These 25 travel safety tips to help keep you safe are gathered from over 6 years of our travel around the world. There is nothing more important at the end of the day.
Living our dream of traveling for over 6 years has brought us a lot of joy, and taught us a lot of lessons – sometimes the hard way. That said, we would not change anything, especially because now we can impart our wisdom to you!
We have really learned a lot about staying safe during traveling because in our minds nothing is more important at the end of the day. And nothing can ruin a trip faster than getting scammed or robbed. And we aren’t just referring to international travel. Last time we visited New Orleans, I wasn’t paying attention and my backpack went missing.
For the most part, the world is relatively safe for any type of travelers. However, we have come across our fair share of deceitful taxi drivers, two-faced tour guides, thefts and scams, and officers that just did not seem concerned with our plight at the time.
When traveling anywhere, it is extremely important to be prepared, because you never know what will happen. In the following sections, we will impart our wisdom and let you in on the best travel safety tips so that you can put your mind at ease when planning your next trip or vacation.
1. Learn Common Travel Scams
Regardless of where you travel in the world, you will always find people who are seemingly sincere but are in fact trying to scam you out of any amount of your cash and belongings that they can. Luckily, they are pretty obvious for the most part, but there are those instances where it is a very thought-out scam and is hard to recognize. Everyone thinks that they are too smart to get scammed, or that it will never happen to you. But trust us, it can happen to anyone. Check out our post on Travel Scams To Avoid With These 15 Tips.
Listed here are some of the most common scams that we have come across in our six years of travel. Learn them all, and even do some more in-depth research on your own. Google will be one of your best resources for learning about potential scams in the area that you are going to be visiting. For example, I’m sure if we had researched Cuba before going, we would have been well aware of the milk scam and would not have fallen prey to the scammer’s tactics with such ease. Consider it just another preparation for your journey. Research in this matter can save you from losing hundreds, or even thousands of dollars.
2. Write Down Emergency Information
When a person panics, such as during a stressful or even disastrous situation, they tend to lose the ability to think clearly. In a case like this, you may not even have the time to look up numbers for local institutions such as the police department, or your country’s embassy. Don’t put yourself in a position that you could avoid. Instead, create an emergency plan that has all the numbers that you may need to use while traveling.
While you may not need to use all of these numbers, this is one time where it’s a good idea to be over-prepared. You can even save the numbers on your phone somewhere – in this day and age, we all have our phones on us at all times. This way, it would be very easy to simply go through your contacts and find the appropriate number. Another thing that you can do is to have the most important numbers on an index card, laminate it, and keep it in your wallet or purse.
3. Check the State Department Website
Available for every country in the world, the US Department of State has a webpage where it will list every known threat and possible issues that you may run into while visiting. You should keep in mind, however, that it is the State Department’s job to keep you in the loop on everything that could go wrong, not what is more likely to go wrong. Do not let this page scare you into calling off your trip, or changing your destination.
Their advice will more likely than not be like talking to a hypochondriac, in the sense that they will be warning you in order to be extremely cautious when you are traveling. You should factor this in when you are doing research on your own. Just because one country is currently having an issue, does not mean that there is any reason for you to avoid visiting.
4. Lock Up Your Valuables
While traveling with a lot of priceless items and valuables is never a good idea, there is undoubtedly something that you will bring with you that you can’t afford to lose or have taken from you. For instance, we always travel with expensive camera gear, to document our adventures. It is our responsibility, and yours, to make sure that the threat of theft is minimized to as little as possible. For instance, remember that most bags that you will carry with you are just fabric. It would be very easy, regardless of a zipper enclosure or not, for a thief the simply cut a hole in the bag while you are either asleep when waiting for the next train, or just not paying attention. Our camera bag is resistant to cutting into it, as is the shoulder straps.
You should always be aware of where your valuables are, and make every effort to keep an eye on them, whenever possible. For instance, we have made the habit of using our backpacks as pillows whenever we travel, and for added protection secure them to the handrails using a zip tie or other method. Calling your accommodations before arriving will allow you to plan; most of them will have a safe in the room that you can use, free of charge.
5. Get Travel Insurance
Like most things in life, you never think that you will need travel insurance until something happens, and you then wish that you had it. If only to put your mind at ease, get some travel insurance, and relax about your valuables while you are seeing the world. We get asked all the time if we are ever worried about traveling with expensive electronics or camera equipment. The truth of the matter is that we use to be, but we don’t worry about it so much anymore, thanks to our travel insurance. Everyone should carry some form of health and travel insurance. No matter how much we plan, life can throw a curveball at us, especially while traveling. Look at the information in our post on Travel Insurance Guide Simplified
World Nomads Insurance for short-term travel insurance is an excellent choice and one that we have been very happy with. You can buy it online with relative ease, but you should be aware that they do have “per item” limits on coverage of $500. So it, unfortunately, will not cover our whole $3,000 camera.
