Ways to Stay Safe While Traveling: A Guide to Keeping Your Smarts

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November 29, 2023
14 min read

Traveling can be an exciting and rewarding experience. However, it is important to know ways to travel safely. Whether you are taking a flight to a new country or exploring your own territory or state, having a plan for safety will keep your trip enjoyable and worry-free. This article will provide my guide to safety tips everyone should know and outlining smart ways to protect yourself from potential dangers.

I have spent the better part of a decade traveling the world (over a million miles) and have picked up a few things over the years. You can read more about my expertise here. For those of you who want to travel abroad, here are some of my top travel safety tips.

Don't Be Flashy or Show Valuables

It is important to keep your valuables safe while traveling. Don't be flashy and draw unnecessary attention to yourself by carrying expensive items or displaying them in public. Be aware that criminals may be looking for someone who appears to have money and can be an easy target. Keep all jewelry, wallets, purses, phones, cameras and other valuable items close to you and out of sight when not in use.

Make sure that your hotel room is secure and that all belongings are safely tucked away each night when you go to bed. When exploring a new city or country, it is best to leave expensive items at home where they will be safe.

If you are traveling anywhere outside the Western world, always keep in mind that your phone is probably a month's salary or more to the the population you are visiting. Be mindful of that. Respect that.

My goal, especially as a solo traveler is to fit in like a local. This means not wearing branded clothing, along with no watches, no jewelry. Nothing that shows a lot of value. I want to make myself as small of a target as possible.

Make Copies or Digitize Your Important Documents

It is always a good idea to keep a few copies of important documents. You never know when you might need to prove your identity or other personal information, so it’s best to be prepared. This includes making copies of your passport and any other important documents you may have. Having a copy of your passport can be especially useful in case your original passport is lost or stolen.

Furthermore, if you travel often, having multiple copies of your passport can help save time and money if it needs to be replaced while abroad. Additionally, having copies of important documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates and other forms of identification can be very helpful in certain situations. It’s best to store these copies in a safe place away from the originals and make sure they are updated regularly.

Keep Your Friends and Family Updated

It is always a good idea to let a friend or family member know about your travel plans. Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, telling them your itinerary can help ensure that someone knows where you are and when you’ll be back.

This can give them peace of mind, especially if anything were to happen during your travels. I always email my itinerary details to my parents just to let them know my flight details and hotels booked.

While you don’t have to provide every detail,  although I would suggest letting them know as much as possible, at least update them with the city or country you are visiting and your expected return date. Keeping your friends and family informed also allows them to share in the excitement of your travels. A win-win.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Being aware of what and who is around you is key when travelling. Whether you're taking a short trip or a long one, it's important to always be prepared and understand the environment you are in. Not only can being aware of your surroundings help you meet new people, but it also helps you travel safely and with precaution. It's also essential to purchase travel insurance to ensure that all your needs are taken care of in case of unforeseen circumstances.

Taking the time to research the area and ask locals for advice or tips is always a great way to increase your awareness and safety when travelling. Doing this will give you peace of mind knowing that you have done everything possible to make sure your trip runs as smoothly as possible while staying safe during your travels.

Learn Common Travel Scams

Travel scams are unfortunately all too common, so it is important to be aware of the most prevalent ones. You can read up online in forums or blogs about the destination you are going to. Here is a list of common scams worldwide that I've run across to help you stay safe:

Taxi Drivers

One common scam is the local taxi, which will often take tourists for a much longer ride than necessary, racking up an exorbitant fee. Not all drivers are scammers but keep your eye out. It's best to always have your Maps app running on your phone so that you know where you are and how long it should take to get there. If there are any issues, you can always get the driver's attention and point to your phone map.

Fake Taxis

These scammers typically pose as legitimate cab drivers but their intent is to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. They may offer rides that appear too good to be true, with significantly lower fares than usual. In some cases, these drivers will even pick up passengers from the airport and demand an exorbitant amount once they reach their destination. Other times, they might take a longer route in order to drive up the fare or deny credit card payments altogether.

To avoid this scam when travelling, always check the vehicle you are about to enter. Make sure it is properly marked. When available I suggest you pre-book your ride with a reliable service such as Uber or Lyft before you arrive at your destination. You can also book at the taxi booth at the airport to ensure you have legitimate service. These are available at most airports from Doha to Guadalajara.

