- Staying alert and blending in can help ensure an enjoyable, safe overseas vacation.
- Use your laptop wisely at public places to keep your personal information private.
- Know where you’re going to “look like a local” instead of a tourist.
A trip abroad should be savored as a time to create memories that can last forever. To avoid any safety-related mishaps along the way, consider the following tips:
Research in advance. Travel websites, like the thefts and scams section in Rick Steves’ Travel Tips, are full of descriptions for situations to watch out for, such as when someone spills coffee on you and solicitously helps clean it off while an accomplice seeks to take your purse or pick your pocket.
Stay alert. Simply being aware of your surroundings can help significantly. Don’t hang your purse or bag on your chair, even if the people around you look harmless. Be cautious about anyone offering unsolicited help for anything. In general, be wary of strangers who are too friendly or too helpful. Take only licensed taxis, preferably from a taxi stand. Use the same common sense that you use at home, but ratchet it up since you are in unfamiliar surroundings.
Dress wisely. Wear a money belt—a belt with a pouch worn under clothing—to protect your money, credit cards, passport or other valuables. As an alternative, leave your passport and all but one credit or ATM card at the hotel in the room safe, or at least tucked out of sight.
Exercise caution at ATMs. Always cover up the keypad as you type in your PIN, so thieves can’t see it.
Surf safely. As at home, anyone overseas can tap into your information if you’re using your laptop. Do not send any sensitive information (bank account, credit card, passport numbers, etc.) and don’t visit sensitive sites protected by a password (because someone may watch you while you type it in). If you’re using a public computer, disable any autosave functions and be sure to log out of sites, as opposed to simply closing the browser.
Blend in. Dress like the locals and don’t wear flashy jewelry. Research your destination’s customs before you travel to avoid embarrassing miscues that would bring unwanted attention.
Know how to get around. Taxi Fare Finder reveals taxi airport fares in many common foreign destinations, so you’ll know what to pay. If you’re going anywhere beyond the normal tourist destinations, check online or with your hotel concierge about safety risks in particular neighborhoods. Pre-plan routes to your destinations so you look like you know where you’re going and, therefore, less vulnerable.
Take added precautions if you’re a female traveling solo. If you can, wear something with pockets and avoid carrying a purse. If you carry a purse, use one with a strap worn across the body. At night, try to join up with a group, and avoid walking alone where there aren’t many people or the lighting is bad. Never accept food or drinks from strangers. Let someone—the concierge or manager in a small hotel—know when you are going out at night and when you expect to be back.
If an incident still happens… Then take the same steps that you would at home. If you get pickpocketed, for example, report it to the police, and call your credit card company and your bank to cancel your cards. Be sure to keep a record of your credit card numbers and emergency phone contacts for them in a separate place.
If you lose your passport, it’s useful to have a photocopy of it (again kept separately from the actual document) and even two passport photos ready to go. If you are in a capital like Paris or Rome, you can go to the U.S. embassy and get a replacement. And big cities such Munich or Milan often have a U.S. consulate who can replace your passport.