Safety Tips While Traveling Abroad

Photo of me holding a brass lock on a compact black leather bag. Frolic & Courage.

How do you stay safe when traveling abroad? Is it safe to travel? These questions are what’s on everyone’s mind before taking their first trip abroad. No lie, these questions popped in my head, too! That’s why I decided to make this list of safety tips while traveling abroad, i.e.- how to stay safe, based on my experiences traveling internationally.

As a tourist or a first-time traveler, it can be a fun yet scary experience visiting a foreign country; but there’s no need to be afraid! By looking out for your personal safety, as well as keeping your money safe AND attending to your belongings, you can walk with confidence as you explore the many different sights of the world!

Here are my top ten safety tips while traveling abroad.

1. Be Smart w/ Your Money

  • Diversify the types of payment you bring on your vacation. Bring at least two cards (credit and/or debit), a form of mobile payment, like apple or android pay, and a small amount of cash. Before your trip, go online or call your card issuer to notify them of the dates and locations of your trip. Why does this matter? If one card is stolen, you still have another means of payment available. Also, you are more likely to recover the missing funds if you report a stolen card or fraudulent charge ASAP. With cash, not so much.
  • Use cash as a backup form of payment or tips. Carry the least amount you will need for the day and leave the rest in hotel safe/secure location.
  • Consolidate to a smaller wallet. There’s no need to carry a massive wallet with every credit/rewards/debit/etc card you ever owned. Just carry what money you need for that day and leave the rest in a secure location. I carry an extremely small wallet with me, similar to this Slim Wallet RFID Front Pocket Wallet.
  • Front pockets are awesome. When walking in crowded tourist areas, keep your hands and slim wallet in your front pocket while walking. If your money can’t fit in the front pocket, rethink whether you really need to bring it with you or not.
  • Be sure to locate the nearest western union or money transfer business before you travel. If all else fails and all forms of payment are lost or stolen, family or friends can wire you money the old-school way and you know where to pick it up.
  • Consider Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) sleeves to protect you passports and credit cards. RFID sleeves are a cheap and effective way of keeping your passport, transportation cards, and other materials safe from card scammers. I use these RFID sleeves to keep my passport and cards safe:

2. Situational Awareness

  • Know what’s going on around you at ALL times. Part of staying safe means you are aware of your surroundings. This translates to knowing where the nearest exits are and being weary of large public “scenes” that draw attention. The goal is to help you take action in the event of an emergency.
  • Be smooth about it. Being aware of your surroundings doesn’t mean you have to look paranoid, LOL! As you walk into a new area, casually and briefly look around for anything or anyone that seems “off”.
  • Don’t be overly paranoid, but if someone or some place gives you an uneasy vibe follow your instinct and walk away.

3. Don’t Bring More than you can Carry

  • Pack light and pack tight. I can’t stress this tip enough: do not bring more than you can physically carry! Don’t be the person who is trying to juggle multiple large bags because it draws attention to yourself – and the last thing you want is to be an easily identifiable target. By packing what you can physically carry, you blend in with the crowd better and can actually handle your luggage.
  • Keep bags close. Packing your stuff in the smallest bags possible helps you keep an eye on all of your belongings. In addition, it helps you get to your destinations faster because you’re not fussing with unrealistically sized luggage.
  • Consider locks. I carry a beautiful, compact leather cross body bag with a brass lock (pictured above) when I travel. As I’m moving about the city I keep my locked bag in front of me, with my hand rested on top, and open it when I need to. It’s a cheap investment for a huge return.

4. Prepare Your Phone for International Travel

  • Contact your cell phone carrier or go online to enable your phone for overseas use. Your phone comes in handy if you need to call for help, look for directions, or for just good ol’ fashioned conversation. Some carriers have temporary international plans available for a flat fee, so check out your options a few days before going abroad.
  • If an international calling plan is unavailable and you’re tech-savvy, consider purchasing a SIM card. A SIM card allows you to use your phone as if you had a plan in that particular country, but with faster service (possibly).
  • Mobile payment options may come in handy. As we’ve stated earlier – diversify your payment! If your jacket, wallet, or other forms of payment are lost or stolen abroad but you still have your phone, all is not lost! You can phone a friend or, more likely, just use apple or android pay if you’re in a more tech-friendly country.
  • Password protect and lock phone. This is a no-brainer, but it still needs to be said. A huge safety tip while traveling abroad is to protect the personal information inside your phone with these security measures.
  • Guard your phone carefully. If you think about it, cell phones can easily cost up to and over $1,000 these days; that’s insane! Remember your phone is one of the most expensive assets you have when traveling, so guard it appropriately.

