Domestic travel has becoming increasingly popular in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as travel safety tips during COVID-19 have been vast, and restrictions always changing. What is domestic travel? It simply means traveling within your country of citizenship or residence. This article is geared specifically towards Americans traveling within the United States, but these travel safety tips can help you answer the question "why is travel safety important?" and can be applied most anywhere.
Vacationing in the U.S. offers the best of both worlds. On one hand, you get a change of scene and the chance to visit a famous landmark or some other destination that’s always held your interest. On the other, you don’t have to worry about culture shock or the additional logistics of international travel (such as arranging visas and passports). However, just because you’re staying in your home country doesn’t mean you can act like you’re in your own backyard. In many ways, New York City can be just as foreign to a small-town Texan as Paris or Tokyo. It’s important to remember certain basic, common-sense safety procedures whenever you’re in any kind of new environment.
Make a Plan
You don't have to make an hour-by-hour itinerary for your entire trip. But it would be smart to do some advance research on the places you plan to visit. For your hotel, make sure it's in a good part of town. If you're not sure, try to opt for a nationwide chain or brand (i.e., Marriott, Hilton, La Quinta). Check user reviews online to make sure it's a safe environment. If you know anybody who lives at your destination, ask them for tips and advice. And make sure to leave as much information as possible (hotel address, phone number, your room number, and your travel plans) with a trusted family member or friend at home so that someone knows where you are.
Before you leave, call your bank and tell them you'll be going out of town. This will prevent them from freezing your credit or debit card when you start making purchases out of state. You can also convert some of your funds into traveler's checks or prepaid cards. It doesn't hurt to withdraw and bring cash for miscellaneous expenses—taxis, souvenirs, and so on—but be smart about it. Don't carry it all in one place, such as your purse or wallet. If your wallet were to be stolen, you'd be out of luck. Spread your funds between your pockets and your bag, and leave most of it in a safe place in your hotel room. If you're visiting a busy, public area, it might be worth wearing a travel money belt underneath your shirt to keep your cash beyond easy reach of pickpockets or thieves.
Most travel documents are replaceable, but the process takes time and money. Make copies of all the documents you might need for your trip: photo identification, flight tickets, travel itinerary, insurance ID card, and so on. These copies are invaluable if the originals were to be stolen, lost, or damaged. You can leave a copy at home with a family or friend, or you can scan a digital copy and keep it in your email or on your hard drive.
Act Like You Belong
Don't make yourself an obvious target for scammers and pickpockets. Make an effort to blend in. Think twice about wearing a camera around your neck, pointing and gaping at skyscrapers, wearing a nametag or a fanny pack, or doing anything that makes it immediately obvious that you're from out of town. If you’re at the top of the Statue of Liberty or gazing out over Niagara Falls, then of course, take as many pictures as you want; you’re likely to be in good company. Above all else, be mindful of your surroundings and consider whether your behavior is appropriate for the area.
Try to avoid badly lit or non-tourist areas at night. If you suspect that someone is following or targeting you, there are a number of strategies to use to find out for sure. You can change direction / zigzag through the streets, change your pace, stop and pretend to tie your shoe, and peek to see if they're still behind you. If they are, call the police or your country's emergency hotline. Don't immediately return to your hotel, because then your pursuer will know where you're staying. Instead, try to find the closest crowded or well-lit area.
Jewelry and Other Expensive Belongings
Try to minimize the number of expensive or important items you bring with you. Don't wear flashy jewelry, luxury watches, designer purses or clothing, or anything else that could single you out as a good target for a mugging. That being said, it is more important to match your surroundings than to blindly follow this rule. There are many places in the U.S.—resorts, business conferences, high-end travel destinations—in which it’s okay to wear or carry luxury items. However, when out in the open or out in public, be careful with your belongings. Don't leave them out of your sight--or, even better, out of your reach. For example, set your purse in your lap instead of under your chair. Likewise, if you're using any electronic items like a smartphone or an e-reader, keep a good grip on it and try not to flaunt it.
Purse-Snatchers, Pickpockets, and Scammers
Every busy or touristy destination comes with thieves and pickpockets scanning the crowd, looking for their next victim. Some of them are subtle, for example, quietly taking your purse off the back of your chair while your back is turned. Others opt for the "smash and grab" approach, grabbing your phone from your hand and disappearing into the crowd while you're still too shocked to react. Be aware of strategies some professionals use, like working in teams. Here are some safety tips to avoid being taken advantage of in this manner:
- Wear a travel money belt underneath your clothes
- Leave any unnecessary valuables at the hotel
- Keep valuables that you bring with you in a secure location and in sight at all times.
- Carry money, credit cards, and important documents in multiple locations: wallet, money belt, front pockets, shoes
- Carry a decoy wallet in your back pocket
- Put locks on zippers
- Wear your backpack on your front and keep it in your lap
If you take any prescription medication, don't keep it all in the same place. Split them between your carry-on bag, your checked bag, and on your person. Make sure to bring a copy of the prescription itself in case you need a refill at your destination.
Be careful of public Wi-Fi networks like those offered by your hotel or a public cafe. Hackers are able to access the network and could potentially steal personal information like your credit card or social security numbers. If you need to do something online that requires a degree of security, like checking your bank account balance, try using a personal hot spot to keep your information protected.
Finally, try not to share too many photos of your vacation on social media while you're still away. People in your home city will know that your house is empty, and it could be burglarized. It's best to wait until you get home to broadcast your adventures.
Travel Insurance and Travel Medical Insurance
The most important safety precaution is one you should take before you even leave: purchasing adequate travel insurance to protect yourself financially against any accidents, injuries, or illnesses that could occur. Insurance offers benefits for many situations you can’t anticipate, such as medical treatment; travel assistance in case of flight delays, lost baggage, or even emergency medical evacuation; and help getting home in the event of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster at your destination. You don’t want to end up responsible for the full cost of, say, a broken leg sustained while hiking through a national park.
One important benefit of travel insurance is trip cancellation insurance, which reimburses any pre-paid, non-refundable expenses you may have put down if you need to cancel your trip due to a covered reason. Covered reasons include situations like natural disasters, illness or injury before the trip, weather delays, and work reasons. It does not cover more subjective reasons like deciding not to go.
If you have any potentially dangerous or hazardous activities planned, it might be a good idea to research adventurous sports coverage. This kind of coverage is an optional rider at an additional cost to the standard travel insurance plan. But if your plans include sports like canoeing and kayaking, scuba diving, river rafting, bungee jumping, ziplining, or anything similar, it would be a very helpful safety net to have, just in case.
For international travel safety tips, see How to Stay Safe When Traveling Abroad.