A Primer on Travel Safety
Nearly 40 million US residents travel internationally every year. While the chances are very good that you’ll never experience actual trouble while traveling, you should familiarize yourself with travel safety basics so that you can be informed while you roam, and you can wander more confidently.
How to stay safe when traveling internationally
Enroll in STEP and familiarize yourself with local US Consulate info. The Department of State’s STEP program makes it easy for the nearest US Embassy to get in touch with you in the event of an emergency or crisis situation. STEP stands for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
While this may seem like overkill for the very touristy destinations, it’s a quick process and worth it. Signing up for STEP is especially recommended if you’re going to any destination that shows up as orange or red on this map.
While traveling internationally, you’ll be able to reach out to the local consular office 24/7. You can also reach out the Department of State from overseas by calling (202) 501-4444.
Vaccine-preventable diseases are no joke. If you live in the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe, you have simply never been exposed to a wide range of very serious, very life-threatening diseases that still exist in parts of the world.
Check out your destination on the CDC’s site, and consult with your doctor to find out if you should be getting a booster or a totally new vaccine, which they’ll base at least in part on your personal health history and if applicable, country-specific requirements. You can also check your county or township, as some offer travelers’ immunization clinics. Minute Clinic at CVS offers some travel vaccines as well.
Make copies of your documents
Take actual hard copy printouts of your travel documents with you. I like to take two sets— one to keep on me, and one to keep in my luggage (but not with my actual passport!). Make sure a trusted person back home has access to the digital copies of your travel documents, as well.
I like emailing myself the PDFs and also using Dropbox so that it’s easy to pull up or share document PDFs with anyone I need to.
Travel insurance is one of those things that comes in really handy when you need it. Sure, most travel plans go off without a hitch, but the cost of the insurance premium is a small price to pay for peace of mind and protection for things like delayed baggage, interrupted trips, emergency evacuation, and more. Certain policies even include cancellation protection so that you can get your money back if you must cancel your trip for any non-illness related reason.
Lots of great travel insurance options are available, so you’re bound to find one that fits in the budget and covers what you need, from the minimum amount of coverage to something more comprehensive.
Getting sick while traveling sucks— it sucks even more if you’re so sick or injured that you need to go to a hospital! Check out this article for more about the basics of what you need to know if you have to go to a hospital while abroad.
Personally, I’m a fan of RoamRight travel insurance. Depending on the plan, children under 18 are covered at no additional charge, and the insurance options are reasonably priced with great coverage inclusions.
One of the worst things to be while in a foreign country is stranded. Do the legwork for researching ground transportation options before you travel so that you’re not surprised by what options do (or don’t) exist where you’re traveling.
For example, ridesharing apps like Uber or Lyft are HUGE in metropolitan areas all around the United States — but that’s not the case everywhere. I highly recommend you book your ground transfers to and from the airport in advance, and get to know the basics of transportation in the area.
As you would in any money handling situation, stay very aware of your surroundings. If you need or want cash on hand while traveling, consider changing your currency at your bank back at home before you travel. While in the country you’re visiting, a local bank will probably be your safest bet, and hotels will often change your money as well.
Learn the language
Knowing conversational phrases in the local language can make your entire experience so much better! Simply knowing how to ask for directions can save you a lot of frustration. Familiarize yourself with the local language — enough so that you can get from point A to point B and interact with vendors.
(While you’re at it, learn some rude phrases and bit of profanity too— that might help you figure out if you need to nope out of a situation real quick! 😬)
Last but not least: stay informed
The best thing you can do for yourself and your family when you travel is to stay informed.
A little research ahead of your trip will pay off in the peace of mind and, if necessary, the knowledge you need to handle any problems that come up while traveling. Popular destinations often offer informational sites and apps geared specifically toward tourists and visitors. Cities and tourist areas use these to help communicate important area updates and empower visitors with the resources they need to stay safe.
Some examples: The state of Quintana Roo in Mexico offers Guest Assist, which provides tourists with resources to stay safe and how to proceed in the event of a problem situation. NYC’s official tourism site offers The Big App-le— a list of recommended smartphone apps for visitors to the city. London’s official visitor guide lists essential travel safety tips and information.