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How to Prepare for Safe Travels Before you Go

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Planning for safe travels is as important as mapping out your itinerary for your upcoming trip. Not only should you consider what you want to see and do when you’re away, but there are many things you can do before you leave on your trip to increase your chances for safe travels.

This article will show you what you can do to increase your chances for safe travels before you leave.

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Do Your Homework

There is so much information online now, and you can easily access travel guides, blogs, and forums. With a little bit of research, you can find out what to look out for in an area and cautionary tales of what to avoid. These reports are often based on personal experience. They are a great idea to read through when you’re planning your trip.

Before I went to Colombia on a solo adventure, I did a lot of research. Both about the country and the places I was planning to go to. I do the same for every country that I go to. You can have safety issues anywhere you go, and that includes in your home country.

Doing research helps you to know what to look for in a particular area you are visiting. People tend to think of European countries as being safer for travel and to some extent they are. Violent crimes may be lower than in some other countries, but there is crime present everywhere.

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Research Examples

Before I plan a trip, I usually will check the United States State Department website travel advisories. Many other countries have a similar version to this. I skim posts in the TripAdvisor Forum to see if there are any cautions. Then I read through some travel blogs, either from bloggers that I have followed, or do a search in Pinterest. I use the blogs both for itinerary planning and also for information to help improve my chances for safe travels.

Here are some examples from two recent trips I took to Colombia and Portugal.

Colombia

I knew very little about Colombia before I started researching for my trip. Most of what I knew was from Hollywood dramatic versions of the cocaine industry and the drug cartels. I was surprised to read that there was no travel warning to go to Colombia. When I researched further, I learned about a country valiantly pursuing putting their dark past behind them and making great progress. But, like any country, they do still have issues and many of them stem from the poverty that’s still prevalent.

My research showed to be careful using a cell phone in Bogotá as that can make you a target for theft. This poses some challenge for me as I usually don’t bring paper maps. Nothing screams “tourist!” like someone whipping out a large paper map! I took the warnings seriously and printed some small maps and typed up some directions.

Also, I downloaded maps on my phone so I didn’t spend the time navigating. II made sure to check my phone when I was not in a large crowd and had an easy visual to the people around me. Safe travels don’t always just happen, and sometimes you need to take a little extra care.

I’m sure you could talk with 20 people who went to Bogata and spent the entire time on their phone safely. I’d rather not take a chance to be a statistic.

Portugal

I read that pickpocketing is fairly prevalent in Lisbon. One common ploy is a “snatch and grab” on the subway or the tram, where a pickpocket may grab your bag right before the doors to the car close so you can’t chase after them. The guidance was to be especially careful keeping an eye on your belongings, especially before the car doors close.

I actually met someone in Lisbon who lost his cell phone when he and his wife were at the ticket counter in the Metro. They were focused on buying their tickets and not where all of their belongings were. Pickpocketing is a crime of opportunity and you open yourself as a target when you’re not careful of your belongings and what is going on around you.

It’s a good idea to research these things in advance of your trip so you know what to prepare for and what to look for. It’s a good idea to be watchful of anything, of course. But, knowing the particulars of what you might find in the area is a big help to know in advance.

Know the Areas You Should Avoid

When you research your trip, be on the lookout for places where people recommend tourists not go. Almost every large city has these places. If you don’t find much in your research, be sure to ask your hotel and locals that you meet on your trip.

Personal safety from pickpocketing and theft isn’t the only kind of safe travels to think about.

My trip to Chile is a good example of why research is important. Though I did research the trip to some extent, I didn’t realize that the country is very seismically active and frequently has earthquakes. Huge miss, right? We went to Valparaiso on the coast and stayed at a hotel right on the water. A significant earthquake hit, an 8.3 on the Richter Scale, and we were evacuated along the coast. At 1 a.m. when we returned to our hotel, we learned we were locked out and had to find another place to stay.

We were completely caught off-guard and it was frightening, not having any idea what to do. Had we researched a bit better, we might not have stayed on the water. Or, we might have read the hotel evacuation plan and policy to be better prepared.

Make Copies of Important Items

Make photocopies of all documents and cards including passport, driver’s license, insurance card, credit cards and anything else you bring. Take copies of the front and back of cards so you have the phone numbers to call in case you need to cancel credit cards.

Bring several sets of copies. Put one copy in the room safe. If there isn’t one, ask at the front desk (for hotels or apartment-style Airbnbs) for a safe place for you to store documents. Carry a copy on your person in an area where the cards and originals are not. If you carry the cards and documents in a bag, consider carrying the copies in a money belt or a secure pocket. Tuck away the last set in your carry-on bag or somewhere in your room.

Some countries require that you carry your passport with you, and it’s a document that you absolutely don’t want to lose. Be sure to have multiple copies so you can use them as proof of identification should you need it.

passport, travel documents

Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

STEP is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. There may be similar services in other countries. It’s a ten-minute process to enter your trip information. You share where you are going, the location where you’re staying, your contact information, and your travel companions.

This program does the following (quoted directly from the website):

  • Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
  • Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
  • Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.

Check with your country’s government to see if they have a similar program and how to enroll. There have been a number of wars and conflicts in recent years where people were evacuated for their safety. It’s a good thing to not be a statistic and to make it as easy as possible for you to be contacted in an emergency.

Know Where the Embassy Is

Speaking of passports and the STEP program, it’s a good idea for safe travels to know where the local Embassy is for your country. This is generally where you’d go if you lose your passport. Should there be any security issues in the country you’re traveling, this is where you will want to contact or go to for safety and direction on what to do.

