUR EMBASSY AND TRAVEL ADVISORIES
Prior to leaving for your trip jot down the address, phone number and website of the Embassy or Consulate. Go to the State Department Travel page and check out any travel advisories for the place you are traveling to. You can also get country specific info regarding crime and threats to travelers. Should you lose a passport, see#1, you will be able to get a replacement at the embassy and having copies will facilitate that renewal. Should something happen in the country you are visiting, whether it be a natural disaster or civil unrest, the embassy or consulate will be able to assist you in getting out of the country.
I tend to move around a lot from place to place or even move hotels within the same city. I always make sure I have a reservation for 1 or 2 days for when I arrive so I am not dependent on driving around and looking for a place. I usually check out travel forums and see what others have said about the hotel. Places like Trip Advisor are good places to get candid reviews. Don’t worry though if the place has a few bad reviews, everyone has a bad experience one time or another. Look for accommodations that are in a well-traveled area. You don’t want to walk down a dark side street to get to the entrance. Look for hotels that offer in room safes. These safes once open can be reset to any code you want to set. The appeal of walking out a sliding door to the beach is appealing. It is also appealing to someone wanting easy access to your room. Stay in rooms that cannot be easily accessed from the outside. If you are in a large hotel stay in a room close to the stairs. In the event of a fire you want an easy exit and of course never take the elevator should a fire break out. The room should have a peep-hole in the door and never open the door for someone you don’t know.
Make copies of all your documents and papers. Besides having copies of your passport, you should write down all your account numbers. Make a list of Name, phone number, account number for each debit or credit card. List numbers of the Embassy or Consulate. Write down names of any prescriptions you take. Include any other documents or numbers you may need should you lose your luggage, get robbed or have your belongings stolen. The tricky part is what do with this list. You can leave it with a trusted relative at home, email it to yourself so you can access it anywhere, or put it on some type of portable device. All of the choices have downsides, you may not want relatives or friends to have access to the info, email can be hacked and portable storage devices can be lost. You need to find something you are comfortable with and use it.
7. STREET SAFETY
Be aware of your surroundings. When in high traffic tourist spots enjoy yourself but be vigilant. Pickpockets go where the action is and that is where lots of tourists congregate in crowded places. Be friendly but be vigilant. If someone comes up to you and starts to engage you in conversation they may be trying to distract you. Or they may try to befriend you offering to show you around. Don’t agree to take a tour from someone on the street. There are plenty of licensed or official tour operations to give you a guided tour. The friendly guy on the street may turn out to be not so friendly when he drives you somewhere out of the way and robs you or worse. Be aware of your surroundings on public transportation. Subways, train stations and other public transportation places are magnets for thieves and pickpockets. While on the train, bus or subway, don’t fall asleep, don’t travel drunk and try not to get on an empty car. Know what the legal taxi’s look like and don’t take unlicensed taxis.
8. TRAVEL INSURANCE
It is highly recommended you take out a travel insurance policy. In most cases of illness or injury your insurance at home will not cover you, leaving you with finding ways to pay a hospital or in severe cases a way to get a medical flight to somewhere that can properly treat you. Travel Insurance is not that expensive and can literally be a lifesaver.
Check with your cell phone provider to see if you can get International roaming. AT&T and T-Mobile both offer the ability to use your stateside phone while traveling internationally. It is convenient because someone can call your stateside phone number and reach you no matter where you are. If you don’t want the expense of international roaming then pick up a cheap cell phone and sim card when you get to your destination and give friends and relatives back home the number. Program in important numbers such as Fire, Police, Embassy or Consulate, Hotel you are staying at and a reputable taxi service in the area.
It is always fun looking back on photos from your trip. A good digital camera comes in handy. It can also get you in trouble. Taking photos of certain places can get you arrested. In some locations taking photos of police or military can get you in a lot of trouble. Photos of certain government buildings or religious statues or facilities can land you in jail. Sometimes just having a camera in your possession can get you in trouble. Certain business owners do not want photos taken inside their facilities. In some cases just taking photos of people randomly without their permission can land you in hot water. When in doubt just ask. If you ask and they say no then respect it and move on. That photo is not worth being questioned and detained by the local authorities.
In the beginning I said this list is a good starting point. Use it, expand upon it, adapt it to your situation and your travels will be a little safer. If you have other ideas I would like to hear them.