Traveling abroad on a vacation is an exciting experience. With the right preparations, you can ensure safety while traveling during your overseas vacation. Why is travel safety important? Because while you're abroad, you must be aware of more than just the culture of your destination. Your best defense against a disaster of any sort is to try to prevent it from even happening. You need insurance for unexpected travel or medical issues, contact information of your country's consulate, mobile devices for quick communication, money, important documents, personal belongings and medication. You also need to know how to avoid looking like a target to potential thieves while you're walking around or taking public transportation.
Whether you plan every minute of vacation or spontaneously decide what to do with your time, everyone wants an enjoyable vacation, but there is always the possibility that something goes awry. It is very important to use some, if not all, of these travel safety tips.
Travel Medical Insurance / Crisis Response Coverage
Most domestic health insurance coverage does not provide medical coverage outside the home country. The plans that will provide coverage outside the home country likely only provide limited coverage, meaning that you could be on the hook for the majority, if not the full cost, of unexpected medical treatment or travel expenses. Just how limited is the coverage? If you use your domestic health insurance abroad, you will be subject to higher copay, deductible, coinsurance and out of pocket expenses. Moreover, it is not going to cover emergency medical evacuation or repatriation of remains in case of major emergency. For these reasons, it is very important to purchase travel health insurance when traveling abroad.
In fact, this is the #1 safety tip because of the various benefits these insurance plans provide. While abroad, you could need help with the following:
- Medical treatment for accidents, injuries and sudden illnesses
- Travel assistance because of trip interruptions, lost luggage, emergency medical evacuation, repatriation of mortal remains, replacing a lost passport or other travel documents
- Help getting home because of a terroristic act or a natural disaster
At a minimum, you should always have international travel medical insurance when you are away from home.
Crisis Response coverage is included in several travel insurance plans, such as Atlas Premium Insurance. This coverage is a useful benefit that provides valuable services and assists in negotiations in the event of kidnapping and ransom. If you want more coverage than is offered in a travel insurance plan, you should consider a separate Kidnap, Ransom and Extortion plan to meet your needs.
When you are traveling abroad, you should register your travel details with the embassy or the consulate of your country in the foreign country so that they know you are in the country and if needed, they can help you. Additionally, governments of many countries, such as U.S. Department of State, routinely publish travel alerts for various destinations. Make sure to check their travel alerts because they provide you with valuable information about weather related issues such as hurricanes or typhoons, terrorist attacks, civil unrest or other safety issues.
Taking a vacation does not mean that you should completely cut yourself off from rest of the world. Make sure to follow the current events in your destination country, nearby regions and in your home country; by staying informed, you are alerted to any potential dangers that may affect your trip. However, you should follow news only from government or well-established media sources to avoid rumors from fear-mongers.
Contact Details and Plans
Write the address of your accommodations in your phone as well as on paper to carry with you so you know exactly where you are staying.
Also, keep your family and friends informed of your whereabouts, especially if your plans change. However, if possible, don't post the pictures of your vacation online while you are traveling, it will be safer if you wait until you return home. Otherwise, you may increase the risk of someone burglarizing your home or committing some other crime.
Make sure you have a fully functioning cell phone that has WiFi, Internet (Data) and voice. You may be able to get a foreign coverage plan from your current provider or you can get a local SIM card. A cellphone can be extremely useful when navigating your destination city or calling someone for help.
Before traveling, you should consider converting some of your money into traveler's checks, prepaid cards and some cash in small denominations of your destination country. If you don't want to carry prepaid cards, you can use a credit card that would be accepted in your destination; the charges would be made in the local currency and converted for the billing, so you would see the charges in your billing statement in the usual currency.
While you are traveling, don't carry all of your money in one place, such as your purse or wallet. If you lose your purse or wallet, or you are robbed, you will lose everything. Therefore, spread your cash, credit cards, debit cards and travelers checks out - keep some of it in your pockets, some in a bag and leave most of it in the safe locker at your hotel. Do NOT keep any valuables in your back pocket or in a backpack that is on your back, these locations are attractive for pickpockets because it is quite easy for them to take something before you even realize it is gone.
Make copies of all your important documents that you need for your trip - such as identification, passport, visas, immunization records, flight tickets, travel itinerary, insurance ID card. Having these copies would be extremely helpful in an emergency if your original documents are stolen, lost or damaged.
- Leave a copy of your documents at home with your family or a friend
- Email the scanned documents to yourself
- Additionally, you can store the documents in a secure online drive
Purse snatchers and pickpockets
Purse-snatchers and pickpockets are watching you for an opportunity to steal whatever they can. They could be anywhere and they will likely blend into the crowd. They will walk away with your things and you may not realize what has happened for some time. They could be working alone or working in teams - while one distracts you the other steals from you. These thieves have a variety of tricks to take your belongings and once it is gone, it is quite unlikely that you will see it again.
