We’ve traveled through 20 countries and half of the United States and can say that we’ve never felt unsafe. Does that mean we were never aware of our safety? Of course not! Taking safety precautions is a good idea no matter your destination, which is why we’d like to share some travel safety tips to help you have a smooth journey.
Most safety tips are common sense but it’s good practice to remind ourselves from time to time. The most common things are often overlooked or forgotten! This post also touches on asking important questions about a destination. Just because you’ve read a negative headline doesn’t mean a destination is dangerous. Or does it?
Ok, let’s dive into some travel safety tips!
Travel Safety Tips
We could write an entire post detailing our personal experience abroad for just about anything. However, we can guarantee that you’re going to have a different experience than us. In that case, we’d like to offer some general safety tips that can be tailored to your travel experience and we’ll sprinkle it with some personal flavor. Hope that sounds good. Let’s begin!
Do Your Research
We’re going to get more specific in the paragraphs below but we’d like to emphasize the importance of research. It took us over one year to plan our move to Taiwan and many of those hours were spent scouring the internet for information.
Turns out, acting upon your plans is drastically different than researching them. But regardless, the more information you get your hands on, the more you’ll know ahead of time!
Read Local News
It’s important to look past what your national news sources are saying about the places you want to visit. It’s likely that newspapers/TV will just inform you about the negative things of a place, not necessarily the positive things.
Checking the headlines of local newspapers for your destination would be a good way to see what’s going on currently. Are there protests in the capital? Unrest of any kind that could hinder your travels?
But again, we live in the age of negative news. One of the best travel safety tips we can give is to trust your instinct. If you feel it’s safe then it probably is. Any doubts? You might want to rethink it!
Avoid Popular Scams
There are probably hundreds of petty scams out there across the world but what about your specific destination?
It’s a good idea to do a quick online search of scams in “x” and see what’s going on. For instance, in Paris, you’ll find some pretty big lists of common scams. A good general rule: the more tourists in the city, the more scams there are!
Don’t be too worried by these scams, though. If you’re smart, use common sense and do some research ahead of time, you’ll be fine. We were never scammed! But that doesn’t mean people didn’t try it!
Who Says It’s Safe or Unsafe?
When researching a destination, it’s important to pay attention to who is providing the information. If you’re looking at travel forums (like TripAdvisor or Reddit), take note who is commenting.
If travelers who visited on holiday are saying how amazing or how terrible it is, then you should take what they say with a grain of salt.
Are locals or expats involved in the discussion? It’s good practice to put more weight on their words; they have a better understanding of how safe their city is.
A great example of this would be cities in Southern Italy. Many travelers think that Naples and Palermo are unsafe cities but in our experience we never feared for our safety during the day or at night.
Naples and Palermo are also referred to as “dirty” cities. The aesthetic, or eye candy, that travelers find in other parts of Italy, like Venice or Florence, isn’t present but we’ve learned to never judge a destination just on looks. Southern Italy is our favorite part of the country.
Like the old adage: don’t judge a book by its cover.
If other’s opinions aren’t sufficient enough for your safety concerns, you can always turn to Travel.state.gov. You’ll find travel advisories listed for all countries, the safest being level 1 and the most dangerous being level 4.
However, be careful when basing your travel decisions via the government’s website. Obviously, if your destination of choice is level 4 “Do Not Travel” then you probably shouldn’t go there!
But what about France? Germany? The UK? These countries are currently listed as level 2 “Exercise Increased Caution”. We won’t lie, that sounds kind of scary when just basing opinion from those words.
However, most countries in Europe are listed as level 2 right now so don’t let that stop you from going! We spent 13 months straight on the continent and felt right at home. Is there a chance something bad could happen? Yes, just like everywhere else in the world. It’s up to you to make the ultimate decision.
Ok, if the government and online forums seem to be contradictory, you can always turn to an independent source: SafeAround. This site compiles data from tons of different sources and comes up with a safety ranking factor. You might be surprised at what you find!
Be Smart With Your Belongings
Like all touristy cities, you have to be smart about your belongings and avoid making yourself a target for scams and pickpockets.
We spent 18 months abroad and not once were we scammed or robbed. We think that many people who deem a city unsafe were the victim, or knew of someone who was, pickpocketed or scammed. But what precautions, if any, did they take to make sure they weren’t targeted?