6. Ask Locals for Advice
Much like asking the waiter at a restaurant what they recommend, locals have a vast knowledge of the area that you are in. Asking a resident about different areas, and which areas to avoid, is an excellent idea. Most of the time, the locals are very friendly and will be honest with you about which areas you should avoid. However, it would always be wise to get a second opinion, just in case they are not as knowledgable as they seem, or in some cases are setting you up for a scam.
We have found that taxi drivers are hit or miss in this regard, some are the most generous people that you will meet, while others are simply trying to lead you astray for their end games. We have found that the most helpful locals are the hotel front-desk workers. They are paid to know about their city, and they will be more than happy to help you with any questions that you may have.
7. Register with Your Embassy
The U.S. Department of State provides what is called a “Smart Traveller Enrollment Program”. It is designed to make the local embassy where you are traveling aware of your presence, and keep you updated with safety information for the duration of your trip. It is free and available for all U.S. citizens. This is a great way to give you not only peace of mind, but keep you in the know of any problems in the areas that you are traveling in. Canada also has its version of this, and it is called “Registration of Canadians Abroad”, for our Canadian readers.
8. Email your Itinerary to Friends and Family
Once you have done the bulk of the trip planning, it is important to let those close to you know where you are going, and when you can be expected to be there. The best way to do this is to simply send an email to those in your inner circle, and ask them to reply if they received it.
Then once on your trip, make sure to check in with at least one of them ever so often. Before we travel anywhere, we always make sure that at least one or two people know exactly where we are, and we always check-in when we have arrived at a new destination.
In this way, if they do not hear from us when they should, or within a few days, they know they should try to contact us. If we do not respond, they know to go ahead and contact the proper authorities.
It would be ill-advised to make your itinerary too public, such as posting it on Facebook. This way, someone who would wish you harm, or to harass you on your journey would have easy access to your general location. This also goes for people that you meet on your way. While someone may seem extremely friendly, you should always have your guard up. Their friendliness could be a ploy to find out more about your trip and to follow you for whatever they are planning. That is not to say that you should be stand-offish or rude to those that you meet on your way, but it is always wise to err on the side of caution.
If someone does ask, simply give a general, yet vague, region of where you would be and use a larger time frame that what you are expecting. Scammers are looking for people who know little to nothing about the area. Whenever we are somewhere new, we act as we know somewhat about it, and sometimes even allude to having friends or family in the area that we are visiting.
Remember: little lies don’t hurt, especially when it comes to your safety.
10. Be Aware of Your Clothing
Regardless of where you visit, scammers are always looking for tourists, as. They believe them to be easy targets. We have found that the wrong choice in clothing can be like having a sign on your back screaming “tourist”. Additionally, some countries have guidelines for clothing that not only shows a sign of respect but is also law-appropriate. For instance, in Barcelona, it is illegal for both sexes to go topless in public. It can be possible to stay in the guidelines of the law while still offending others in a certain culture. Choosing the wrong attire can not only attract unnecessary hostility but would make you seem ignorant as well. Researching before visiting can help in making sure that you choose the proper clothing choices while visiting other countries and regions.
11. Splurge on Extra Safety
If you are like us when we first started traveling, you are probably trying to see as much of the world as you can on a budget. This most likely means trying to find the cheapest transportations and accommodations. It is important to realize that this approach is probably not the safest or smartest way to go every time. Cheaper budget-friendly accommodations where we have stayed, in the past, have not only felt sketchy but in some cases have lacked even a lock on the door.
In addition to cheaper rooms, budget flights and other forms of transportation generally arrive in the middle of the night. This is not only a bad idea in terms of getting your bearings in a new place, but can also lead to the wrong kind of people walking the streets. You could even run the risk of your taxi driver trying to scam you. Sometimes it is the better choice to spend a little extra on your accommodations and travel to give you peace of mind and keep you safe.
12. Stay Tethered to your Bag
Most thieves are considered to be opportunists, in the sense that they are looking for a quick “grab and go” opportunity. Anything that slows them down will not only deter them but will also make sure they are not able to flee quickly in the unfortunate event that they can grab your purse or bag. If you can find a way to make sure to keep your bag connected to something sturdy at all times, they will see the opportunity as a risk, and will in most cases leave you alone.