Do your best to avoid looking like someone they want to target. Be aware of your surroundings and exude confidence, do not look confused, lost, or let yourself become too distracted. You can use some, or all, of these safety tips while you are abroad:
- Wear a hip/waist belt under your clothes
- Leave valuables at the hotel
- If you need to carry valuables with you, keep them in a secure location and in sight at all times
- Carry money and credit cards in multiple locations - Money Belt, Front Pockets, Shoes
- Carry a decoy wallet in your back pocket or purse
- Don't keep valuables in back pockets
- Put locks on zippers
- Wear your purse or backpack in the front and keep it in your lap during transit
In case you do have something taken, you should have a list of everything you were carrying so you know what is missing when you file a police report.
Whether you are standing or sitting, never set your belongings out of sight or on your side. Someone could easily take it from behind; instead, keep your belongings in your lap or at the front of your feet, with the straps wrapped around your leg.
When you get up to leave some place, make sure to look around to ensure you have not left any item behind such as your bag, purse, or phone.
While traveling abroad, do not wear expensive jewelry or luxury watches. If a thief notices that you wearing expensive items, or carrying an expensive phone or high-end camera, you are a worthwhile target for mugging as they have a lot to gain by robbing you. It is the best to leave expensive items at home.
In addition to these safety issues, you could also avoid being harassed by the customs officer at the airport who may think that you are trying to smuggle expensive items into their country and they may threaten to charge you with the customs duty if you do not bribe them.
If you take medicines regularly, don't store the entire supply in one place. Instead, split them among your carry-on bag, checked bag and your pocket. Also, it is a good idea to carry the prescription from your physician with you so that you can get that refilled in case your medication is lost or stolen.
Caution: Pharmacies in some countries may not dispense medication based on a foreign prescription.
Blending In / Walking Around
To the extent possible, try to blend in with the local public. Try not to behave in a way that makes it obvious that you are a tourist and whenever possible, do not walk alone. Also, avoid dark or non-tourist areas during the night. It may help to learn the local customs and at least few words or sentences of the local language.
If you are riding public transport and you feel uncomfortable, you can switch train cars or walk into a busy area such as restaurant. If you feel that you are being followed you should stay calm, pay attention and immediately check by doing these things:
- Change your direction - Red flag if you turn left 3 or 4 times (walk around a block) and they also make the same turns.
- Change your pace - Red flag if they speed up when you speed up, or slow down when you slow down.
- Pause and turn around - If you're brave, you can pause and turn around to pretend you're looking for someone or at something else, or even crouch to adjust your shoe laces and glance directly at them and watch their reaction. Red flag if they don't seem to behave naturally, break stride or appear flustered.
If you are certain that you are being followed:
- Don't return to your hotel immediately; by doing so, you risk letting them know where you are staying. Instead, go to a well-lit public area where people are.
- Call the local police on a mobile device for help. Let them know that you're being followed, where you are and ask for an escort.
- If you have enough courage, you can acknowledge their presence by asking them a direct question such as "Are you lost?" or "Do you want something?"
If you use public transport that does not convey you directly to your final destination make sure that once you complete that leg of your journey, you will have a bus, taxi or train available to you shortly after your scheduled time of arrival to take you to the next place you would be traveling. Otherwise, you would be stranded for hours, or worse - overnight; situations like this increase the risk of being victim to a crime that you could have otherwise avoided. Please keep in mind that public transport may not be available at certain times of the night or may be available at significantly reduced capacity.
If you are taking a public transport to a nightclub or are meeting your friends for a social outgoing in a country or city where people dress conservatively, make sure your cover yourself properly until you reach the venue.
Beggars, Panhandlers and Homeless People
Beggars are in developed and developing countries worldwide. While you may feel bad about the situation of poor and sympathize with their plight, don't give in to the urge to directly hand them cash or anything else you have. You don't know which ones could be looking for targets and you don't want to fall victim to a person you are trying to help. Instead, you can try to find legitimate charitable organizations in the given local area and donate directly to the organization.
Don't drink too much.
When you are drunk, you may not be in your complete senses, which increases the risk of being a victim of crimes in a foreign country in unfamiliar surroundings. It is worth noting that the alcohol content in some beers may be twice that or more compared to the beers in your home country, such as in the U.S.; being unaware of this, you may become intoxicated much more quickly than you would at home. In any case, don't leave your drink unattended; otherwise, you could fall victim to someone mixing something in your drink.