There is no one single way to ensure your safety while traveling overseas. But there are ways to try and minimize opportunities to be targeted and increase your overall security. Do your research on travel safety and come up with a plan to follow to ensure you are not the next target while traveling.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings:
As with all popular tourism areas, crime and pickpocketing are problems. Travel advisors frequently highlight the need to keep an eye on your purse, wallet, backpack, and other valuables while traveling. If you carry a backpack, consider using it backwards, with the carry case on your chest and the straps around your back. This can prevent the quick-handed pickpocket from reaching into your backpack, but only if you pay attention.
Be aware of the types of crime common in the country you are visiting. In some countries, it can be common for criminal gangs or individuals on mopeds to target and then drive by tourists while ripping purses and backpacks from them and quickly driving off. In other areas, pickpocketing may be the biggest threat to tourists. Do your research on local crimes and crime rates and have a plan to keep safe before traveling.
Blend In, Blend In, Blend In
One critical way not to draw attention to yourself as a tourist is to blend in. After living in Europe for several years, I frequently heard in casual conversation or EU travel polls the different ways that residents could identify a tourist. In particular, Americans were frequently described as loud, dressed in t-shirts with team logos or the location of the last vacation, wearing shorts and sneakers, and lacking respect for the country they were visiting. Bottom line, American tourists are easy to spot and easy to target. Many people around the globe believe most Americans are wealthy, making you that much more of a potential target.
Try to avoid standing out! Dress in simple clothing that will blend in to the crowd and with local residents. Rather than wearing shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers, I usually wear chino pants (khaki, navy blue, or other muted colors). I wear basic cotton V-neck or scoop neck shirts – not t-shirts and no logos or country/city names (leave your team jerseys at home). Finally, I wear comfortable walking shoes or basic sneakers in muted colors. If you carry a camera, carry it in your purse or travel bag. If you are unable to do this, covering your camera with a jacket or sweater can also help.
Remember to avoid being loud or assuming everyone speaks English. Try to learn some basic words in the local language and you may find local shop owners and others more willing to assist. Words such as good morning, good afternoon, hello, thank you, do you speak English, where is the restroom, how much does this cost, how do I get to XX, etc. are good to know. If you are horrible at learning basic foreign language phrases, carry a phrase book with you or download a quality translation app on your cell phone.
Bottom Line: Don’t make it obvious you are a tourist, minimize the attention you draw, and be respectful of the local customs and people.
Hotel Safes May Not Be Safe
Many people ask about hotel safes and if those are more secure for cash, jewelry, passports, and other valuables. I recommend reading these two articles and doing some research of your own. As noted in the article, hotel safes are one step up in security from hiding your valuables in your luggage.
My travel motto is “if you don’t need it, don’t take” and that includes jewelry.
Cash vs. Credit Card
Take what cash you need and talk with your bank and credit card agencies about any charges you may incur if you use your debit card to withdraw money overseas or credit card for overseas charges. Consider using credit cards for travel, particularly those that earn you points, offer the best exchange rates, and minimal fees, and carry those safely with you as you travel. Keep your credit card contact information with you and separate from your card in case you lose your credit card or are pickpocketed.
Keep in mind that some souvenir shops and small restaurants may not take credit cards at all or only take certain credit cards. American Express and Discover are difficult to use in Europe and many other countries, partly because of the high fees they charge to shop owners and lack of popularity outside of the United States. MasterCard and Visa are the most popularly accepted cards in Europe and around the globe. In addition, some smaller souvenir shops and small restaurants may not accept credit cards at all or may not accept credit cards for purchases without a minimum purchase amount. Therefore, you should have some cash on hand for these scenarios.
Keep Copies of All Important Documents
Keep a copy of your passport, driver’s license, and other important documents in case they are lost, stolen, or needed for other emergency situations. Bring a couple of hard copies with you and keep these documents safe. In addition, scan and save these documents in a secure online location or secure e-mail that you can access when necessary while traveling.
Avoid High Crime and Unsafe Areas, Do Your Research
Plan your vacation in advance and ensure you are not traveling in known high crime locations. Do your research!! Have a map of the local area and keep track of your route as you move about the city. Hiring a legitimate tour guide can help prevent your wandering into questionable areas, but find a guide who comes highly recommended and regularly receives positive feedback from family, friends, or websites like TripAdvisor.
As a solo traveler, I am always keenly aware of where I am going and ensuring my route is researched, especially if I go out during dusk or dark hours. I often hire a taxi through the hotel to take me to locations after dark, such as restaurants, especially in the winter when the sun goes down early. I also ask the hotel concierge for advice on places to avoid, best routes to walk, and local maps.
Travel Insurance Can Be a Lifesaver
Also consider paying for travel insurance. Travel insurance can help protect you should you become injured or ill in a foreign country and can also protect the cost of your trip should you need to cancel. Read the fine print of any travel insurance plan to make sure it fits your needs. Not all travel insurance plans are the same.
Sign Up For The STEP Program
In today’s day and age where global terrorism is a concern, United States citizens should consider registering with the U.S. Department of State STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). The STEP program website can be found here ( https://step.state.gov/step/ ). Once you set up your account, the website allows you to enter individual trip details. The account is free.
There are several benefits of enrolling in the STEP program.
1) You’ll receive country specific travel advisories in your inbox.
2) You’ll be documented with the local embassy as being in country. Should a natural disaster or security threat occur (terrorism, bombing, targeting of key public events, etc.), the information in your STEP account can assist in your evacuation.
3) Your established STEP account, with all information completed including passport information, can expedite passport recovery and assists the embassy in expediting assistance in emergency situations.
4) Your STEP account provides a means for consulates around the globe to contact you if an emergency situation occurs at home.
The website provides the following information to users:
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service that allows U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad to receive the latest security updates from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
- You’ll receive the latest safety and security information for your destination country, so you can make informed decisions about your travel.
- The information you provide enables the U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you in an emergency.
- Set up one account, and then add trips later for all your future travel plans!
Finally as you plan your trip, research the American embassy country websites for safety, travel, and crime information. Use the search term U.S. embassy (country name). For example, if traveling to Morocco, use the search term – U.S. embassy Morocco – to find the closest embassy or consulate to your travel location and additional country information. Should you lose your passport, be detained, or have other trouble within the country, the American Embassy should be your first line of contact. Have their phone number and location on you as you travel.