Bump or Spill and Grab

In “Bump or Spill” scams, scammers will bump into you or spill something on you and then pretend they need help cleaning up the mess. As they do this, they will try to steal your possessions such as money, phones or wallets. It’s important to remember that if someone bumps into you or spills something on you in a public place, stay alert. Keep your items close to your body and don't hand them over for any reason.

In “Grab” scams, thieves can be very quick when stealing from unsuspecting tourists. Especially if your valuable are away from your body and sitting away from you.

Pushy Street Vendors

Pushy vendors can also be a problem in popular tourist areas, constantly harassing people to buy their goods. They may approach you with high-pressure tactics like false stories or offers that seem too good to be true; they often use intimidation tactics such as following and aggressive bargaining to pressure you into making a purchase or donating money. Some vendors may even offer free samples only for them to later demand payment for them. Be sure not to fall for these tricks and stay alert when navigating crowded streets!

ATM Skimming

ATM skimming is another issue; criminals will install devices on ATMs to steal your debit card information and PINs. This type of fraud can be difficult to spot because the devices used by scammers are sophisticated and look like they're part of the machine.

To protect yourself against ATM skimming, always cover your hand as you enter your PIN and inspect any suspicious looking objects around the machine before using it. If something looks out of place, alert staff members immediately and don't use that particular machine again until it has been checked out by a technician. Additionally, check your account statements frequently for suspicious activity and report anything unusual right away.

Spiked Drinks

These can be the hardest to spot and why I would recommend always telling a trusted friend your plans for the evening if you plan on going out. At least someone will know something, should anything happen.

To better increase your safety, don't accept drinks from people you just met and always keep an eye on your drink. It's nice to go out and have a good time but you also need to exercise caution. Only get your drinks from the bar or wait staff.

Local Police

The police bribe scam usually involves an officer accusing the traveler of committing some sort of violation or crime. The officer will then demand money as payment for dropping the claim against them. This is common in Southeast Asia, especially if you are on a scooter and do not have an international license with a motorcycle endorsement.

If you are stopped by law enforcement while traveling abroad, try to remain calm and ask questions about why you have been stopped before doing anything else. Just remember, it may be easier to take the ticket than to pay the bribe.

All these scams can easily ruin a holiday if you're not prepared that's why I wanted to highlight them for you to better recognize them and stay alert.

Check The State Department Website

When planning any international travel, it is important to check the state department website for travel advisories. The United States Department of State provides a wealth of information related to safety concerns and security, including up-to-date information on any travel warnings or restrictions prior to departure. This includes detailed country-specific information such as current political situations, natural disasters, health concerns and more.

In addition, you can also find out what documents you need to enter a country and whether visas are required. By taking time to research your destination in advance, you can be better prepared and informed about what to expect on your journey.

Alert the US State Department of Your Travels (Optional)

Consider signing up for the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment program (STEP). With this program, you can report your travel abroad and receive important information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to help ensure a safe and successful journey.

The process of signing up is quick and easy: simply go online to the STEP website, enter your destination country, and then enter all of your personal information including passport details, contact information, itinerary details, and more. Once enrolled in STEP, you will receive emails about local conditions in your destination country as well as any security updates or travel warnings that may have been issued by the U.S. government.

Additionally, if there is an emergency while you are abroad such as a natural disaster or civil unrest situation, STEP will help connect you with assistance from the nearest consulate or embassy. This is a great resource should anything happen since the government staff has a head count of who is in the area.

The 24 Hour Consular Emergency Line is +1-888-407-4747 and +1-202-501-4444 (outside the US). You can sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) here.

Lock Up Your Valuables

Before you jet off to explore the city, make sure to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your possessions. Having the right attitude and being prepared can reduce the chances of anything bad happening while going out.

It's always a advisable to keep  your passport and debit card in your room. Store them in a secure place such as a hotel safe or safety deposit box. Take a picture of your passport and entry stamp and opt to carry some cash and a credit card while out sightseeing.

If something happens to your debit card (fraud alert, lost, or whatnot), you will be without any access to your cash. This can be really problematic when traveling in cash based societies. I have lost a couple of cards along the way and they were all credit cards, keeping my access to cash safe. Plus the great thing about credit cards is that you can freeze or report them stolen without much hassle.

This way, it will be easy to cancel them and order replacements if needed. Taking these extra steps before leaving home can save the headache of dealing with identity theft while traveling.

