Traveling, especially abroad, and especially in a country where you don’t know the language, always brings up questions of travel safety. Of course, you want to keep your belongings safe, but protecting your information and identity as well is even more important—and more difficult.
Identity theft has long-reaching implications that can take months or even years to overcome, and giving away your information can be as simple as logging onto public Wi-Fi or having a credit card copied. There are lots of things to watch out for when you’re traveling and many ways to protect yourself. Below, we’ve outlined the best tips for staying safe while traveling.
Do Your Research Before You Leave
Standing out or appearing clueless is the surest way to make yourself a target. So, appearing alert and paying attention can often make a scammer or a pickpocket move on. Blend in by having as much information as possible ahead of time and planning as much as you can. This will help you avoid things like pulling out a map on a busy street corner or getting stuck in a bad part of town after dark. Look like you belong.
Some basic research will help you know which areas are safe and which to avoid and will help you know the most reliable and safest forms of transportation. In some countries, a taxi sign on top of the car might not always mean it’s a registered taxi. In places like that, your best bet might be to call a service. Depending on where you’re traveling, a tour bus may actually be the safer option. Buses, hostels, and taxis marketed to tourists might be more expensive, but they’re also more likely to be regulated.
Read up on common travel scams for the area you’re visiting—there are a few known scams that people tend to use in high-tourist areas. Become familiar with them before your trip so you don’t fall victim.
It’s also important to check with the U.S. Department of State to see if there are any travel advisories in place for the area you plan to visit. These advisories range from Level 1 to Level 4—1 meaning you can travel as normal and 4 meaning you should not travel to the area. Know before you go.
Be Smart About Your Belongings
There are a few basics tenets of keeping your belongings safe while traveling. You’ve almost definitely heard them all before, but they’re worth repeating.
- Store your travel cash and credit cards in multiple places. In case some of it is stolen or goes missing, you want to be sure to have a backup.
- Use bank ATMs, not ATMs in public places or on the street. Always check the machine for any signs of tampering before use. Card skimmers or machines that eat your card are some of the most common ways information is stolen.
- Don’t carry expensive equipment, watches, or jewelry out and about. Keep fancy cameras stored away until you need to use them, and keep jewelry in a locked safe. Better yet, leave your valuables at home.
- Carry only what you need at all times. Keep the rest of your money, a spare credit card, and any important documents locked in a safe in your hotel room. Make copies of passports, credit cards, and medical cards and use those instead of the originals whenever possible. Give a copy of these documents to a friend at home in case you run into problems.
Know Who to Call in Case of an Emergency
In case something happens to you, your documents, or your devices, you need to know who to call. Take note of important numbers like:
- The phone number to cancel your credit cards (if they’re stolen you won’t be able to access the phone numbers on the cards)
- Medical insurance customer service and policy numbers
- Local emergency phone numbers
- Your passport number
- The number of the local embassy
- Any other relevant information.
It’s a good idea to register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment program. This will connect you to the local embassy and allow the U.S. State Department to get in touch with you in case of an emergency.
Be sure to email any important information to yourself or use an app like TripIt to keep track of your itinerary. If your phone is stolen, you might lose important info like airline tickets or phone numbers. By emailing documents to yourself, you’ll be able to access everything in an internet café or on a hotel computer.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi
Public or unlocked Wi-Fi systems are easy for scammers to hack. By joining one, you could be forfeiting passwords, bank info, and more to hackers. If you need to stay connected while you’re away, and you can’t use cellular data, find a secure password-protected network. Be sure to only use websites that start with https:// instead of http:// (that “s” stands for secure).
Install Tracking Apps on Your Devices
If your phone, tablet, or computer is stolen, a tracking app is your best bet to get it back, find the culprit, or remotely delete any sensitive information. The Find My iPhone app is best for iPhones, while Flexispy or Find My Friends are great Android options. Prey is a security app that’s best for computers. Be sure to password protect all devices to prevent thieves from accessing any info.
Keep an Eye on Your Finances
Let your bank know you’re traveling, and monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity while you’re away. Choosing a travel credit card can also help prevent fraud because they do most of the monitoring work for you, automatically flagging suspicious transactions and getting in touch with you as quickly as possible. Always go through a reputable source for money exchanges (your hotel can be a resource for information like this). Never exchange cash in public or out on the street.
Get Travel Insurance
Travel insurance can protect you in case of theft, and travel medical insurance will make sure you’re covered in case of a medical emergency. If you have a sensitive medical condition, touch base with a doctor to serve as a contact throughout your trip as soon as you arrive.
These are just a few tips that can help you stay safe while traveling in the U.S. or abroad. Always use your best judgment and take precautions to keep yourself and your traveling companions out of harm’s way. Protect your home too. Smart gadgets such as these can help keep your home safe while you’re away.
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