Don’t let your next vacation be ruined by getting ripped off, or worse. Here are 9 tips for safe travel.
Whether you are traveling to the United States or a foreign country, you need to take extra precautions to stay safe. Travel-related distractions, such as taking in the views, eating delicious food, and exploring new cities, can increase your risk.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
These safety tips for international and domestic travel will help you reduce your risk so that you can enjoy your vacation and avoid trouble as much as possible.
How to travel safely
Our safety tips include actions that can be implemented on the fly and those that require a little more preparation.
1. Scan important documents
Your wallet or purse is full of important documents that criminals can exploit. Leave unnecessary items at home (like your Social Security card) and make copies of anything you might need in an emergency like prescriptions, a back-up credit card (so you can at least do a digital purchase in the blink of an eye) and your passport.
Take a photo and upload it to a secure folder on the web. This way, if something is stolen, you can easily take action to reduce the damage that criminals can cause. You can easily call the bank to cancel debit and credit cards and request a new ID from the embassy. You can also use a secure digital safe system like 1Password or LastPass to store these documents.
2. Minimize the amount of money you carry
It is important to have some cash when traveling, but most merchants accept credit cards, even when abroad. Not having cash minimizes the value of your wallet to a thief, and you can dispute unknown card charges. Just make sure you have a card with no foreign transaction fees when traveling abroad.
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3. Looks less like a tourist
The more you dress and act like a local, the less chance there is of criminals targeting you as a tourist. Tailoring your style to that of the locals, walking with confidence, and keeping the cards hidden can help you blend in. When using the instructions on your phone, only look at them briefly while walking.
Plus, familiarize yourself with the city and your route before you leave the hotel. If you need to look for directions for an extended period of time, consider walking into a store or cafe to do so, rather than staying outside.
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4. Share your itinerary with someone you trust
Whether you are traveling alone or with others, share your itinerary with someone you trust at home. Check in once a day to let them know you’ve reached your next destination or are back at your hotel. These small steps increase your safety during the trip.
It’s also wise to create and share a safe word so that family or friends know if you’re having issues, even if the conversation seems normal to someone else who might be listening. You can take it a step further and consider sharing your location live with a trusted friend or family member through your smartphone.
5. Find travel tips for destinations
According to the US State Department, “conditions can change quickly in a country at any time.” Its website maintains an ongoing list of travel advisories to destinations around the world. While these warnings don’t always mean you shouldn’t be traveling, they do help you be aware of potential conditions you will encounter upon arrival or areas to avoid.
Check the Department of State’s website before planning your trip and again before you leave. A place that could have been safe when you booked your trip may have deteriorated since then.
6. Sign up for the smart traveler enrollment program
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, is a free State Department service that allows citizens traveling or living abroad to receive the latest security updates. The information you provide also enables the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you in an emergency.
7. Inform the credit card companies of your travel plans.
Since you may be traveling to cities outside of your usual spending habits, let your bank know your travel dates and destinations. Many banks allow you to notify them through your online banking portal.
This will minimize the risk of the bank blocking your account due to perceived fraudulent transactions which could leave you stranded.
Also, consider bringing a spare credit card.
8. Be careful with public Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi can open up your sensitive devices and information to hackers. Using a VPN service is one of the best ways we know of to stay safe at an airport, while exploring your destination, or at your hotel. VPN services create a secure connection to protect your personal information when you browse the Internet or use web applications over an open connection.
Security.org, a security product review site, conducted a study in June 2020 and found that only 31% of American internet users use a VPN service for public Wi-Fi connections. This means that nearly 70% of public Wi-Fi users are at risk of being hacked.
9. Purchase travel insurance
To improve your physical and financial security, consider purchasing travel insurance before your trip. This safety net is useful for avoiding personal expenses for emergency medical care, travel delays, cancellations or interruptions, lost baggage or evacuations.
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Most policies will reimburse travelers for unused accommodation, transit, or activities that were not refundable but had to be canceled for a covered reason. Likewise, if your baggage is lost by an airline or rail company, you will likely be reimbursed through your policy’s baggage protection. Plus, if your policy has emergency medical coverage, you won’t face a huge bill for overseas medical care (where your US-based health insurance is unlikely to come in handy).
Some credit cards have built-in protections, while others do not. In the latter case, you will need to take out a stand-alone policy.
If your goal is to find ways to travel safely …
Now that we’ve shared some tips on how to travel safely, you can travel with more confidence and less risk. While most of these tips have little or no cost to implement, putting them in place can take some time. Investing the time to increase your travel safety will be worth it if you can avoid the dangerous situations that can interrupt or ruin your next trip.
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Lee Huffman writes for NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.