Traveling can be eye-opening, exhilarating, and life-changing. However, there can also be a few safety challenges that are important to keep in mind to make sure that you and your family stay safe. These can include everything from minor health risks, like traveler’s diarrhea, to much bigger issues, like natural disasters and catastrophes. Scammers and theft are also major travel annoyances that luckily do not generally impact your physical health (although they can have an impact on your mental health and this should not be downplayed) but can definitely put a damper on your vacation.
While there are a few things that you need to be aware of when traveling, this does not mean that you need to be looking over your shoulder all of the time. Depending on where you are from, you may even be statistically safer in a foreign country than you are at home.
The most important thing in regards to safety is to follow the same precautions that you would at home. We know how valuable travel can be and we want everyone to feel safe doing it. As with most things in life, prevention is better than trying to find a cure so below you will find a list of travel safety tips that can help you avoid scams, keep your valuables safe, and know what to do if you face an emergency. While this is specifically written for families, we have thrown in some great tips for solo travelers as well.
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Travel Safety Tips
Always do your research.
This is one of the best ways to avoid becoming a “victim” while you are traveling. Try to learn as much as possible about where you are going beyond just the normal travel guides including the cultural norms, local laws that you need to be aware of, current affairs (especially if they can lead to civil unrest), and political history as well as any safety hazards you should be aware of. Depending on where you are going, you may even be able to find blog posts and YouTube videos about the particular scams in an area.
Continue to do this research while you are in a destination as well, especially if you are traveling widely throughout a country as what is socially acceptable can vary a lot depending on what part of the country you are in. If there is some sort of political upheaval happening while you are there, make sure that you keep abreast of any developments as this can often break out into dangerous riots and protests. This can save you a lot of misery later on.
The U.S Department of State is a good resource for finding up-to-date information regarding the safety issues in a destination.
Understand the COVID situation in a foreign country.
While this is important to do your research about a place under normal circumstances, it has become even more so due to the COVID pandemic. As many travelers found out last year (and continue to find out until today), COVID spikes within a country can cause sudden lockdowns, border closings, and canceled flights with no warning which can lead to ruined vacation plans, getting trapped in a country, and/or having to pay a lot of money to get home from wherever you are. This shouldn’t keep you from traveling as many economies around the world still rely heavily on tourism and many people make their living from it but it does mean that you should always keep an eye on the COVID situation within a country and how this could potentially impact your travel plans.
In addition, don’t forget to double-check the requirements for entering countries both based on your nationality and where you are traveling from. In most cases, being double vaccinated does not exclude you from having to do PCR tests but it may exclude you from having to quarantine in the rare cases that countries still have this restriction in place. It is also a very good idea to try and get your test as soon as possible within the 72-hour window. I found this out the hard way after getting a false positive PCR result while being tested right before a flight to Brazil. Luckily, I had enough time to take another PCR as well as an antigen test before my flight (both of which were negative) which still allowed me to travel.
Buy travel insurance.
Just like COVID has made it imperative to do research about a potential travel destination, it has also made it basically mandatory to always have health insurance. While it was always a good idea to have it before the pandemic as many American health insurance companies will not cover you outside of the United States (the best way to ruin a vacation is getting slapped with a medical bill after getting sick or having an accident), it has become even more so now. In fact, some countries even require you to show proof of travel health insurance before they will let you step one foot past immigration.
Travel health insurance is surprisingly inexpensive and is well worth the extra cost of having the peace of mind that you will be covered in case anything happens to you. This is one area that you don’t want to skimp on so make sure that you have adequate coverage for both you and everyone in your family.
Keep your personal belongings safe.
When you are out exploring a new city, make sure to always keep a close eye on your stuff, especially if you are carrying your passport or other important documents, a lot of money, or expensive electronics with you. Never, ever leave your bag unattended no matter how safe an area may feel. While it may feel a bit silly, carrying your day pack on your chest when you are in a crowded area or on public transportation will keep your bag safe from pickpockets.
It is also a good idea to never put anything valuable in your back pockets, especially your phone and wallet, as this is an easy spot for thieves to get to. As long as they are deep enough, your front pockets are almost always safer (which is a good thing to keep in mind when you are packing for your trip.)
If you are traveling on long-distance trains or buses, try to keep any valuables either in a daypack, money belt, or your purse and keep your bag on your lap, directly next to you (ie touching you) or if you decide to put it on the seat next to you, make sure to wrap a strap around your wrist and keep your arm over the
Solo travelers: If you are staying in a hostel or other shared accommodation or a campground where you don’t have a private place to lock up your belongs, it is also a good idea to keep your bag of valuables in bed with you
Let someone know where you are.
I am a member of many different Facebook travel groups and the number of posts that come up for missing people is frankly a bit disturbing. Although they are for people from all over the world and for destinations all over the world, there is often one common thread between all of them—the people that were missing had not updated anyone of their whereabouts for a while.
While it may be a romantic idea to think about going completely “off-grid” for a while with no one knowing where you are, this could end up being very dangerous in the long run. It is extremely important that you let at least SOMEONE know where you are in case something happens to you. This doesn’t mean that you let your parents know the contact address of every person you visit or every hotel that you stay in but it does mean that people need to know at the very least what city you are currently in.
