You've dreamed of finally taking a break from your day-to-day life to travel abroad and experience different countries and cultures. Now you're finally doing it.
However, despite all the excitement and possibilities of a new adventure, you can't ignore the potential risks that could disrupt your vacation.
The good news is there are many ways to prepare for potential hiccups during your trip. Research your destination before visiting and educate yourself on ways to stay safe. This could decrease your chances of facing an unsafe situation in an unfamiliar country.
Follow these guidelines to help you stay safe while traveling. Don't forget to trust your instincts and allow yourself to enjoy the new experience while traveling internationally too.
Safety Tips Before You Depart on Your Trip
Education and preparation can help you be a smarter traveler and stay safe while abroad.
1. Research Common Travel Scams in Your Destination
Travelers can quickly fall victim to scams, especially in new and unfamiliar destinations. The best way to prepare is to do a quick Google search of common scams in your travel destination.
Locals and experienced travelers can provide helpful advice, like certain taxis to avoid or other situations to steer clear of.
2. Scan the U.S. Department of State Country Information Page for Your Destination
The U.S. Department of State Country Information page provides valuable information about your vacation spot.
Use the search tool to look up your destination and regional information like:
- Quick facts
- Embassy and consulate locations (with contact information)
- Visa requirements
- Safety advice
- Local laws
- Local health and healthcare information
- Transportation information
Bookmark the page on your phone so that you can return to it quickly while traveling the country.
3. Review the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories for Your Destination
Travel advisories provided by the U.S. Department of State are a good way to gauge the overall safety of a foreign country or city. The U.S. Department of State has four levels of travel advisories:
- Level 1 - Exercise Normal Precautions
- Level 2 - Exercise Increased Caution
- Level 3 - Reconsider Travel
- Level 4 - Do Not Travel
Check your destination's travel advisory to help you decide whether it is safe enough to travel to the location and what precautions you may need to follow to stay safe when traveling.
Read more about travel advisories and how they may impact your international trip before your next adventure abroad.
4. Check the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travel Health Notice for Your Destination
The CDC provides health notices for many countries and cities around the world. These notices can advise travelers of any health emergencies or risks upon entering the country.
The health notices categorize locations into three levels:
- Watch Level 1 - Practice Usual Precautions
- Alert Level 2 - Practice Enhanced Precautions
- Warning Level 3 - Avoid All Nonessential Travel
Follow CDC advice on whether it is safe to travel to a destination.
5. Write Down Local Emergency Numbers
The phone number for local emergency response like the police and fire department can vary by country.
Check the U.S. Department of State Country Information page for your travel destinations, and write down the emergency numbers. Keep these numbers at easy access in the event of emergency.
6. Learn About Local Laws and Customs that May Differ from Your Home Country
Understand the local laws and customs to avoid embarrassing missteps, potential confrontation, and law violation while traveling abroad.
You can learn about local laws and customs from many sources. The U.S. Department of State Country Information page for your destination provides a summary of local customs and laws including transportation customs, religious customs, LGBTQ+ rights, and more.
Speak with friends and family who have visited your travel destination to help understand law and custom variations from your home country. You can also search through questions and answers (or post your own) on travel forums like Tripadvisor Forums and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree.
7. Make Sure You Have All the Necessary Vaccinations
The CDC recommends that travelers get necessary vaccinations at least a month before traveling. Visit the CDC Travelers' Health page for your travel destinations to find out what vaccinations to get.
Some vaccinations may take time for your doctor to obtain, so schedule your visit with plenty of time before you plan to leave.
8. Register with Your Embassy
Embassy registration is one proactive step you can take before traveling. Registering your trip means you can get important and reliable information about safety conditions in your destination. Also, it provides an easy way for your embassy to contact you in an emergency.
- Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) - U.S. citizens
- Canadians Abroad - Canadian citizens
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) Embassy Registration - British nationals
Check to see if your home country provides a registration program for easy contact in emergency situations.
9. Check for Dangerous Weather Conditions in your Destination
Before traveling, check the weather for your travel destination. Consider changing plans if conditions could be unsafe for planned activities, especially outdoor activities.
Extreme weather conditions like snowstorms and hurricanes could make it unsafe to travel to your destination at all. Keep an eye on weather conditions leading up to your trip, and avoid travel during seasons when extreme or dangerous weather is frequent in the area.
Plan to travel during hurricane season? Read about the best practices for traveling during hurricane season to stay safe and avoid bad weather.
10. Purchase a Travel Insurance Plan
Primary health insurance plans, including Medicare, often don't provide coverage abroad. Consider purchasing a travel medical insurance plan or a trip cancellation plan to prepare for unexpected emergency situations or trip cancellations.
Travel Medical Insurance
This means you could be covered for emergencies like a bad case of food poisoning from a not-so-fresh street vendor that leads to an emergency room visit. Or emergency medical expenses from an accident like slipping and breaking your ankle while on a mountain hike.
Travel medical insurance like Atlas Travel features benefits like Emergency Medical Evacuation as well. This benefit can transport you from a local medical facility with inadequate treatment to a hospital where you can receive the proper treatment for a life-or-limb-threatening medical emergency.