Get Travel Insurance

One of the best ways to have peace of mind is by making sure you are protected. Remember, it is much better being safe than sorry. Travel insurance can provide you with coverage in the event of an unexpected illness or injury, lost baggage, and other unforeseen events that may occur while traveling. Note that normally your domestic insurance will not cover you internationally.

This should be an essential purchase for anyone who is traveling out of the country. It can provide peace of mind and extra protection if something goes wrong during your journey.

Traveler's insurance offers coverage for medical bills, lost or stolen luggage, and even flight cancellations due to bad weather conditions. You may also be eligible for additional coverage such as rental car damage or emergency evacuation services.

Purchasing a good travel insurance policy before your trip could save you thousands of dollars in potential costs if something were to go wrong. Also, make sure if you are doing anything "adventurous" to report that when signing up for your insurance, otherwise it may not be covered.

Make sure you research different policies and compare prices so that you can find the best coverage for your needs and budget. I suggest Seven Corners Insurance - I have had them for the past 2 years and like their service.  With the right plan in place, you can feel more secure about your travels knowing that you are covered against unexpected incidents.

Pack A First Aid Kit

I always pack a kit in my carry-on. A well-stocked first aid kit can help you in the event of any minor medical incidents and will be invaluable when travelling to remote areas.

When packing your kit, make sure to include items such as bandages, gauzes, tweezers, scissors, pain medication and antibiotic ointment.

Additionally, it is wise to bring along any prescription medications that might be required during your trip. Be prepared for all eventualities by including an emergency contact list for yourself and each member of your group as well as a list of local hospitals or clinics where you may seek medical attention if needed.

Notify Your Bank and Credit Companies

Before you take off, make sure to set a travel alert with your bank. It's ok, I've been guilty of going to my banking app while boarding my plane, but just make sure you do this! This ensures that the bank is aware of your international activity and can help protect you from fraud or unauthorized transactions. The last thing you want to do is not have access to your funds abroad.

Setting a travel alert is simple and can be done online in just a few clicks. All you need to do is log into your banking (or credit card) account and provide your destination country and any dates when you’ll be out of the country. After submitting the information, the alert will stay active for up to 6 months for each destination listed.

By setting a travel alert with your bank prior to leaving, it’s easier to spot suspicious behavior in regards to your account while also allowing more flexibility if you decide to extend or shorten your trip abroad.

I always suggest traveling with at least two credit cards, if not more. It's super helpful to have a backup card should you lose one. I've had mine fall out of my back pocket when reaching for my phone (they were stuck on the lip of the phone case) in Costa Rica and Japan. I can't say how nice it is to have a second one handy just for such situations.

Don't Carry Much Cash

A couple of helpful tips on dealing with money when you're abroad. Carry the least amount of cash when traveling as possible. I carry a $100 bill on me just in case I need to go to an exchange on the off chance my debit card doesn't work.

It's important to be aware that the more cash you carry on your person, the greater risk there is of it being stolen. This is why I suggest locking larger bills and amounts away in a safe while out and also only using your debit card to get as much cash as you need at a time. This way, if something does happen where it gets lost or stolen, then you won't lose everything.

Additionally, try using credit cards when you go out to better protect yourself and not flash your cash.

Pro Tip: Open a Charles Schwab banking account to access your money worldwide with no ATM fees. Every month you will be reimbursed your ATM fee expenses. I have been a super happy customer of Schwab for 14 years now and would suggest them to anyone, especially people who like to travel.

Safety Tips to Plan Your Travel

Some tips to keep in mind as you start your next trip is to research the city and find out which neighborhoods are safe, make sure you can transit safely around (via bus or taxi/uber) and lookout for important travel advisories.

You will want to look at the reviews and the area for your accommodation and also make sure it's it a safe neighborhood that is walkable.

I suggest picking up a second used-cellphone. Unless you have a dual-sim phone, but I'm not that advanced. This way you can keep your sim and use the local sim in the older phone to hot-spot off of. It saves you the hassle of having to switch out sim cards. Plus this way you can take the older phone with your while out exploring and should anything happen to it, well you still have your primary phone.

Consider investing in a good backpack and luggage set that makes it easier to travel while keeping things safe. I would only advise on a medium size luggage. You don't want to be in rural Asia trying to move around a fully-packed large luggage while getting to your AirBnB....not that I would know anything about that, haha. Also having a backpack that doesn't have a lot of zippers and can keep things safe inside would be a great addition. Not a must but something to keep in mind.