I travel a lot so to make things easier for myself and everyone I know, I always check in on Facebook when I arrive in a new city. This ensures that if something happens to me, at least people know where to begin looking. If you are in an unfortunate situation where you feel like your safety may be at risk, make sure a friend or family member knows exactly where you are and what you are doing.
Ask a local if things are safe.
If you are visiting a new city and are wondering if certain areas are safe or if there are any concerns about walking around in the evening, make sure to ask a local who lives nearby their opinion. This could be someone that works at the front desk of your hotel or a nearby restaurant. If possible, ask a few different people who may have had different experiences in a destination. They can give you an idea of what you need to be concerned about and what is the latest time that it is safe to walk around at night.
Solo female travelers: Make sure to ask young women whether or not they think an area is safe to walk through and what time you should plan on being back at your hotel at night to avoid any issues. This is much more useful than asking a young man who would most likely not have experienced the same level of harassment as women do. When you do decide to walk home, check to see how many women or families you see walking around. This is usually a pretty good gauge as to how safe an area is regardless of the time of day. If you find yourself as the only woman out on the streets, call an Uber or jump in a taxi pronto. While it may be perfectly safe, it is better to be safe than sorry in these instances.
To get more great tips on traveling alone as a woman, make sure to check out this guide to Solo Travel for Women.
Never carry your passport with you.
Unless you absolutely have to, try to never carry your passports with you. If carrying it with you somehow feels safer than leaving it hidden in your hotel room, you may want to rethink your choice of hotels! While some countries require you to have it with you at all times, most of the time a copy of your passport is acceptable in case you are asked by a police officer or security official for it.
If you are really concerned about your passport, you can always leave it in a hotel safe or locked in a locker in your hostel. I usually leave mine hidden somewhere in my backpack regardless of where I am staying and have never had any issues.
Do not be an easy target.
When you are trying to figure out a new city, it can be difficult to not look like a tourist, especially when you have bored-looking kids in tow. However, try as much as possible not to be an “easy target”. Do not have your phone out while you are openly staring at a map, sit there staring at a metro map obviously very confused, or seem to be unsure about a new currency as you count out each bill and coin.
The key to avoiding looking like a target is to be as confident as possible so try to get familiar with the metro maps or different currency bills before you head out for a day of exploring. Try not to look lost or confused and make sure to look people right in the eye if they seem threatening or shady in any way. Once they know that you have noticed them, they are likely to head in the other direction.
Avoid using free standing ATMs.
When you need to get cash out of an ATM anywhere in the world, always try to find ATMs that are attached to banks rather than free-standing ATMs. This is important for a few different reasons. First, ATMs attached to banks are likely to charge lower fees and offer better currency conversion rates, and second, they are also less likely to be tampered with.
Whenever you use an ATM, always inspect the card slot and the ATMs keys themselves to make sure that there aren’t any “extra” attachments that seem out of place as they could have been modified by scammers as a way to steal your account information. If you are unsure about what this could look like, do a quick search on Google or YouTube regarding ATM scams on the destination you are traveling to. If it is a common issue, there are likely to be plenty of videos and photos explaining what to look out for before using any ATM.
Do not tell too many people about your travel plans.
Although it is important that someone knows at least roughly where you are at all times, it is also very important not to tell too many people about your travel plans. Many people have had their homes broken into while they were on vacation because they were posting constant updates on social media.
This is also true when you are on the road and chatting with locals or fellow travelers. Until you know you can trust someone, do not tell them any specifics about where you are going or where you are staying. This is particularly important for solo female travelers or women traveling alone with kids. Never, ever tell a strange man where you are staying, especially if it is a guest house or Airbnb where you don’t have the same level of security that you would at a larger hotel.
Choose where you stay wisely.
Over the past decade, AirBnbs have risen in popularity exponentially and it is easy to see why. You can have the privacy and convenience of having an apartment while only visiting a city for a few days. This is great if you are traveling as a family and want to make sure that you have plenty of space for kids and don’t want to worry about disturbing other hotel guests. However, staying in standalone properties can have extra safety issues that you need to keep in mind.
Make sure to read the property reviews thoroughly to see what other people have written about the neighborhood and about the host. If people mention anything about feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, try to find another place. While it may be great value for money, it is probably not worth it if you end up feeling like you are staying in an unsafe place.
Save the partying until you get back home.
While it is extremely tempting to let your hair down on a good old night on the town, it is probably a good idea to wait until you get home, especially if you have a tendency to get a little tipsy. Drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs can lead to dangerous situations for both you and your loved ones and can make you easily lose focus as to where you are or (more frequently) where your stuff is. Ask any U.S. embassy employee in Europe, East Asia, and South America what their biggest “problem” is and it is likely that it is drunk tourists who lose their passports. While drinking a little bit is absolutely fine for most people, just make sure that you don’t get so drunk that you begin to make decisions that can impact your personal safety.
Solo travelers: This is very important to keep in mind. There are stories from all over the world of men and women being drugged, raped, or robbed while they have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Don’t let yourself become one of these statistics.