Explore the full list of benefits to understand what else you could be covered for.
Trip Cancellation Insurance
Atlas Journey is a travel insurance plan with customizable coverage options. The plan features a Trip Cancellation benefit that provides coverage for unused and non-refundable expenses if your trip is cancelled for a covered reason.
Covered reasons could include an illness prior to your trip (for which a doctor advises you not to travel), bad weather that causes your airline to be delayed for over 24 hours, and more.
Atlas Journey provides additional benefits like coverage for lost or delayed luggage too.
See the full list of benefits to learn about how else you could be covered.
11. Make Copies of Important Documents
When preparing for your trip, make copies of any important documents you are taking with you. If these documents are lost or stolen, copies can help in their recovery or in getting new ones.
Copy your ID, passport, visa, travel insurance documentation, and other necessary information and keep them with you.
12. Learn Common Phrases for Asking for Help in the Local Language
If you don't speak the local language, learn a few important phrases that can help in the event of an emergency. It is very possible to find yourself in an emergency with people who don't speak the same language as you.
Some helpful phrases include:
- "I need a doctor."
- "Call the police."
- "It's an emergency."
Don't let language barriers make you vulnerable in crisis situations. Learn tips for traveling without knowing the language.
Safety Tips While in Transit
Don't let safety compromise your journey to your destination by following these tips.
13. Wear a Crossbody Bag Instead of a Shoulder Bag
Theft and pickpocketing are more common in high tourist cities like London, Paris, and New York. Crossbody bags can be harder to grab and safer to use when in tightly packed areas.
If you are wearing a backpack, hold it in front while in a crammed public transit so that you can keep an eye on it. You can also purchase an anti-theft backpack with lockable zippers and cut resistant fabric.
PRO TIP! Keep pocket items like wallets, keys, and phones in your front pockets where they are less likely to be swiped. Also, learn more about how to stay safe while taking public transportation in a foreign country.
14. Keep an Eye on Your Belongings
Purses and wallets aren't the only items that can be lost or stolen while traveling. Keep an eye on other valuables like jewelry and electronic devices.
Don't allow luggage out of your sight. If you must, ask a uniformed employee to watch it for you. Bring it with you until you can secure it in a safe place at your destination.
Safety Tips at Your Destination
15. Keep Regular Contact with Family and Friends
Let trusted friends and family know where you are traveling and how long. Keep regular contact with these people to ensure your safety throughout your trip.
You might consider leaving your itinerary plans with a trusted person at home in case an emergency does arise.
16. Secure Valuables in Your Hotel Safe
Many hotels provide secure safes to keep important items or documents while traveling. Most hostels also feature lockers to store personal items, but you may need to bring your own lock.
Keep valuable and important items in the safe for extra security from theft, especially if you plan to be away from your hotel for a long period of time.
If you're planning an overnight in a hostel for the first time, understand what you need to know about staying in a hostel so that you can be prepared for the experience.
17. Take Advice from Hotel Front Desk Workers
In addition to providing information on local restaurants and tourist attractions, hotel and hostel front desk workers can provide information about safety in the area.
Ask about risky areas to avoid and any popular scams that target tourists. Concierges tend to be well informed on these matters and are more trustworthy than strangers on the street.
18. Travel in a Group
Solo travel can be freeing and exhilarating, but it might be safer to travel with a friend, family member, partner, or group. Safety and security can often be found in unfamiliar places when you are surrounded by familiar people.
19. Drink Responsibly
Those of drinking age in a foreign country may consider celebrating their vacation with drinks in the evening. Visiting pubs and bars in a foreign country can be a great way of getting to know the culture of the city.
However, refrain from drinking so much that your thinking is significantly impaired. People can prey on drunk tourists, so drinking responsibly could help you make safer decisions while on vacation.
20. Use Reputable Transportation Companies
Many tourist scams around the world often involve ride sharing, taxis, or other forms of transportation. Always call or schedule a taxi or ride share instead of picking up rides on the side of the road.
PRO TIP! When approaching a vehicle, ask the driver for the name of the pick-up to ensure you are getting in the right car. If you've secured a ride through an app like Uber or Lyft, also check the make and model of the car and license plate number against the information you've been provided in the app.
21. Consider What You Eat
Make sure you pay attention to the food you are eating and the drinks you are consuming while in a foreign country. Watch your food and drink preparation to ensure chefs are practicing good hygiene. Also, watch for suspicious or unfamiliar items added to food or drinks, especially at bars.
Look for busy restaurants, which tend to be the cleanest and safest and have the freshest food. If your food is supposed to be cooked, make sure it is still warm before eating to avoid potential food poisoning. Carefully inspect all food from street vendors and follow all food and water safety tips from the CDC.
Read about tips for drinking water safely in other countries before you travel. It may be unsafe to consume tap water in your destination country.
Don't Let Fear Stop You from Traveling
Keep these tips in mind to stay safe while traveling, but don't let fear stop you from enjoying your trip. Safety risks are less likely for people who are more aware and prepared.