A good option is using a Carabiner Clip, or even just having a regular strap underneath your chair leg. It does not need to be secured with handcuffs at all times, but it would be smart to find a way to attach it to something that will make it harder for a thief to grab it quickly and run.
A great option if you are like us and use carryon baggage for most travels is the PacSafe Anti-Theft Carry-On Travel Backpack. They are excellent and can even be tethered to a bench with its own steel cable so they will not go missing.
13. Learn Basic Self-Defense
You don’t need to be the toughest person in the world to survive your travels; trust us, we aren’t. However, we decided early on that it would be a good idea for us to learn some basic self-defense moves to protect us while traveling. Learning how to be street-smart in your self-defense would be helpful; styles that are great for this are Krav Maga or Muay Thai.
It is also important to know when to deploy these techniques. Just because you can knock someone down on the ground at a moment’s notice, does not mean you should in every instance. A good rule of thumb is to use self-defense if you feel your life is in danger, and only until you can get away.
For instance, if someone is trying to mug you with a knife or gun, simply give them what they want and run away. The use of force should only be applied when you feel you or your loved ones are in imminent danger, and you have no choice in the matter.
A tactical pen is a great option, and it would not set off security alarms. We both carry one whenever we travel.
14. Project Situational Awareness
Most of the human communication is not through words, but action and body language. Exuding confidence is sometimes enough to deter any would-be attackers or thieves. Walk tall with your head held high, and be aware of your surroundings. Don’t appear to be lost or in a new city, and potential attackers will most likely move on to an easier target.
Eye contact can be a good way to do this, although you should check due to the region that you are in. For instance, too much eye contact can be a bad thing in some cases, as it can be seen as a provocation. For the most part, however, having the right amount of eye contact can let others know that you are not someone to mess with and that you can see right through their plans.
15. Tell Your Bank Where You’re Going
Imagine the frustration we felt years ago after careful planning to ensure our safety only to have our bank think that our account was compromised while traveling, and freezing our account. If you are lucky when this happens, you will simply have to answer a few security questions to have the use of your account again. However, in some cases, you will receive a notification that your account is being investigated due to suspicious activity, and it can take days to get this resolved.
To avoid this, most banks have a facility for informing the bank that you are traveling, and to expect transactions abroad. There is also a feature on your account that you can toggle on and off, and you should make sure to do so before traveling. Another good thing to do is to use an ATM at the airport when you land; the bank will see this and know that you are traveling.
16. Hide Emergency Cash
Doing everything you can to prevent worst-case scenarios is always good, but you should also plan in case the worst happens. Having an emergency source of funds securely stashed away on your trip is one such way to do this. Some of our favorite hiding placed include, but are not limited to:
- Secret pocket sewn in your pants
- Behind a patch on your backpack
- Rolled into an empty chapstick or lipstick canister
- Inside a hidden compartment
How much emergency cash you decide to bring is completely up to you, as you know your budget, and how much it might cost you in another country. Generally, we keep $200 in two different places, in case one of them gets compromised.
If for some reason, your emergency cash has either been exhausted or stolen, the best course of action is to get in touch with a friend or family member and have them wire you money through Western Union or a Moneygram transfer.
17. Food and Water Safety
You may be concerned about eating food in another country, or the cleanliness of the food prep areas. We are here to put your mind at ease, as in our six years of travel, we have only contracted food poisoning a couple of times. You should not be afraid to try new food, as that is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in another culture; after all, that’s the whole point of travel, right? A few guidelines to follow to stay safe while trying food in another place is to:
- Eat at places with long lines of locals, they are generally more popular
- Try to watch how your food is prepared
- Learn some of the languages, to express your allergies or intolerances
- Stick to fully cooked meals
- Only eat peelable fruit
We also recommend getting a filtered water bottle, as these will take out all of the viruses and bacteria that can be found in the local water. We suggest using a LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle
18. Use ATMs Wisely
As with anywhere, whenever you use an ATM you should cover the keypad when entering your PIN, as this will take care of prying eyes both from over your shoulder, as well as from hidden cameras. This and other safety tips in our post on ATM With No Fees & Financial Travel Tips.
Always examine the ATM that you are about to use, to look for tampering; especially around the keypad area. Pull-on it a little bit, and if anything seems out of the ordinary, remember it is better to be safe than sorry. Getting the help of a local banker or employee to take a look at it will help to put your mind at ease, and make sure that there is no funny business going on. Regardless of what happens, if you suspect anything then use a different ATM.
