Exploring within your own state or city can be fun, but traveling to another country is an entirely different and exciting experience. New sights, smells, tastes, and cultures all work to tantalize your senses and expand your mind.
However, you can also run into various troubles during your time abroad, from pickpockets to linguistic roadblocks. But staying safe when traveling out of the country is achievable when you follow some reliable tips, including the following 17 suggestions for anyone headed abroad.
1. Research Your Destination
It’s important to understand where you are traveling before stepping onto the plane, train, or another mode of transportation to get there. Different countries tend to have laws, traditions, cuisine, and currency that are not the same as what you are used to.
Figure out what places are considered safe and which are to be avoided, read reports on local crime rates, and familiarize yourself with any country-specific scams that you might run into. These are all good facts to help keep yourself safe.
In terms of other cultures, it’s wise to research what kind of behavior could be offensive or uncouth in your destination. If there are national religious considerations, ensure you are prepared for any garment restrictions.
2. Buddy Up
While you can certainly travel by yourself, it’s always safer to explore a different country with someone else. Whether this is a travel buddy that comes along with you or a tour group you join at your destination, traveling with others is wise.
If you find a day trip group in the city you’re staying in, consider joining up and combining forces with other solo travelers. You will likely make new friends and have fun in a safe group setting!
3. Look Into Communication Options
Make sure that you can still communicate with others on your trip and the people back home, especially when in a foreign country.
You can either get a local SIM card for your smartphone from an electronics or telephone shop or get a temporary data pass from your cell phone provider. Either way, it’s essential to always have access to Wi-Fi and cell networks when traveling.
4. Copy Your Documents
Bringing your important documents and identification is crucial to traveling, but you should also make several copies of the original.
Keep a photocopy of your ID, passport, and even credit card numbers stored safely in your accommodation, and leave copies with a trusted friend or family member back home. This will be useful if you lose the originals and need to reference any numbers.
Additionally, you should take photos of your documents and ID and keep them on your phone for mobile reference. Scan in your airline tickets, immunization record, itinerary, and any visas necessary for travel as well, just in case.
5. Cultivate Cultural Awareness
Even after your research, you still might not be aware of all the cultural traditions and restrictions of the country you are traveling to. Watch the people around you, ask questions, and make sure your cultural awareness is heightened.
It’s generally okay to make mistakes, but ensure that you don’t purposefully ignore anything part of a different culture. It can be very insulting and, in some countries, even dangerous.
6. Be Wary of Pickpockets
Safe travel involves not getting robbed or becoming the victim of pickpockets. To accomplish this, you need to follow some basic rules when out and about in a new place.
Never carry things in your back pocket—this virtually invites a pickpocket to try their skills out and nab whatever is stored there.
Additionally, don’t carry all of your belongings in the same place. Instead of keeping all your documents, cards, and money in your wallet, tuck items into different interior pockets or leave them locked up in your accommodation.
Always make sure that your backpack, knapsack, purse, or fanny pack is completely zipped up and carried in front of your body so you can keep an eye on it at all times. Backpack wearers should wear it on their front to avoid unseen robberies.
7. Keep Your Money & Valuables Safe
Apart from street smarts when it comes to keeping your belongings safe from pickpockets, avoid the risk of robbery altogether by leaving expensive items in your accommodation or, better yet, at home.
Additionally, don’t draw attention to your money, credit cards, or valuables when out and about or making transactions. The more people know about what you’re carrying, the more risk you are incurring.
8. Eat & Drink Safely
Is the water at your destination safe to drink, or do you need to stick to bottled water? If the water is not potable, you should likely avoid foods that have been washed in it but have not had the impurities cooked off, like fresh salads or fruit.
And if the tap water is not safe for consumption, make sure you always have ample supplies of bottled water when out and about to avoid dehydration or sickness.
9. Learn Some of the Language
Even if it’s just the base phrases of the country you visit, it’s polite to try and communicate effectively with the people there.
Learning things like “please,” “thank you,” and “where is the bathroom” are all good starting points, as well as the basic “hello,” “yes,” and “no.” Invest in a pocket language guide for mobile assistance and further reference while you are in that country.
10. Be Ready to Navigate
Carrying maps with you is a very good idea when in another country. Though you might be able to use your phone’s GPS and map application, what happens if your device runs out of battery?
Just in case, make sure you can identify your location on a local map and make your way back to your accommodation. Try to research your excursions the day before so that you have a vague idea of where you will be exploring.
Subway, train, or bus routes are also good to identify for navigation. Make a note of relevant stations and lines that you routinely use, and use them as orienteering points in your day.
11. Notify Your Bank
Avoid having your credit cards suspended while overseas by notifying your bank before you travel. Many banks will monitor your account for suspicious activity, and if a bunch of foreign charges appear, they might freeze your account for security.
This can be a pain, particularly when you are just trying to pay for lunch, so make sure your bank or credit union is aware of your travel plans in advance.
12. Pack Wisely
Only take as much as you need for the trip to cut down on unnecessary baggage that will only weigh you down and make you a target for thieves. Pack all required medication and prescriptions, and don’t bring your expensive gadgets along.
Research the entry laws of your destination and keep an eye out for items that are not allowed into the country. You don’t want to be detained upon landing for something you forgot to take out of your suitcase!
13. Pick the Right Accommodation
Make sure you choose the right kind of place to stay in another country so that when you are done with a day of exploring, you can relax in a safe and comfortable location.
Evaluate the neighborhood of your accommodation before checking in. If you have a bad feeling about it, trust your gut and find somewhere else that is safer.
Hotels can generally be a safe bet, but reading reviews is essential to avoiding scams. Additionally, though hostels are cheap, they generally don’t have as many safety considerations or hygiene checks as other forms of accommodation.
14. Register Your Trip
For anyone traveling abroad, always register your trip with the requisite authorities. This includes your GP, your home government, and even your country’s embassy at your destination.
This will ensure that the appropriate steps will be immediately taken if something happens to you. Check out the U.S. Department of State’s STEP services for more information.
15. Look Into Road Laws
If you are planning on driving while on your trip, make sure you understand the rules of the road in that country and all essential road signs, traffic signals, and other specifications.
Additionally, ensure your driving license is adequate to pilot a vehicle in that country. You can generally drive with an American license in most other countries, but check to ensure you don’t need an international driver’s license before traveling.
16. Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
Being in a new place is exciting, and it can be easy to get caught up in the sights and sounds of the city. However, it’s very important to remain vigilant at all times when traveling abroad.
Don’t allow yourself to get completely distracted by your surroundings, no matter how magnificent. It’s the perfect opportunity for thieves or other criminals to ply their trade. Instead, always cast glances around you and stay aware of everything happening.
17. Try to Blend In
Though you might be a foreigner in their midst, it’s wise to attempt to blend in with everyone else around you. This camouflage of sorts can help you avoid crime or other potential issues, particularly if you do everything in your power to not stick out!
Don’t speak too loudly, respect all cultural rules, and avoid being seen as an obvious tourist.