Things can happen unexpectedly…
Melissa recently traveled to Mexico with friends. While dining at a restaurant, her handbag was stolen. It contained her wallet with credit cards, cash, and her passport. She reported the theft promptly to the police who filed a report but explained that there was likely no hope of recovering her possessions. People like Melissa can benefit from learning about safety when traveling abroad.
A common problem
Petty theft is unfortunately an extremely common crime. It can be an especially jarring experience when traveling abroad. Melissa explained that she felt comfortable in her surroundings. Rather than keeping an eye on her belongings, she let her guard down and placed her handbag on the back of her chair, out of her line of vision, where it was easily stolen.
Golden rules for safety
In travel, there are some golden rules that are beneficial toward safety. Let’s examine some that rank high on our good-to-know list:
- Be knowledgeable. Educate yourself on current political, social, civil, and economic situations that may affect your trip. As part of the planning process, obtain safety information on your intended travel destination. Travelers are encouraged to sign up for STEP, a free service to allow U.S. Citizens/nationals traveling abroad to enroll with the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In doing so, travelers can subscribe to email travel advisory updates. Signing up for STEP also enables officials to better assist travelers in emergency situations. To subscribe and/or to review travel current advisories and precautions as shared by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, visit state.gov. For travel health alerts, visit www.cdc.gov. On this website, the CDC shares travel health notices related to global health risks during outbreaks, special events or gatherings, and natural disasters.
CDC Travel advisories are broken down into levels to include:
- Level 1 – Practice usual precautions
- Level 2 – Practice Enhanced Precautions
- Level 3 – Reconsider Nonessential Travel
- Level 4 – Avoid all travel.
Remember that a smart traveler is an informed traveler.
- Prioritize safety. Do create and share your itinerary with trusted family or friends. However, guard what you share with strangers. For example, it is not necessary to share what hotel you are staying at with a local shop owner. In many cases, it is worth the splurge to stay at a better hotel in a nicer neighborhood rather than a cheaper motel in a questionable part of town. You’ll want to continually be aware of your surroundings, especially when traveling to tourist areas where travelers are often targeted for scams. It’s best to observe the dress code of the place you’re visiting so that you do not stand out. Never carry valuables nor wear flashy jewelry that can make you vulnerable to crime. In addition, always keep an eye on your belongings to avoid petty crime, such as snatch-and-run robberies.
- Be money wise. Always let your bank and credit card companies know where you are traveling. These institutions may lock accounts when they feel fraud is possible. And it unfortunately may take days to resolve. Credit cards are generally safer to carry than cash but opt for RFID-blocking wallets. As a bonus, credit cards offer purchase protection with options to earn purchase points. How much cash one should carry depends on where you are going and what experiences you are encountering. Some people prefer to use ATMs. Avoid secluded ones and use caution at airports. Do be on guard for criminals who may be watching for people making withdrawals. If you see strangers loitering near cash machines, including children who may be recruited for crimes, do not use them. Also, watch for card skimmers or things that may be stuck in the cash dispenser. Never withdraw large amounts of money or carry big wads of cash. When traveling, it’s generally a good practice to divide the money up between bags and what you’re personally carrying. That way should a bag be stolen or go missing, you won’t lose everything. Always make and save copies of your debit and credit card information, including contact numbers for the bank and credit card companies to call in the event of loss or theft. Also, limit the number of cards you carry and opt to use credit cards over debit cards that are tied to bank accounts.
There are many smart things people can do to increase safety when traveling abroad. For more helpful tips, check out our sister article Safety Tips When Traveling Abroad featuring more ways for travelers to remain safe while visiting foreign countries.