There’s another terror attack in the news, perhaps in the place you were thinking of taking a holiday to next year.
It starts making you question whether you should change your plans or maybe even stay home.
And it doesn’t just stop at terror attacks. Other worries come with a trip abroad – getting mugged, a medical emergency, local violence, dangerous unforeseen weather, among others.
You take a risk every time you walk out your door, but that is the case at home as well as abroad.
Having these unfortunate events happen abroad may seem more overwhelming because you’re in a foreign place where you probably don’t know many people.
You’re far away from everything familiar, and that makes the stress of dealing with a negative situation worse.
Although these negative experiences can happen anywhere in the world, and you don’t usually have the luxury of knowing when they’re going to happen, you can still be ready in other ways.
Here are 11 tips for safe international travel, so you can have peace of mind when you step on your next flight abroad.
1. Think About Your Health on Long Flights
To avoid any health problems before you even get to your destination, think about the best ways to stay healthy on long flights.
Even if you look a little silly, do leg exercises or ‘plane yoga.’ Get up and walk around regularly and drink a lot of water.
You’ll be helping your circulation and preventing DVT (blood clots) that could do severe damage and put you out of action.
2. Be Smart with Rideshares
Research the local rideshare apps, such as Uber or GrabTaxi, where you’re going and how regularly they’re used.
In some locations, such as Latin America, rideshares are usually a safer option than just hailing a taxi from the side of the road because of the number of muggings and scams with local taxis.
Tip: If you plan to rent a car instead, look into getting an International Driver's License to make sure local authorities will be able to understand your license if they need to see it.
3. Educate Yourself on Current Affairs
This is a smart tip for life in general, but make sure you’re up-to-date on current affairs, especially the political and cultural climate of where you’re going.
For instance, Myanmar has become a popular destination in the past few years, but some people don’t realize that there’s still a civil war in some parts of the country until they get there.
Even Thailand has had recent bouts of political instability, even though it’s the #1 tourist destination in Southeast Asia.
Just because it’s a popular place to travel doesn’t mean that it’s completely safe. Do your research and make an educated decision on if you still want to go.
4. Share Your Itinerary
It’s always a smart idea to share your itinerary with friends and family back home.
Let them know if they probably won’t hear from you for a while because you’re going to a remote island or if you’ll be checking in regularly.
In addition to your friends, it’s smart to register with the U.S. State Department (or the equivalent in your country).
If something happens, they’ll have a better idea of where you’re meant to be.
Registering with S.T.E.P. (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) takes a few minutes and could be a lifesaver if you ever find yourself in an undesirable situation. You can register here: step.state.gov.
Lastly, make sure you know the contact information for local government offices; they almost always have 24/7 emergency hotlines.
5. Read Up on Popular Scams Ahead of Time
One tip that people often don’t think about is researching common scams in the places you’re traveling to ahead of time.
Doing a simple Google search of “popular scams in (travel destination)” can give you a wealth of information for what to look out for.
You’ll know that the taxi drivers are unusually aggressive in Bogotá, about the gem scams in Delhi, or how the phone thieves operate in Dublin and are ready to avoid them when you arrive.
6. Have an Emergency Stash of Cash
Have an extra stash of cash in different parts of your bag (or in multiple bags) in case of an emergency.
If your wallet or purse gets stolen, it could get you out of a tight spot if you have access to cash or an extra credit card that you kept somewhere else.
7. Be Aware When Walking Alone (Especially at Night)
It’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings when you’re abroad and to avoid notorious pickpocketing areas when possible.
Know the area you’re in (asking the welcome desk at your accommodation is an excellent place to start), and take the necessary precautions.
This is especially the case at night, but knowing the neighborhoods to avoid in general is ideal, so you’re not unnecessarily putting yourself at risk.
8. Don’t Get Overly Drunk
In the same vein as knowing your surroundings, it’s never a good idea to drink too much (or take drugs) when you’re abroad, especially if you’re traveling alone.
It opens you up as a target, and people are more likely to take advantage of that if they notice you getting sloppy.
A fun night out could turn into you getting mugged, or worse.
Some countries take drug use very seriously; the death penalty or jail time is not uncommon in some parts of the world.
Avoid putting yourself in that situation.
9. Don’t Bring Attention to Yourself
Do your research before you arrive at your destination, and try to blend into the local culture as much as possible.
Sometimes this won’t be as easy to do, depending on where you’re going.
Still, even if it’s just dressing more local, understanding the local customs, and especially what not to do, you’ll make sure you’re not standing out more than you already do as a tourist.
10. Get a SIM Card
Local SIM cards are usually cheap and an excellent way to make sure you can contact someone in case of an emergency.
It’s worth the extra $20 to have a local number and quick access to emergency services.
Having data abroad also means you can use Google Maps to find the safest route home, use ridesharing apps instead of local taxis when it’s safer, or quickly contact people back home through Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
11. Choose Good Travel Insurance
And lastly, it’s essential to have suitable travel insurance when you’re abroad. You never know when less than ideal circumstances will happen, and it’s worth it to be prepared.
You may never think you’ll need it, but the last thing you want to think about is finances when you’ve just been through a traumatic event.
Make sure you have an insurance plan that will cover you when you need it most, so you can deal with the situation at hand as efficiently as possible.
My travel insurance has gotten me out of a few unfortunate situations, and it’s one of the many reasons why I’ll always recommend travel insurance for international trips.
If you’re a parent or caretaker traveling with a child with special needs, here are some resources you might find helpful:
- Cerebral Palsy Family Network – a compassionate community that provides resources for loved ones with Cerebral Palsy.
- Learn about Air Travel Preparation For Children With Special Needs
- Read about Tips for a Successful Road Trip
Mimi McFadden is a travel blogger and freelance writer. Originally from California, she has been slow traveling the world since 2013. When she’s not writing, she’s probably sipping on a pint of craft beer, practicing yoga, chasing waterfalls, or losing track of time with a good book. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog, The Atlas Heart.