Some quick tips:
Women: wear a cross-body purse on your front.
Men: if you don’t want to sport the murse or fanny pack, keep your wallet and phone in your front pocket. Cargo shorts, or shorts in general, aren’t a good idea!
Don’t Draw Attention to Yourself
Look confident, don’t be obnoxious, don’t stare at your phone and look lost.
Look confident: even if you’re completely lost in a foreign country (it’ll definitely happen!) look up with confidence. A confident traveler isn’t on the top of scammers’ lists.
Don’t be obnoxious: be respectful and don’t be the center of attention. If you act foolish then scammers and thieves may think you’re foolish enough to trick.
Don’t stare at your phone and look lost: This is a tough one, especially in destinations where English isn’t popular! Honestly, we’ve looked lost tons of times; we’ve also been approached during many of those instances. If that happens, start walking, even if it’s the wrong way for the time being. And most importantly, when you’re lost and looking at a map or your phone, know where your belongings are at all times!
The longer you hang around the more opportunity someone has to dupe you.
Have Duplicates of Important Documents
There’s nothing as annoying as losing your passport or driver’s license, or even worse, (gasp!) to have them stolen.
Before traveling, make copies of your passport, driver’s license and any other forms of identification you might need. You can either print them off and carry them around with you or email them to yourself (the safer method) so you can print them in the event that you need them.
Keep People Back Home in the Loop
This is especially important if you plan on doing anything risky on your travels like visiting an unsafe area or going skydiving, scuba diving, cliff diving, and other extreme sports.
Let people know what you’re doing and where you’ll be; that goes for rideshares like Uber too. Not sure you’ll have phone service or internet access? Let someone know when they should expect to hear back from you.
This is good advice for any kind of travel. Keeping people in the loop means they don’t have to worry; but most importantly, if something does go wrong they can act quickly to help.
Enroll in STEP
If you’re living abroad or even just going for a short period of time, enrolling in STEP is never a bad idea!
STEP, or Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, is a free service that ensures some extra safety measures while abroad. Benefits include:
- Receiving safety updates from the embassy in your destination
- The embassy will contact you in case of an emergency
- The embassy can put you in touch with loved ones
Again, STEP is a great idea for that extra step of travel safety!
Lock Up Valuables
Really, you shouldn’t be traveling with that many valuables but you do have important things on you. If you’re abroad, lock up any extra cash, your passport, and whatever else you deem valuable in your accommodation’s safe.
If your accommodation doesn’t have a safe then it’s time to invest in a theft-proof bag. More and more of these bags are coming onto the market and they do a pretty good job at keeping thieves out of your things.
We felt like the need for a RFID-blocking wallet was unnecessary but we were wrong. Investing in a RFID-blocking wallet or sleeve will protect your credit and debit cards from being scanned and used without your knowledge.
Be Smart With Your Money
Tell your bank where you’re going and don’t carry too much cash at one time. What about ATM fees? It makes sense that travelers would want to withdraw more money and less frequently to avoid ATM fees. Well, there’s a fix for that! Charles Schwab has a checking account that refunds all ATM fees and has no foreign transaction fees. Pretty cool, right?
For more ways to travel safely AND be smart while you’re doing it, check out some smart ways to travel with money.
Trust No One…Not Really…But Maybe
We don’t actually advise you to distrust people. The title was just a fun way to phrase the fact that some people out there aren’t what they seem. It’s the same case in travel as it is in daily life.
But the people you meet on your travels might just become your lifelong friends. We’ve met so many different people around the world that we consider good friends and we hope to see them again one day.
And one of the best parts of traveling? Having to trust strangers. That may be outside of many comfort zones but it can truly be a rich experience, even life-changing.
However, we once met some friendly people in Romania who were from the USA as well. It turns out they had used a RFID scanner to get our card info. Luckily, our bank stopped the charge from going through because our bank was aware that we weren’t in the USA.
You might be surprised by how kind strangers in a foreign country can be. But always have your wits about you!
Summary of Travel Safety Tips
Traveling opens your eyes and mind to new experiences and offers an entirely different way of seeing the world. However, it’s essential to keep safe and be smart while you’re traveling. Then you can enjoy what matters instead of kicking yourself for being scammed.
There are no guarantees of safe travel anywhere but we hope these safety tips have helped you be a more safe-conscious traveler!
Happy (and safe) travels!