When you travel abroad, you are out of your comfort zone and regular routine. This may put you at higher risk for theft, fraud and other crimes of opportunity. Whether you’re a seasoned jetsetter or planning your first trip abroad, it pays to review these international travel safety tips before you get that new passport stamp.
Protect Your Documents
Before traveling, make a copy of your passport, identification and other critical documents. Leave these copies with a trusted friend or family member who can provide this information if you lose your paperwork while traveling.
While navigating another country, keep your passport safe on your person. It should be separate from your money and credit cards to deter potential thieves and not in an easily accessible location like a pocket. You can also purchase an RFID folder for your documents to protect the private information on the internal chip from theft.
In addition to your passport and ID, you should carry a copy of your local address, hotel contact details and a map wherever you go. Even if you aren’t traveling alone, you could get lost if you become separated from your group. Grab a few business cards from the front desk of your hotel and keep them in your wallet.
Stay at Restricted Access Properties
When you book your hotel, look for a few key security measures. Staircases should have locking doors at each floor. Hotel guests should be required to insert their key cards to access room floors by elevator, preventing unauthorized access by those who are not guests.
Research Common Scams
The U.S. Department of State maintains travel alerts and advisories to keep travelers aware of potential dangers when overseas. Use their database to research your destinations for information about common scams as well as health and safety advisories, details about local customs and other useful resources.
Register With the Embassy
Joining the federal Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is one of the most important safety tips for international travelers. Through this free system, you can make the details of your trip available to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your travel destination. You’ll receive alerts about potential hazards and safety conditions. If you are involved in an emergency, the agency can help notify your friends and family and assist them in reaching you.
You should also carry the contact information, including address and phone number, for the local Embassy or Consulate. If you are arrested overseas or otherwise run into trouble, get in touch right away for assistance.
Buy a Phone Plan
Make sure your smartphone will work overseas so you will have a way to contact the authorities and your family members in an emergency. Check with your provider about signing up for an international data plan, which will also make it easier to navigate the area where you’re staying. Having a data plan also allows you to check your bank accounts without public Wi-Fi (more on that later). That way, you can quickly report any fraudulent or unusual activity during your trip.
Learn the Language
Obviously, you can’t become fluent in a new language without years of study or immersion. You can, however, pick up a few important phrases in your destination’s main language. The better you can speak the native tongue, the easier it will be for you to get help in an emergency, navigate the city and avoid getting lost or disoriented.
Use Social Media Cautiously
Although posting photos of your fabulous vacation on social media is tempting, avoid the urge to share until you’re back in the United States. If the fact that your home is empty and unprotected is public knowledge, you increase your risk for home invasion theft. This is one of the most basic social media safety rules, but could spare you from a nightmare when you return home.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi
Even if you know to avoid public wireless networks at home, you might be tempted if you are traveling and don’t have access to a private hotspot. However, public networks leave you vulnerable to having your information intercepted. If you must use the Wi-Fi at your hotel, a cafe or elsewhere, don’t log into your bank account or other sensitive sites.
Use Common Sense
Many of the personal safety cautions you use at home also apply overseas. Travel with another person when possible. When traveling alone, avoid walking in unfamiliar or deserted areas at night. Avoid drinking too much, which can leave you less alert and more likely to be a target for theft or assault.
Stick close to groups when out in public, particularly if you receive unwanted attention or otherwise feel unsafe. If you are alone and you think you are being followed, avoid stopping until you get to a public place. Then, ask for help right away.
Keep Valuables Hidden
Don’t travel overseas with anything you don’t want stolen. Cash, jewelry and other valuables such as electronics should be kept in your hotel safe. Consider leaving sentimental items such as your wedding ring at home. Research common targets of theft in your destination. For example, Apple products are at higher risk for being stolen in some locales.
When in doubt, err on the side of caution when in an unfamiliar place. With these precautions, you’ll be able to travel safely abroad.