This article wasn’t written to frighten anyone or discourage travel anywhere in the world.
Instead, I hope that you'll find plenty of practical steps to take to make your next trip safer and more enjoyable. This is part two of our travel safety guide. If you haven’t already be sure to check-out Part One. Combined, these two pieces provide 16 safety tips for travel.
Table of Contents
Food And Water Safety
The most common travel safety issue is avoiding illness from food and water. And the reality is this can happen in any country in the world, even at home. So what steps can you take to protect yourself?
First, research the water situation where you are traveling. If bottled water is recommended, then do it. Or, travel with a SteriPen or filtered water bottle, both of which are better for the environment. Keep in mind that in the countries where you should not drink the tap water, don’t brush your teeth with it either. Set a bottle of water on the bathroom sink to remind yourself.
Street food is a common concern for travelers, but it would be a shame to completely avoid it since it’s a great way to experience local culture. Instead, select street food stalls that are busy. If there’s a long line of locals, that’s even better. Ideally a popular street food stall is preparing the food and selling it--piping hot-- immediately, reducing the chance for bacteria to collect while sitting out in the open. Jason and I have eaten street food around the world and love it.
In developing countries avoid raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. It is also wise to eat fruits that have a thick skin or peel (bananas, melons and citrus), so that you will not be impacted by the water with which it is washed. It’s generally better to eat cooked vegetables and avoid salads that have been washed with water.
Finally, it can help to travel with Ciproflaxin, a prescription antibiotic intended to treat bacterial infections including infectious diarrhea. If taken at the onset of diarrhea believed to be the result of a food borne illness, it can speed recovery. Talk to your doctor about this prior to a trip, especially one to a developing country.
Using Caution When Withdrawing Or Converting Cash
When possible, Jason and I limit the cash used while traveling. We prefer the protection (and points) we receive with our credit cards. But for the small amount of cash we do need in foreign countries, we follow a few safety strategies.
First, choose an ATM or a currency conversion shop in a safe location. Honestly, this advice applies even at home, but it never hurts to remember the basics. If you’re uncertain how safe the neighborhood is, ask a hotel concierge or AirBnB host for guidance. Don’t approach a poorly lit ATM machine, or one that appears to need maintenance. Whenever in doubt, find a different place to withdraw or exchange cash.
Next, avoid ATM’s that are known to scam tourists, in particular those from a company called Euronet. These are found all over Europe in the most popular sightseeing destinations. They scam tourists with outrageous fees as well as tactics to encourage large withdrawals of cash. Whenever possible, look for ATM’s from repubtable banks.
Finally, keep the cash you carry to a minimum. First, this makes you less likely to be the target of a crime, but in the event of theft, the consequences are minimal.
Travel With Few Valuables
One of the easiest ways not to have something of value stolen is to leave it at home. I never travel with jewelry of value which could make me a target for theft (since I’m also prone to losing jewelry, this is especially smart for me!). I also travel with a backpack of no recognizable brand. I love designer purses, but I don’t travel with them.
Electronics like laptops, ipads, and tablets, are also highly valuable, but for many people, traveling with them is essential. So try and limit the electronics on a trip. What is absolutely needed and what could remain home? While out during the day, lock up valuable electronics in the hotel safe or locked luggage. While travel insurance provides some compensation for theft of electronics, the amount may not cover replacement.
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Learn Emergency Numbers In Each Country
Prior to visiting a new country, Google it’s emergency number and add it to the contacts in your phone. Then be sure to share it with your fellow travelers. Trying to find this number while experiencing an emergency is the wrong time. Think like a Boy Scout and be prepared.
Using Your Mobile Phone For Safety
Our mobile phones can be a wealth of information when we travel, and they can be a lifeline in the event of trouble. But if our phones aren’t ready for use, then they are worthless. Do some research prior to your trip about how you will make calls, send and receive texts, and use data.
Often Jason and I pay for the Verizon Travel Pass. As soon as we enter a new country we wait for the text from Verizon informing us of the local carrier and the price which ranges from $5-$10 per day. Verizon also offers a more affordable Monthly International Plan when we are gone for long periods of time.
Another option is to purchase a SIM card in the new country. This option is far more affordable than Travel Pass, but it will require the use of a new phone number. Whichever you do, just be sure you’ve made these decisions in advance--both for the sake of safety and budget.