You will also want to learn a little bit of the language. A little can go a long ways. I can never overstate this. Use programs like Italki or apps like Babbel or Drops. There are plenty to choose from.

Safety Tips En Route to your Destination and Beyond

It can be hard keeping up with everything while traveling to different places but it's imperative to keep your luggage and other things close-by or on you. The last thing you want is to lose something or have something show up at customs you were not expecting.

If you're traveling on a bus or plane and need to sleep. Move your cash and cards and other important articles to your pockets or in your coat. You can even move your backpack under your legs to act as a leg rest while keeping it safe. This way you can take a nap or shut your eyes. I use this simple travel hack a lot. I'm all about some naps.

When you are out walking and crossing streets LOOK BOTH WAYS, regardless of the pathway of the traffic or street. I cannot count how many times I have witnessed a scooter or some other vehicle going the wrong way down a street. Please keep your eyes open for this.

In the event of an emergency, such as medical, it is best to get to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. Your travel insurance should have you covered. For terrorism or other related events, it's best to contact the nearest consulate to get help and directions.

Never Take Illegal Drugs in a Foreign Country

One of the most important safety tips I live by is to never take drugs in general, whether from strangers or friends. While it might seem like a good idea in the moment, this could be extremely dangerous and put you and others in harm’s way.

Drugs are often laced with unpredictable substances that can cause unexpected side effects and even long-term health issues. Plus, they may be offered by people who have less than honorable intentions. Not only can this result in physical danger, but it could also lead to legal problems if caught with illicit substances.

The best way to ensure safety while traveling is to avoid taking any kind of drug from anyone you don’t know well or trust completely—no matter how appealing it might seem at the time.

Avoid Traveling Alone at Night

Your personal safety is important and when it comes to travel, there will be times that you will need to do it at night. I suggest trying to avoid this if possible, especially as a solo travelers, but I know it can't be avoided at times. If your flight arrives at 1 am, well you're not going to stay at the airport all night right?

If you do have to travel at night, try to travel in a group or with someone else. If you do have to travel solo, walk on the main roads and under as much light as possible and avoid the smaller streets and alleyways. Using these

Use ATMs in Banks

I know getting money while on the road can be a hassle. However, it’s important to remember that not all ATMs are created equal. The best way to make sure you get your money safely is by only using bank ATMs. That way, you can avoid becoming a victim of ATM skimming, which is when criminals steal card information.

The easiest way to find bank ATMs is simply to search “bank ATM” and the name of your destination online before you leave for your trip. This will help you locate all the banks in the area and their corresponding ATMs so that you know where to go once you arrive at your destination. You can easily save them on your Google Maps.

Important Stuff Summarized

A round up of common safety tips while traveling:

  • Avoid traveling alone at night - remember safety in numbers.
  • Keep your important documents in a safe at the hotel - this way you don't lose them and they are nearby and not on you.
  • Keep a list of important addresses such as your hotel and embassy - in case your phone dies or you have an emergency.
  • Don't be flashy - try to blend in. No rings. No watches.
  • Learn some of the local language- this is invaluable just knowing how to communicate a little goes a long way
  • Only carry your debit card on you when you go to withdraw cash, otherwise keep in your room - don't lose access to your money
  • Let someone know your plans - your itinerary or a night out, it's best to let others know your whereabouts
  • Drink bottled water - In most developing countries the water is not safe to drink from the tap

Final Thoughts on How to Stay Safe While Traveling

With these great tips you're going to be able to navigate the world with safety in mind. By planning ahead, doing research about the country you’re visiting, being aware of what and who is around, and having a backup plan in case something goes wrong, you can be sure that your trip will be both enjoyable and safe.

So make sure to follow these tips and take the necessary precautions while making the most of your travels. Have fun exploring the world!

If you're excited to plan your next and are looking for help on packing, well you're in luck! I've created this free guide on what and how to pack on your next vacation.


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Written by:

I consider myself a world-travelling nomad and a foodie at heart. Born in Germany and raised in East Tennessee, my passion for exploration has taken me all over the planet - exploring unfamiliar lands and cultures is what truly inspires my soul!
I live outside of Doha and consider myself an inside expert on all things Qatar. I love exploring all the country has to offer and look forward to giving you valuable insights of where I call home!
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