10 essential travel safety tips
1. Register your travel plans – The U.S. State Department operates the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (called “STEP” because for some reason the government needs to have an acronym for everything). As a part of that program, U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals can register so the U.S. Embassy can get in contact, for example, in the case of a natural disaster, civil unrest or a family emergency.
2. Leave an itinerary with an emergency contact at home – This is super important if you are traveling alone, but a good idea for all travelers. Leave a detailed itinerary of your travels with a trusted friend or a family member and check in with them occasionally – establish ahead of time how you’ll check in and how often (likely more if you are in more “questionable” areas). It can be as simple as a text – “I’m ok, leaving X and heading now to Y.” If you don’t check in for some reason, they will be able to notify authorities after a reasonable amount of time after not hearing from you.
3. Scan a copy of your passport – Make a copy of your passport and then place the photo or scan in the cloud – iCloud, Dropbox, etc. – and keep a copy on your phone. That way, if for some reason you need to show your ID and you don’t have your passport handy, or if your passport is lost or stolen, you have access to your details.
4. Be sure you have appropriate health and travel insurance – Never assume you have sufficient health or travel insurance no matter how good your personal health plan or premium credit card is. Know what you are covered for and then purchase appropriate travel insurance options to protect yourself. Learn all about what travel insurance will be best for you with our Travel Insurance 101 guide. And take steps to ensure your health will be protected and you will be covered if something happens by reading our guide Travel Health: Tips to ensure you are traveling healthy.
5. Know what the local emergency numbers are – Before you leave, learn the local emergency numbers where you will be traveling. Save those numbers to your phone and also keep a copy of them in your carry-on. Know the address and phone number for the nearest embassy or consulate. The U.S. State Department has a downloadable PDF with emergency numbers for all countries in the world.
6. Purchase and use theft-proof luggage and bags – Thieves can steal your valuables with a quick slash of a knife cutting a bag strap, using a tool to force open zippers, or simply by bumping into you and scanning your pockets or bag with an electronic device that steals your credit card and identity data. Theft-proof gear makes it very difficult for thieves by using RFID blocking, secure zippers, special mesh that prevents bag slashing and more. We have tested and recommend Pacsafe camera bags, carry-on bags and luggage. If you continue to use other bags, at least lock them with TSA-approved locks or zip ties; ensure you have ID on your bags, but be certain your name and address are not visible by passers-by.
Recommended Anti-Theft Gear
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7. Keep your data secure – Public Wi-Fi networks, crowded hotel and airport lobbies, popular shopping areas, favorite eateries and bank ATMs are some spots viewed as target-rich environments for criminals seeking to abscond with your personal data – important passwords, bank accounts, and even your identity. Protect yourself by reading our 10 tips to protect your digital security.
8. Bag the bling and blend in when traveling – Read our story How to blend in while traveling to learn the importance of not standing out and screaming “I am a tourist” to every potential criminal who might wish do you harm. This also means DO NOT flash your cash, valuables, passport or credit cards in public. And do not wear of even bring along your best jewelry or bangles that alert ill-intended passers-by that you may have a pocketful of cash and goodies too.
9. Remain vigilant in hotels and eateries – We know the hotel is fabulous and the pool or bar beckons, but first, locate the emergency escape routes from your room in the event of a fire or other emergency. And always confirm visitors, even hotel staff, with the front desk before you open your door – thieves have been known to pose as hotel staff to gain entrance to a room. At eateries, especially if you are outside near the sidewalk or street, do not casually hang bags on the back of a chair or put them on a chair or anywhere where a passer-by could grab and dash before you can put down your fork.
10. Be aware of your surroundings at all times – Don’t walk around blindly, or ignore a gut feeling that something is not right. To learn more, read our story Stay safe when traveling in trying political times, but please travel!