5. Stay in the Light

  • Try not to linger around late at night if you can help it. But if you can’t, stay in the light as much as possible. What do I mean? Stay under street lamps, close to illuminated retail displays, and visible in well-lit areas. Back alleys, even though they may be quicker and darker, may not be your best option for safety purposes. As someone who has traveled abroad solo, this tip is ESPECIALLY important for other female solo travelers.
  • Travel in groups in the light. Everyone knows the golden rule of going out; but if you don’t here it is: If you COME as a group, STAY as a group and LEAVE as a group! Enlighten your party to this rule if the are unfamiliar. No man, woman, or child should be left behind.

6. Know Before you Go

  • Download an offline map version of your destination. This takes at least 30-45 minutes to do, but it is well worth it for safety! Use google maps to have a handy version of streets, metro and bus stops, restaurants, hospitals, and turn-by-turn directions on your phone before leaving home. Wifi is not needed for an offline map.
  • Understand your route the night before. Before leaving for your next activity abroad, know what form of transportation your will take the night before you leave your temporary residence. By doing this, you will cut down on any confusion and determine the fastest route.
  • Find landmarks using google maps street view while at your hotel/hostel/lodging. In addition to having a map, this helps you see what the area looks like before you arrive. To do this takes very little time and will help orient you in a new place. Thus, eliminating the wide-eyed and confused facial expression that lost tourists tend to have. You can walk confidently because you’e already seen your location in advance!
  • Have tickets accessible and ready. Don’t fumble at a metro turnstile or drop everything in your bag just to find your attraction ticket. This makes you a REALLY easy target for thieves; but you don’t have to be an easy target at all! Have your passes ready and out to present right before you arrive.

7. Keep a Paper Trail

  • Keep a paper copy of each of the following: Passport, passport-sized photos, and credit/debit cards with the international contact number (not the 1-800 number, this will not work overseas). If your passport or cards are stolen, you have a backup copy.
  • Itineraries for trusted friends/family. These are people who WILL answer a phone in an emergency. Make sure you give a copy of your itinerary to people who will not freak out if something goes wrong, but will take action, be responsive, responsible, and do everything in their power to restore you and/or your money quickly.
  • Address and phone number(s) to your local Embassy. This is critical information. If you are hurt, injured, arrested, or if there is imminent danger, you will need to head to the nearest embassy for shelter. Plus, if your passport is missing you can take the copy of your passport and photos to your nearest embassy for them to help you retrieve another.
    • The U.S. Department of State has a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) that will send you a text alert if there is any danger in the country you are visiting. STEP is free, so please consider this option as you are learning how to stay safe while traveling abroad.

8. Don’t Share Your Life Story with Strangers

  • Seriously, people! I’m especially talking to the extroverts in the group. Do not share your date of birth, mother’s maiden name, car, hotel address, place of birth, or any information that could lead someone to locate and/or identify you. I understand being in a new place and sharing new experiences with strangers who may be feeling the same sense as adventure as you is fantastic; but be mindful about what information you are communicating. Not every stranger is nice. Not every stranger wants to be your friend. Be friendly but do no overshare – this is a key safety tip while traveling abroad.
  • Don’t be under the influence. When you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol you may be more likely to share personal information and not even realize or remember it. Be sober and carry on, folks!
  • If someone asks too many questions, just re-direct the conversation to something more general like the weather or the sight you are visiting. The goal is to get the focus off you and onto something else.

9. Ask Questions from the Right Sources

  • Ask hotel/hostel staff. Staff at these locations are safe and reliable because their reputation and job are on the line. Can you imagine how fast a businesses’ reputation would dissolve if it was discovered their staff gave unreliable information? They would disappear in an instant! Ask the staff members for help, it’s why they are there!
  • Get lodging wifi from receptionist desk. Need wifi? Trust the lodging-specific password and do not connect to wifi that you are not familiar with.
  • Google it. When in doubt, google it out! The internet is a vast storehouse of information, use it to your advantage.

10. Be Confident

  • Small things make a huge difference. Every safety tip listed above is one small step that can positively impact your monetary and physical safety.
  • Don’t project fear. Everyone can sniff a fearful person from a mile away. It’s obvious. People will react to how you react to them, so if you react with fear people will possibly be offended and react negatively towards you. Let’s not do that.
  • Confidence is key – and confidence is sexy! Have the courage to implement these tips, as well as any other relevant safety tips you discover, and watch as your confidence builds in the days leading to your vacation.

At the end of the day, you’re going to have a GREAT time! You’ve taken the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your property, so walk with confidence and enjoy yourself!

Photo of me pointing to the words "Travel Safety Tips". Frolic & Courage.
More of a visual person? Watch as I discuss how to stay safe while traveling abroad in this video.

What other safety tips do you have? Share them below!

– Antoinette | Frolic & Courage

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