Safe Travels: A Guide To Safe International Travel

As methods of transportation have improved, traveling has become increasingly popular. Just because transportation methods have improved, does not mean that travelers should let down their guard. Whether traveling to a neighboring state or a foreign country, there are many tips to heed to ensure safe travels. Since traveling abroad is by far the most taxing for travelers, below we will take a look at what you can do to help make sure that you have safe travels in any foreign country.

Check Travel Advisories

Regardless of where you intend to travel, whenever you are traveling outside of the United States it is crucial to check travel advisories. Travel advisories are issued by the United States government to let US travelers know where it is currently safe to travel. These travel advisories are made based upon numerous factors but most often political climate. There are times when foreign countries are deemed unsafe for travel due to the presence of political unrest, current feelings toward the United States and civil war. These advisories are sometimes made based upon the fact that United States citizens or political figures have already been the target of terrorist activity. These warnings are also given when the political climate of a country is out of control and where terrorists and insurgents are openly active.

Travel advisories don't always mean an entire country is off limits. Warnings may advise against travel to a particular area or suggest you don't roam an area after sunset.These warnings may also be issued for instances when the government cannot reach a U.S. citizen due to an embassy or consulate being closed.

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

After ensuring that an area is safe for travel, United States citizens are advised to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This program was formerly known as the Registration with Embassies Program. STEP, as it is now known, is a free service that has been established by the United States government. The program is meant to keep Americans safe during their time abroad. After registration you get travel warnings and alerts for the area you're traveling to. The whole idea is to provide assistance to you if there's an emergency.

Becoming Familiar with an Area Before Travel

It is important to become familiar with an area before traveling. This includes knowing where the U.S embassy or consulate is located, researching crime trends and current situations in the area you are visiting and becoming familiar with the area's culture.

The Importance of the U.S Embassy or Consulate When Traveling Abroad

Many U.S. citizens who travel abroad are unfamiliar with the importance of the U.S. embassy or consulate and what these institutions can do for a U.S. traveler in a foreign country. While the great majority of travelers never travel to a foreign country with the intent of getting in to serious trouble, sometimes these situations arise. In the event that a U.S citizen gets in to serious medical, legal or financial difficulty, U.S consular officers can assist. These officials do not act legally as counsel or representation; however, they do provide information on local resources such as doctors and attorneys, issue loans and provide information on dangerous conditions in an area.

The U.S embassy or consulate does not only act in emergencies, they also have access to routine information that can be helpful to U.S citizens. Particularly for U.S citizens living abroad, the embassy or consulate helps to conduct absentee voting, selective service registration and filling in U.S tax forms. Consulates also have the power to act as notaries, register U.S children born outside of the U.S and issue passports.

Researching Crime Trends

It may sound ridiculous to research crime trends for an area that you are visiting for a few weeks on vacation, but it is important. In some areas where tourists are frequent, con men and purse snatchers are thriving on the tourist industry. Becoming familiar with common scams and crime patterns can help you to avoid becoming a victim while traveling. For example, some areas have particular streets that are notorious for purse snatching, some areas experience drastic increases in crime after sundown and some areas have a high population of scam artists preying on tourists. This type of information can generally be found by scouring the internet or reading up on tourist guidebooks.

Researching Current Situations

The term "current situations" generally refers to political or religious unrest but it can also include situations such as economic difficulties. All of these elements can lead to dangerous situations if tourists are unfamiliar with them and innocently misstep during conversation or in their actions. For example, a tourist visiting a country experiencing friction between two religious groups may innocently ask about a particular religion's practices. While this inquiry may be innocent, for any locals overhearing the topic it may be enough to spark argument or even violence.

Becoming Familiar with an Area's Culture

One of the most important things that U.S travelers can do when traveling abroad is to become familiar with an area's culture. This is particularly important in areas that have strong religious beliefs such as the Middle East. For a woman to travel to a country where culture deems it inappropriate to have her legs showing and to wear a short dress or skirt is considered disrespectful. Locals may interpret this disrespect as a slap in the face both to their culture and to their beliefs and this can spark friction, violence or in some cases arrest. It is important to remember that while traveling to a foreign country one must adhere to local customs as much as possible. That is not to say that all beliefs should be abided by, for example you should not feel forced in to consuming foods that are unappetizing to you, rather simply be respectful when declining. In some cases, such as dress code, it is best to abide by local custom as not doing so would show disrespect.

Customs Restrictions

For U.S citizens traveling abroad there is always the desire to take everything abroad with them and bring home a souvenir, but when doing so it is important to be familiar with customs regulations. Know what is and what is not acceptable to transport from country to country. Some of the items that may cause difficulty for travelers include: animals, plant life, food and medications. The restrictions are meant to prevent the importation of non-native plant or animal live to an area. The perfect example of this is the introduction of rabbits in to Australia. As a non-native species in Australia, rabbits began to decimate plant life, thus affecting native species that depend upon that plant life for sustenance. There is also the concern of accidentally introducing new disease, illness, bacteria and even biological warfare agents in a country where they are not currently present. Whether done accidentally or on purpose, these items can be imported through a variety of means and can devastate a country so they are strictly controlled through customs regulations.

