The summer travel season is here, and many are fortunate enough to have great adventures planned. Traveling can be stressful, and there are plenty of things to think about before leaving for a long trip, especially if it’s overseas. Amid the packing and the goodbyes, don’t forget to think about travel safety and how you can avoid becoming a target when traveling abroad.
Whether your trip is short- or long-term, international or within the United States, follow these guidelines to ensure your time in an unfamiliar place is memorable, productive, and, most importantly, safe.
Do Your Homework
Before you leave, take some time to research your destination. Get the facts on crime risks and the geopolitical climate in the area. Check for travel advisories and travel safety alerts, and ask your host or sponsor when and where you should use extreme caution. If possible, speak with someone who has traveled to the location to get ideas on what to expect and how to act.
Often, the key to staying safe is blending in with natives to avoid making yourself a target. Research customary clothing practices for someone your age and gender, and do your best to pack items that will conform to the local norms. You may find that this will make your travel experience richer as well as safer.
Know the Risks
The biggest mistake you can make when traveling to any unfamiliar place is to be naïve about the risks. Unfortunately, tourists and foreigners are often easy targets because:
- Criminals assume tourists have money.
- Most foreigners don’t speak the language or know how to call for help.
- Criminals know it is unlikely a tourist or foreigner will testify in court if he or she is caught.
- Foreigners are often too caught up in their travels to pay close attention to surrounding dangers.
Know that you are a target and concentrate on making yourself a difficult target to deter criminals and stay safe.
The key to travel safety is to practice situational awareness. Be alert and always have a plan or escape route should you be confronted with a threat.
Criminals are not unlike predators in the wild. They evaluate their victims and pounce on targets that present the lowest personal risk—meaning they choose targets based on who is the least attentive, appears the weakest or who is least likely to get them caught or injured.
Practice situational awareness by:
- Constantly staying focused on your surroundings
- Noting escape routes during your everyday activity, including police stations, open stores or busy restaurants
- Knowing how to identify those who are following you or paying undue, uncomfortable attention to you
- Listening to your body for natural signs of fear, apprehension or suspicion
Don’t Be a Bullseye
No matter where you are traveling, follow these travel safety guidelines to avoid drawing unwanted attention from criminals and thieves. These guidelines apply to travel in any unfamiliar place, whether in the United States or abroad.
- Be careful where you read maps. Pulling out a map on a street corner or outside a train station sends the signal that you are lost or that you wouldn’t know where to go for help if attacked.
- Do not count or display money in public. If a criminal sees that you have money, you are an automatic target. It doesn’t matter if the thief sees you pull out $1 or $1,000.
- Never keep cash, wallets or important documents in a location that is prone to pickpockets, such as a back pants pocket or an outside pocket on your handbag. Stay especially aware of these items when in crowded places, such as metros or tourist attractions.
- About 23 percent of thefts abroad happen on the street or at tourist attractions, 30 percent are pickpocket thefts and 17 percent happen because of victim carelessness. The good news is, only 6 percent of thefts overseas involve violence.
- Only use ATMs that are in safe, secure locations, such as a bank or financial institution. Always shield your transaction with your body or hand so nobody else knows your PIN.
- Do not bring fancy or expensive-looking jewelry with you.
- Never leave your baggage unattended or accept unexpected/unknown packages.
- In general, maintain a low profile—do not attract attention to yourself.
- Vary your daily travel routes to make it more difficult for anyone to catch on to when and where they will have an opportunity to attack or confront you.
- Remember that safety in numbers is always a good rule of thumb.
Criminals thrive on strangers’ information because they can use it to plan an attack. The more you let others find out about you and the more you let your guard down, the greater your vulnerability. To ensure your safety:
- Do not leave credit card or ATM receipts behind anywhere. Even if you throw them out without tearing them up, they could have enough information on them to assist a criminal.
- In general, avoid providing more information about yourself than necessary to strangers, even if they seem friendly and harmless.
- Refrain from providing unnecessary itinerary details.
- If you’re staying in a hotel, do not leave any sensitive, personal information or items behind during the day.
- If the area you are in is particularly unsafe, consider leaving the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your hotel door while you are out to ensure your belongings remain safe.
Ultimately, staying alert and aware will be your best defense in making sure you get home safely. Always be on guard and recognize how potential predators may view you. If you have any questions or concerns about travel safety, talk with your trip sponsor or planner.
And don’t forget your travel insurance. If you’re traveling abroad, your health insurance is unlikely to cover you in the event of an accident or illness. A travel insurance policy is generally very inexpensive and can save you thousands of dollars should you need it. In addition, for that “trip of a lifetime” cancellation or interruption insurance, also very inexpensive, can make sure that trip doesn’t derail your budget should something happen. To learn more about trip insurance and travel health plans, read this recent post, or click here to get a free, no-obligation travel insurance quote from Roper Insurance.