If an ATM has taken your card and won’t shoot it back out, run a finger along the card slot to see if you feel anything sticking out. One scam called the “Lebanese Loop” is a trick where the card appears to be eaten by the ATM, but, is in a plastic sleeve that prevents the ATM from reading your card, and then your card is retrieved by a thief later. Never let anyone help you use an ATM, and use one that does not have anyone else around.
19. Stop Using Your Back Pocket
Your back pocket is traditionally known for housing your wallet and is the first place that any street thief will check. The best way to deal with this is to simply not use it. This was always an issue for me, even after having my wallet stolen one time. After that, my wife sewed my back pocket shut, and it sure did the trick. Your front pockets are much harder to steal from, and you will notice anyone digging around in there far easier than in your back pocket.
20. Travel in Numbers
The more people that are around, the more set of eyes to keep an eye on your items, as well as more legs to chase down anyone that would attempt to steal from you. Predators by nature are looking for easy targets, and will generally leave a group of people alone; as a group is seen as being more protected.
Traveling in a group of even two will keep you safer in a foreign country than traveling by yourself would. If you are traveling by yourself, consider making a friend that you feel like you can trust to show you around.
One way to make new friends is to stay in a hostel, as you will generally find other solo travelers that are like-minded. We would like to remind you not to trust new people too easily, however. Sometimes someone who seems to be over-friendly can be after your belongings. No matter how friendly someone can appear to be, never leave your stuff with someone that you just met.
21. Pack a First Aid Kit
No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen when traveling. This is why traveling with a first aid kit is always a good idea. Our First Aid Kit is a little more involved. 188 Pieces First Aid Kit – All-Purpose with Hospital Grade Medical Supplies for Emergency and Soft Case for Travel.
However, yours can simply be a simple kit, as you don’t need much to get by. A good practice is to bring products to treat cuts, scrapes, stomach issues, and burns. Always bring a waterproof kit and generally make sure it contains the following items:
- Hydration salts
- Small pair of scissors
- Ibuprofen or Aspirin
- Emergency heating blanket
22. Stay Relatively Sober
While having fun is part of traveling, getting too drunk or high can be detrimental to your safety. When you are wasted, you are not fully aware of what is happening around you, or to you for that matter.
That is not to say that you should not enjoy yourself, but you should not have too much fun so that you are not aware of your surroundings. This will ensure that you are always in control of the situation, and not at the mercy of anyone else.
Hard drugs should especially be avoided, not only are they risky to use for your sobriety, but should you get caught with them, you can get in a lot of trouble with the local law enforcement.
Not to mention that you will not be able to get through airport security with these drugs, so you would have to find a local dealer. These are not the kind of people that you want to deal with in a new area.
If this behavior is what you are used to back in your home country, be aware that not everywhere will look the other way to these types of activities. Most places in the world are far more dangerous at night, and if you are stumbling around wasted, you are a huge target for anyone looking to take advantage.
23. Trust your Instincts
This is probably one of the most important in this article, your sixth sense comes into play when you need it the most. This will ensure that your body sees and hears anything that could be a potential danger or risk to you.
Your body might even sense risks before your brain can comprehend what the situation is turning into. In this sense, feelings are always worth paying attention to, don’t just write it off as an irrational fear. Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you, these instincts are what have kept humans around for so long.
24. Travel Safety for Women VS Men
All of these safety tips are important, regardless of what your sex may be. We don’t think that staying safe while traveling pertains to just one gender. The sad truth is that women are victims of violence, regardless of what part of the planet you are. Travelling does not increase or decrease this, it just changes the location where it can happen. Women especially should travel in a group, or if traveling alone should frequent areas that are teeming with people. Remember, there is safety in numbers.
However, men also have safety concerns that they should be looking out for, and these are more related to their egos. Like being insulted into a fight, or getting scammed by a pretty lady. Regardless of your gender, traveling safely is really about being street smart and adapting to a situation.
25. A Few Words About Risk
There is no way to be 100% safe from any threat, regardless of where you are. There is risk everywhere, even here in the U.S. and Canada. When you travel, you are bound to get scammed in one way or another. It’s just a part of life. This has happened to us, and it happens to everyone.
Risk is unavoidable, but it can be lessened by preparing and knowing what to look out for. People generally hear about situations and issues in other countries from the news, which is highly biased.
The news makes other regions seem far less safe than they are, because if something is on the news. It’s generally because it is something out of the ordinary that happened.
This is not to say that bad things don’t happen, because they do. But the news does not report on the normal way of life for other cultures, because frankly, that would be boring to hear about.
Generally speaking, it has never been safer to travel; with all the technology at our disposal. Get out there and live the life of travel that you have always wanted to. Don’t let fear get in between you and the rest of the world.