Beware of Health Warnings

Health warnings are an important part of safe travel which is why U.S travelers are always advised to visit their general practitioner prior to travel. Here are some general rules/tips to follow to stay on the up and up.

  • Make sure your doctor approves you for international travel. If you're pregnant or have an illness it may be best to stay home.
  • Get any vaccines that are suggested for the area you are traveling to. The CDC keeps a list of recommended travel vaccinations based upon your travel destination. There are instances where you may want to opt out of the vaccinations. You can discuss this with your doctor.
  • Be knowledgeable of current outbreaks. For example, the Zika Virus and Ebola are two highly talked about diseases in 2016.
  • We know it's an extra cost but get travel insurance. We know of situations where people have become extremely ill and health insurance would've been very helpful.
  • Ask if the tap water is safe before drinking it or using it to brush your teeth.

Traveling with Credit Cards

You want to keep all of your financial cards and personal documentation especially safe when you're traveling. Losing a credit card or passport is one of the worst scenarios you could endure while trying to enjoy a new place. Here are some tips for traveling with credit cards.

  • Notify your card issuer of your travel plans so they don't cancel your card while you're abroad.
  • Consider purchasing a travel card, they are similar to debit cards except you load them ahead of time and they do not pull directly from your bank.
  • Bring more than one card in case one is not accepted somewhere.
  • Expect high ATM fees, try to plan ahead and have some cash on hand. If you end up using an ATM try to get a larger amount out so you don't have to pay the high fees multiple times.
  • Keep your receipts so you can look over your finances and make sure everything is accurate.
  • Keep your credit cards, passport, and other personal documents in separate places. That way if your coat gets lost or stolen you're not missing all of your items.

Basic Tips for Safe Travels

  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash so that if you do become a target of crime you will not lose all of your financial resources. Instead, keep your cash spread out in different areas (some in a purse, some in a wallet, some in a coat zipper pocket, hotel safe, etc.)
  • Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or expensive clothing when inappropriate. Wearing such items can advertise that you have a lot of money and make you a good target for theft or mugging. Of course this is not as applicable if you are attending a high class event, but when playing "tourist" it is important to fit in.
  • Try to blend in and appear like a local. Drawing attention to yourself can create a target on yourself.
  • Most hotel rooms offer guests the use of a safe either in their room or behind the front desk. If you have any items of value keep them in this safe to reduce the risk of theft.
  • Stay in a hotel that comes highly recommended by other travelers in recent reviews, unless you have other accommodations setup. This can help you to find a hotel that is hospitable to foreigners and in a safe traveling location.
  • If you choose to over indulge in alcohol and partake in drugs make sure you have someone looking out for you. Losing control alone can result in a number of dangerous situations (kidnapping, theft, assault, etc.).
  • Always make sure that someone else knows where you are, whether you talk to the hotel receptionist or concierge or talk to friends. This way if you were to get in to trouble, someone will realize that you are missing. It is generally best to inform someone who has a personal relationship with you who will recognize that you are missing as soon as possible.
  • If you are a regular traveler it can be easy to fall in to a pattern and get comfortable with traveling to any location. It is crucial to remember that no matter how often you travel, there is always the possibility that you could become a victim of crime so always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Purchase a passport holder that can be concealed easily (i.e. hangs around the neck, waist, ankle, etc.).
  • Secure your electronics (laptop, tablet, cell phone) by placing them in pockets they should be in. If you have a backpack that has compartments for each device keep them there so you know exactly where they are.
  • Consider carrying a fake wallet. If someone tries to mug you and tells you to hand over your wallet, throw the wallet at them but a bit further. They will run for the wallet and you can run to safety.
  • Do not go anywhere with a stranger.
  • Do not leave your drink unattended.
  • Consider carrying a small 72-hour kit in case of unexpected emergency.

Traveling Abroad With Children

Traveling abroad with children takes even more vigilance than a normal trip. In addition to all of the tips above, here are some steps for keeping your children safe.

  • Carry your children's documentation yourself.
  • If you're the only parent traveling, carry a notarized document signed by the other parent stating the children are permitted to leave the country.
  • Keep current photo of each child on hand.
  • Never leave documents behind in your hotel, even in a locked safe, as you may need them when out to prove their identities to authorities or to use services at places such as internet cafes.
  • Educate your kids about where you are traveling.
  • Explain to your children that you are going to a place with a different culture and different customs than they might be used to.
  • Should physical contact be lost with a child, assign the child a code word to say or even yell to get your attention. If another adult in your group finds your assigned child, have a code word for them to say as well.
  • Go over a "call and response" ("Marco, Polo!" for instance) for adults and children in a group to assess each other's positions when visual contact is limited, even when physical contact is established. One common way to do this is have an adult say, "One", the person directly following them say, "Two," the next person say, "Three", and so on.
  • Each time you go out with your children, assign an easily identifiable landmark as the meeting place in case anyone gets separated. Tell them before you leave that this is what will happen, and once you are out at your destination, assign the landmark and go over it with them to make sure it sticks.
  • Place copies of each child's passport and visa on their person should he or she become separated, along with instructions in English and the local dialect about what to do if they are separated from your group.

What traveling tips do you have?