If you enroll in the STEP program, they will contact you. However, if you have any security concerns, it’s a good thing to have on-hand.

Get Travel Insurance

I’ll admit it – I never got travel insurance until around a year ago. [GASP!] Thankfully, I never had any issues requiring it. But, I felt that once I was aware of it and knew it was a good idea, I should never do without it again.

When I was in Thailand, I met a woman in her early 20’s who just got out of the hospital after battling malaria. She didn’t take anti-malarial treatment before and during her trip and came down with a bad case of it. She was grateful she had travel insurance as she spent over a week in the hospital. The next day, I met another woman who had a similar hospital stay only for her, it was due to a broken bone and she needed emergency surgery. I felt like the Universe was sending me a clear message, so I have gotten it since.

Travel insurance not only provides medical and emergency coverage, but it also covers trip cancellation, interruption, baggage loss, etc.

There are a number of good carriers so shop around and do review the coverage they provide. Be sure to get what you need. I have mostly been using World Nomads. The sign-up process is easy, it’s affordable (so far it has always been under $100, even for trips that are two weeks), and they provide a two-page sheet you can print and bring with you with all of the information you need.

 Get Vaccinations

It’s a good idea to have travel insurance before you travel, and it’s a great idea to also do what you can to avoid getting sick for safe travels. In the United States, I check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website to look for recommended vaccinations and travel precautions.

There are travel clinics in the United States that help you to determine what potential health hazards are in the country you are visiting and what suggested vaccines or treatments are (I believe they get the information from the CDC). I have used Passport Health in Arizona and recommend them. The CDC website provides some guidance to find a local travel clinic, and I believe Costco and some pharmacies with clinics also offer some vaccines.

Travel clinics also provide health guidance for the country or countries you are visiting. These could include food and water-borne illnesses, diseases, and animal or insect-borne illnesses. Recommendations can range from vaccines, treatments (preventives or treatment for things like traveler’s diarrhea), or behavior modification, like avoiding petting stray dogs or other animals that could have rabies.

Bring Some Extra Cash and an ATM Card

You want to pack the minimal amount of what you need, however, sometimes it’s a good idea to bring an extra of some things. A great example of this is with cash.

I generally bring an ATM card and a credit card for my travels and plan to use them to access money or to use credit, where I can. However, it’s a good idea to bring some extra cash just in case you need it. In most places, you can convert it to local currency. You don’t want this to be your primary source of money as the conversion rate isn’t as good as you can get at a bank. But, in a pinch, it’s a good idea.

When I went to Germany a few years ago, I found I was unable to use my credit card and my ATM in the airport for some reason. (I learned later that my credit card company had put a fraud hold on the card, even though I opened a travel alert. I never learned why my ATM card didn’t work). Thankfully, I had brought some leftover Euros from a past trip so I was able to get a train ticket to my destination.

safe travels, bank card, atm, atm card

Share Your Information

Share your information with friends, family, or loved ones about your trip. You should include where you will be and the dates. Also, include what you are doing and contact information before each trip.

It’s a good idea while you’re traveling to keep in touch with at least one person from home to let them know you’re ok and if there are any changes you made to your itinerary. This way, if that person stops hearing from you, it could be an indication there is something wrong. Of course, if you will have limited or no internet or phone connectivity for a period of time, let them know that as well.

Consider Leaving Valuables at Home

Don’t bring anything you’d be heartbroken losing to increase your chances for safe travels. This could be something of monetary value or even something with sentimental value to you.

You may not want to bring jewelry on your trip, and particularly nothing big and flashy. You don’t want to show anything indicating wealth when you travel, it’s just not a good idea. When I pay attention, I don’t notice a lot of diamond wedding rings on women when I travel, and instead, usually, see just a gold band if anything.

I used to bring a little bit of jewelry and now I usually travel with none. I leave my locket with the note from my grandfather tucked safely at home, along with the rest of my jewelry and valuables.

Can You Drink the Water?

Safety isn’t just about not being mugged or pickpocketed. There are other types of safety to consider. Can you drink the water in the country you’re going to? If not, what will you do?

There are some great filters you can purchase and you have a lot of options. There are filtration systems, water bottles with filters, and tools that do the filtration like the Steripen. I have been loving this small Katadyn water filtration bottle. It fits in my small messenger bag that I carry with me when I’m out touring. Since it’s soft, it only really takes up the amount of space of the filter. It’s a good size for an average day and I can refill it with local water, secure in the filter doing its job.

things to pack, what to pack, katadyn, katadyn water filter, katadyn bottle
Photo Source: Rei.com

If I need additional water and may not be able to fill up, I bring this Platypus container. It collapses flat leaving only the cap on the top. I took both on my hiking trip in Cocora Valley in Colombia and it was more than enough water.

I also like reducing my carbon footprint by not buying bottled water everywhere I go. These water filters are environment-friendly as well as convenient.

Dress Like a Local

While you’re researching your itinerary and other considerations for your safe travels, also research appropriate dress and what the locals wear. When you’re traveling, you want to do what you can, within reason, of course, to blend in with the locals.

This is especially important for women in places where women dress more modestly. For example, in some countries, tank tops and short shorts are not appreciated and can ban you from visiting temples and palaces. You certainly can wear what you want and purchase/bring a wrap. But, it’s also a safety consideration to not make yourself a target by calling attention to yourself. I don’t mean this from the perspective of judgment, but more around using common sense.

Final Thoughts

Increase your opportunity for safe travels by planning in advance of your trip. The time will be well-spent when you have a great, and safe, time while you’re away.

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Note: Images in this post are courtesy of Pexels unless otherwise stated.

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