Traveling is one of the things I look forward to most in life. Seeing the world is life-changing and it always excites me to visit new places. But, when traveling abroad, there are steps you must take in order to maximize your fun while also staying safe! Here is a checklist for all of the things you should consider in order to stay safe when traveling abroad.
Use Common Sense
For example, stay in areas that are known to be safe or that are more catered to tourists or foreigners, don’t tell strangers all of your plans for your trip, be aware of your surroundings, etc.
Visit the U.S. Department of State Website
Scan the Country Information Page for your Destination
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.
Review the Travel Advisories for Your Destination
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
Make smart decisions and don’t visit a place if the advisory is level 3 or 4. If it’s level 2, decide if it still makes sense for you to visit. If so, just be extra careful. You wouldn’t want something avoidable to ruin your experience of your destination or get you into a bad situation.
Visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website
Check the Travel Health Notice for your destination and make sure you have all the necessary vaccinations.
Bring a Carbon Monoxide Detector and Write Down Local Emergency Numbers
On one of my trips to Central America, my friend didn’t bring a portable carbon monoxide detector along with him (I didn’t either, but thankfully we were staying in separate locations. This story made me run to go get one though!). Certain countries have different safety regulations and a lot of times carbon monoxide detectors get left unchecked for months at a time (or longer. Think about how you might leave your smoke detector beeping for weeks on end because you didn’t feel like changing it… Exactly. You’re not the only one lol).
Unfortunately, there was a carbon monoxide leak in his Airbnb. Carbon monoxide, “CO”, is a deadly, colorless, odorless gas. Due to a faulty detector in his Airbnb, it didn’t detect the leak. He ended up passing out and had to be rushed to the hospital because of it! Thankfully he was staying with friends, otherwise he could have died there, alone in the house in a foreign country. How scary!
Learn About Local Laws and Customs
It’s so important to study the local laws and customs prior to your travel abroad in order to avoid embarrassing missteps, potential confrontation, and law violation. For example, some countries require people to dress conservatively. You must follow rules like this or you risk fines, jail time, or worse.
Additionally, the wrong clothes can immediately identify you to locals as a tourist and make you a target for scammers, thieves, or worse. Dressing accordingly helps you attract less attention from the wrong kinds of people. Also, wearing the right clothes is a sign of respect.
Check for Dangerous Weather Conditions in your Destination
It’s smart to do prior research on a destination so that you know the best time of year to visit. For example, you wouldn’t want to visit Thailand during monsoon season (between July and October). Then, a couple of weeks before you depart, make sure there isn’t some unusual weather happening at your destination. This gives you time to make last minute changes if need be.
Speaking of last minute changes,
Purchase a Travel Insurance Plan
Typically there’s an option for this when you buy your flight tickets. This helps you recoup the cost of your travels or accommodations so that you can still visit another time without worrying that you lost your investment.
Make Copies of Important Documents
Copy your ID, passport, visa, travel insurance documentation, and other necessary information to keep with you. If these documents are lost or stolen, copies can help in their recovery or in getting new ones.
Make Sure Your Valuables are Secure
Wear a Crossbody Bag
Wearing a crossbody bag instead of a shoulder bag or putting things in your back pockets, helps you avoid pickpockets. If your items are in front of you and securely attached to your body, it makes it much harder to get your items stolen.
Secure Valuables in Your Hotel Safe
Don’t carry everything together with you because if one bag gets stolen and that’s where everything is, you’re out of luck. It might also help to bring a door stop alarm for your accommodations and carry a safety whistle.
Keep Regular Contact with Family and Friends
If your friends and family are up to date on your whereabouts, it makes it much easier for you to get help if an emergency were to happen.
Tell Your Bank Where You’re Going
Most online banking services have a facility for letting the bank or credit card provider know about your upcoming travels. Make sure you use it shortly before leaving – and keep them in the loop if your travel plans change. You would hate to have them see any charges in a foreign country and think you’re a thief so they lock down your only way of accessing your money. This can take days to reconcile and would absolutely throw a huge wrench in your trip.
I also recommend using your debit card at the airport ATM machine as soon as you arrive in a new country, as this also helps let the bank know you’re traveling. Be sure to use ATMs wisely so that no one can read your pin or be close enough to steal your cash, but also make sure there hasn’t been any tampering with the machine prior to using it. Additionally, hide emergency cash just in case something happens and you need to access money quickly.
Use Reputable Companies
This includes ride share or limousine services as well as places for accommodations. If you need suggestions, take advice from the front desk workers or hosts at whatever hotel / hostel / Airbnb you’re staying.
Pack a First Aid Kit
Bring things like a basic waterproof adventure first aid kit with a few additions: Sunscreen, re-hydration salts, anti-histamine tablets, small pair of scissors, extra pain pills (ibuprofen), emergency space blanket, small tube of petroleum jelly (helps prevent blisters), etc.
Consider What You Eat
This helps you avoid food poisoning. If food is from a street vendor, carefully inspect the food or avoid it altogether. Don’t drink the water if the CDC recommends. Eat at popular places with long lines. Try to watch how your food is prepared. Pack translation cards to express any allergies you may have. Remember that fully cooked food is always the safest. Only eat peel-able fruit to avoid bacteria.
If you want to travel, you cannot avoid risk. There is no way to be 100% safe from any threat, in any part of life. Risk is an integral part of adventure too. But, there are ways to protect yourself and manage your chances of experiencing challenging circumstances. Keep this list close by to help you remember how to stay safe while traveling, and happy adventuring!