by Heather Mileski
A question I often get, especially concerning international travel, is about safety and whether a particular destination is safe to visit. The vast majority of destinations are very safe for travelers. Regardless of where you’re traveling here are some things to keep in mind.
Before you leave, log onto https://travel.state.gov the U.S. State Department’s travel website and register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This is where you will find the latest information about any security concerns and/or travel advisories associate with your destination. Make sure that you register with STEP https://step.state.gov/step/ before you travel so the State Department knows where you are and can easily find you if there is an emergency such as an evacuation due to a hurricane, a medical emergency, political unrest, and the like. It only takes a few minutes to register and is incredibly helpful if there is a situation that arises.
Learn common travel scams for your destination – Before you leave, Google travel scams, as well as, travel scams with your specific travel destination. The results will prepare you for what’s out there. Some examples are the broken taximeter scam, the overbooked or closed hotel scam, the found ring, or the friendship bracelet.
Keep copies of your important travel documents with you in a safe place – Before leaving home, make photocopies of all of your important travel documents (passports, visas, etc.) as well as all of the credit cards and insurance cards you are traveling with and keep them in a safe place with you while you travel in case anything is lost or stolen. Typically, the safe in your hotel room is the best location. Also make sure you keep a copy at home with friends or family in case the information is needed.
Write down emergency information and keep it with you at all times – If, heaven forbid, you have an emergency while traveling, time is of the essence and you don’t want to be scrambling to find basic contact information. Program important numbers and addresses – such as the US Consulate, the hotel you are staying at, etc. – into your phone and also keep a written copy of this information in your wallet, bag, or purse. This gives you a backup in case one of the two is stolen, lost, or damaged.
Cash, cards, and ATMs – Before you leave, let your financial institutions know where your are traveling to help protect your information (they can flag your cards for high dollar transactions) and also to ensure that they won’t freeze your accounts if they see unusual activities such as charges in a foreign country. Only withdraw money at banks to avoid ATM scams. Travel with as little cash as possible and use cards over cash. Make sure you hide some emergency cash (sewn into the lining of a pair of pants, hidden in a fake shaving cream can, etc.) in case your money is lost or stolen.
Try to not look like a tourist and avoid unsafe areas – Nothing screams ‘tourist’ like a t-shirt announcing the location you’re visiting and a camera. Try to dress similar to the locals. Familiarize yourself with the area you’re visiting prior to heading out for the day and be discreet if you’re looking at a map. Pay attention to the people around you, and be wary if someone seems too interested in you. Generally speaking, if you see women and children walking around in the area it’s going to be a safe area to be in. If you’re unsure, ask the concierge at the hotel before venturing out for the day.
Keep expensive items at home – Don’t travel with expensive jewelry, purses, and tech gadgets. These items will draw attention to you and make you an easy target to spot.
Avoid using public WiFi – Public WiFi is not secure! There’s no easier way to get your personal data hacked than using public WiFi, particularly in another country. Use secure networks or the data network for your cellular company instead. It’s worth paying for roaming fees to save the hassle of having your personal data stolen. For an extra layer of security when traveling abroad, turn your cellular data off except when you are actively using it so someone can’t hack into your phone and/or apps.
Don’t post on social media while you’re traveling – I know this one is difficult because we all get excited to share our latest travel adventure with our family and friends back home. Posting on social media while you are traveling, though, is a great way to get your home broken into because you’re letting everyone know that no one is there! If you do choose to post on social media while traveling make sure that your location settings are turned off to ensure that you aren’t an easy target to find for local criminals.
These are a few tips to help keep you and your family safe while traveling. Above all else, using common sense and trusting your gut is good advice. If something seems too good to be true or feels off, it probably is.