Finally, know how you will keep your phone charged while traveling abroad. A portable battery charger is very useful if you will be away from your accommodations for a long time. Then be sure to recharge both the phone and charger when your return to your hotel or AirBnB.
Safety around animals while traveling may seem like an odd or unusual topic, but I've read many concerning articles about this in the last few months.
First, let’s get the easy one out of the way. Don’t take selfies with wild animals! I know, I shouldn’t even have to say this, but social media has given rise to this weird phenomenon. Bison in Yellowstone National Park may look cute and furry, but they have been known to charge and attack humans who get too close. During a visit to Banff National Park I was often surprised and concerned how close people would get to brown bears grazing along the side of the road. Again, they look cute, but bears attack if threatened.
What isn’t so obvious is the care people should take when approaching dogs in foreign countries. Dog bites are a serious concern, especially when it comes to rabies. Animal care and vaccination standards vary from country to country. Proceed cautiously with dogs while traveling.
When traveling to state or national parks, be sure to heed the advice of rangers. If trails are closed or roads blocked due to animal activity, be sure to follow the rules. And be sure to stop at the Visitors Center for some guidance about wildlife activity in the area you'll be traveling.
During our visit to Banff there were several trails closed due to bear activity. Other trails required hikers to remain in groups of four or more. We followed all of these directives since we value our lives.
Assess Unstable Conditions
At the time of writing this article, Hong Kong is experiencing large, political protests which have escalated over time. Recently the protesters have moved to the airport which has impacted arriving and departing travelers. This is the type of situation that might cause travelers to alter or cancel a trip.
Whether it’s a health crisis, a natural disaster or political upheaval, sometimes travel plans need to be changed. However, some thought and research should take place first.
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Do some research about the country and where specifically your travels will take you. In larger countries, what happens in one city may have no impact on another. In some cases, a media report has significantly exaggerated the situation.
Two years ago, Jason and I traveled to Barcelona two weeks after wide-spread protests over Catalonian independence which had briefly turned violent. After doing our own research we moved forward with our trip since it appeared the protests had in no way impacted tourists. Fortunately, we had a marvelous time in Spain!
However, I would have made a different decision if travelling to a country with a Zika outbreak. This is a virus known to cause birth defects if a pregnant mother contracts it. I know too many young women of childbearing age that would be at risk if I was exposed to such a serious virus.
Each decision of whether or not to travel must be made looking at the circumstances of the country and the travelers. Sometimes the decision is perfectly clear, but other times it will take some time and research to determine next steps.
Protect Your Passport
Finally, before your next international adventure, take a moment to think about keeping your passport safe. Losing this essential document could derail any trip.
There are different opinions about what to do with a passport while in another country. Jason and I always leave our passport locked in the hotel safe while we are out sightseeing. If staying in an AirBnB, we leave it locked in our luggage.
However, some people insist on carrying a passport with them at all times, and in some countries, this is actually the law. In this case, it’s essential to keep the passport safe and secure in your bag and to never let that bag out of your sight. Amazon offers a variety of travel safe bags that will keep your passport, credit cards and currency protected.
Next, bring a copy of your passport with you and keep it in a separate place in your luggage. In the event that your passport is lost or stolen you will now have all the information an embassy or consulate office needs to issue emergency documents to return home. Specifically, this copy can prove citizenship.
Finally, keep a copy of your passport at home and be sure that a family member can find it for you. If both your actual passport, and the copy disappear, you still have a way to access the information needed.
For U.S. citizens, in the event of a lost or stolen passport, this article outlines the steps to take.
Notify The State Department About Your Travels
For U.S. Citizens, the State Department offers a service called Safe Traveler Enrollment Program or STEP (a similar program is offered for Canadians called the Registration of Canadians Abroad). This online program allows travelers to list which countries they will be visiting and when. In the event of a local crisis or emergency, the State Department notifies travelers of the concerns and what steps to take.
For our upcoming trip to Europe I enrolled in STEP and the process takes about 5 minutes. First, create an account and then add each country that you’ll be visiting.
I hope these 16 travel safety tips will be useful to you in the future. There is no guarantee that we are safe anywhere in the world, even in our home city, but over the years Jason and I have found that these strategies work well. It’s our goal to help our readers travel more and do so successfully!