Never run out of cash.
When you travel, there are usually some unexpected expenses that pop up throughout your journey and it is important that you pad your budget a bit to make sure that you are covered in case this happens. This means always having access to cash and having debit cards and credit cards that work internationally. Try not to spend all of your cash before making your next trip to an ATM as you never know when there could be issues withdrawing money or when your trigger happy bank puts a freeze on your cards unexpectedly (which happened to me just recently in Pakistan).
It is also important to always have some money in USD or Euros (or any other widely accepted currency) as a “cash reserve” that you can use in case of emergencies. This could be a few hundred dollars that you have hidden somewhere in your bag that you only spend if you absolutely have to.
Also, try to never carry all of your ATM and debit cards with you at the same time in case your bag or wallet gets stolen. If something does happen to any of your cards, make sure to cancel them or block them right away. Many banks offer a way to do this online so you don’t have to worry about waiting for their customer service centers to open.
If you find yourself suddenly without any way to get money, don’t panic. it is always possible to send yourself some through Western Union (at a high fee of course) but it is a good last resort if you get really desperate.
Think with (about) your stomach.
For many people, trying all kinds of new food is one of their favorite parts of travel. With so many mouth-wateringly good food found all across the plenty, this probably comes as no surprise! However, if it is your first time visiting a destination, it is a good idea to think with your stomach. And not in the “ohhh, I am so hungry I want to eat everything” way. This is in the “how bad is this going to hurt afterward?” type of way.
No matter where you are, there is almost always a risk of getting traveler’s diarrhea simply because of the change of ingredients, spices, etc. However, there is also a risk of picking up a stomach infection which can take a lot longer to recover from so it is really important to be careful about what you eat.
This doesn’t mean that you and your family will be stuck eating nothing but McDonald’s for your entire trip (although your kids may love that!) but it does mean that you should pay extra attention to how things are being cooked. Since this is certainly one area where there are no hard and fast rules (except never drink the water), it is up to you to decide what looks safe or not. In many developing countries, eating street food can actually be much safer than eating in nice restaurants since it is usually served piping hot straight off the wok/fryer/grill, etc., and hasn’t been sitting around for hours.
It is also a good idea to always carry Imodium with you as well as a light dose of antibiotics in case you get hit with stomach issues and don’t have access to a pharmacy. If you are unable to get these before you leave your home country, don’t worry—you can usually get them over the counter in most places around the world.
Check if you need any vaccines.
While the COVID vaccine has proved to be a polarizing issue around the world, this is certainly not the first time that governments have required visitors to be vaccinated against certain diseases in order to get into the country. The most common of these mandatory vaccines is yellow fever, particularly if you are coming from or traveling to a country that has a high incidence rate of it. While most countries in Europe don’t require any proof of vaccination, it is always a good idea to double check what vaccines are needed (or recommended) when traveling to destinations in Africa, South America, or Asia.
Learn a few words in the local language.
Learning a new language can be a fun challenge and is a great way to interact with the local population. However, more importantly, it is also a way to be able to get help when you really need it. Knowing simple phrases like “do you speak English?” and “I need help” can make a big difference if you are in an area where English isn’t widely spoken.
Solo female travelers: If you are planning on staying in a destination for a while, it is also a good idea to learn a handful of common swear words. These can be useful to have in your language arsenal if you want to be able to understand what that sleazy guy is saying or if you want to get them to leave you alone if they are harassing you. Behaving aggressively back can sometimes make the situation better and it can sometimes make it worse. Again, this is one of those situations where you need to use your best judgment as to what you should do and how you should react.
Always have a local SIM card.
While many American phone companies offer international roaming services, it is always a good idea to get a local SIM card at your travel destination. These can be extremely useful if your hotel has dodgy wifi and you need to have a more stable connection. They can also be just the lifeline that you need to get out of a dangerous situation and need to find the closest police station, the nearest embassy, or even just to call an Uber to make sure you get home safely.
Try to remember your local phone number as soon as possible when you get your new SIM card as you may need to give it out to people throughout your trip.
Enroll in the Smart Traveler Program.
If you are a US citizen, it is also a good idea to sign up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This international travel program allows you to enroll with the nearest embassy to your travel destination and receive updates on safety information. The embassy is also able to contact you in case of any emergencies. This is particularly useful if you are traveling through a country that has recently experienced any type of unrest or is prone to natural disasters.
Ready to Roam?
We hope that this guide has helped you get one step closer to heading out on the road! If you need some inspiration on wonderful (and safe!) travel destinations, make sure to check out this list of underrated travel destinations or, while you’re in one of the 400+ cities we cover, try one of our fun-filled scavenger hunts!
Frequently Asked Questions
When traveling, it’s important to review travel safety tips before embarking on any journey. For example, always ensure that someone watches over your belongings and stay updated on regional news!
When you are traveling with your family, follow travel safety tips from the experts at Let’s Roam! And rememberto resist the urge to tell many people about upcoming travel plans.
There are plenty of safe, family-friendly activities all over the world! You can visit an amusement park, try an array of outdoor activities, or even take part in a fun-filled scavenger hunt!