As the old saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Whether you’re driving cross-country or flying internationally, check out our best travel tips to be prepared and stay safe during your next adventure.
Do your research
Traveling can require an extensive amount of planning, from picking a destination to how to get there and what you’re going to do when you arrive. Make planning easier by utilizing the city’s visitor center or Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Their role is to provide travelers information on accommodations, attractions, dining, and local events. Instead of asking the opinions of strangers once you arrive, plan your trip ahead of time with the trusted advice of local professionals. During your research go ahead and download those essential travel apps. It’s better to do this now than wait until you’re at the airport or hotel with only access to public Wi-Fi (more on this later).
For international travelers, research your country’s embassy writing down their address and phone number before departing. In case of an emergency, such as a lost or stolen passport, they will be able to assist you. Be prepared for potential threats by educating yourself on possible political unrest or environmental dangers. For American citizen traveling abroad, the U.S. Department of State offers the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP allows you to register your trip, notifying the embassy or consulate of your presence. In the event of a crisis, they will contact you with important safety information and support. Before traveling to a country with an unfamiliar culture be sure to study local customs. Learning what to do and not to do when interacting with locals can improve your experience overall.
Be road trip ready
If your destination will be reached by car, then be sure to prepare your vehicle for the road. Since millions of cars are recalled every year, it’s important to check if your vehicle was affected. To find out if your car has been recalled, go online and enter your 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN). It is equally important to inspect your car, taking note of tire pressure and condition, windshield wiper fluid, oil life, and functionality of wiper blades and lights. Many of these are quick fixes that can be made at home or at a local mechanic shop. A road trip is a great time to assemble or refill your roadside emergency kit. Essentials include first aid, flashlights, flares, jumper cables, blankets, and water. Learn more about car safety and preparations here.
Get travel insurance
So many people get caught up in trip itinerary plans and forget to invest in travel insurance. For only pocket change, you can safeguard against nightmares like lost luggage or canceled flights. Depending on your travel plans, additional coverage for health or property can be added. It is worth it to spend extra for peace of mind in the event that something goes awry.
Prepare emergency information
Stuff happens, especially at inopportune moments – like traveling. Notify family or a friend of your travels by sharing an itinerary. If possible, check in with them on a set schedule. In the event something happens, they should know your approximate location. In the event of an emergency, it may be necessary to contact emergency services. Since 911 is not universal, international travelers should look up applicable emergency telephone numbers. Certain countries even have different numbers for police, fire, or medical.
Stay healthy during travels
One of the worst ways to spend a trip is sick with food poisoning or plagued by allergies. Be sure to pack appropriate clothes and items (i.e. sunscreen and a hat during sunny months) in addition to a first aid kit. Whether you travel domestic or international, you will not want to locate a pharmacy when you are ill or injured. A basic first aid kit should feature a (preferably) waterproof pouch with the following:
- Antibiotic ointment/spray to treat cuts
- Alcohol swabs/wipes
- Adhesive bandages for multiple sizes
- Anti-histamine tablets
- Anti-itch ointment
- Digestive relief tablets
- Pain pills (i.e. Ibuprofen)
- Disinfecting hand wipes
Immersing yourself in a new culture may mean you are trying unfamiliar foods. The best tip is to explore foods at popular restaurants, maybe even one suggested by a local CVB. International travelers should inquire about recommended or even required vaccines before departing.
Protect your home
Whether it’s through a full security system or just a camera monitored on a personal device, many individuals already protect their homes. Take that security up a notch next time you’re out of town. To deter criminals, install automatic timers for lights and even TVs or radios to give the appearance someone is home. Have a trusted neighbor or nearby family stop by your home and keep an eye on things and pick up delivers and newspapers. Many neighborhood watches and police departments will drive by your property to look for any signs of suspicious activity. To limit the obvious overflowing mailbox, put a hold on all USPS deliveries during your next extended stay (travels between 3-30 days).
Once you arrive at your destination, treat your hotel room or vacation rental as you would your own house. Don’t leave blinds open at night or valuables lying around. If you can, place the hotel do not disturb tag on the door handle to prevent unwanted hotel staff from entering your room.
Be social media savvy
Go ahead snap that picture for Instagram or post a travel update on Facebook, just be smart about it. Don’t set down personal items to snap the perfect selfie or respond to a friend’s comment. Be aware of your surroundings when taking photos or videos. Always check your privacy settings before posting – only sharing the post with your friends or followers, never publicly. Under no circumstance should you share your trip itinerary on social media. Sharing your agenda on social media allows potential thieves to monitor you, making it easier for them to time a crime.
Secure your electronics
It’s impossible to travel without electronics. Not only do people rely on their cell phones, but also tablets and laptops to entertain them during travels. Connecting these devices to public Wi-Fi can be dangerous since it allows hackers on the same network to access anyone’s stored information. The most secure way to surf the web, respond to emails, and check your account balances is to purchase an inexpensive portable router. Skip the free Wi-Fi at your hotel and invest in a local SIM data card for the duration of your stay. The SIM card, inserted into the portable router, can be purchased at an electronics store or airport kiosk. Can’t carry a portable router with you? Look into a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This network operates as an app on your device and protects all internet traffic, from emails to streaming movies.
When it comes to protecting devices themselves, always keep them out of harm’s way. Don’t put your cell phone in your back pocket or set your laptop bag down in public areas. Before departing, be sure to backup device data and add password protection where applicable. Set up tracking on your device so in the event your phone or tablet is lost or stolen there’s a chance of recovery. For larger items, look into attachable GPS tracking devices.
Protect your bank account
By now, we all know to not keep cash in back pockets or open our wallets to strangers, but protecting your money goes far beyond simple scams. Always inform your bank and/or credit card company of your travels. If your card is charged in a different state they might try to suspend use believing the card was stolen. To prevent stolen cards or cash, limit the number you carry. Leave extra credit cards at home and only withdraw small amounts of cash. Certain debit cards will reimburse your ATM fees so don’t worry about withdrawing money more often, as long as you check the ATM for tampering. Criminals place additional hardware on the machines to either physically steal your card or read your card’s information. Pull on the card reader slightly or run your finger along the insertion slot to check for tampering. One tactic to limit financial loss is to carry an easily accessible second wallet, filled with deactivated cards and small bills. In the event of a robbery, the decoy wallet can be handed over with minimal loss.
Protect your valuables
In addition to protecting cards and cash money, it’s important to monitor valuables. Ideally, travelers should leave as many items of value at home, but specific items like wallets, drivers license, and passports must be brought along. Before you depart, be sure to take inventory of your valuables, writing down all credit/debit card information, photocopying your ID or passport, and recording your medical insurance coverage. Many health insurance providers now offer apps where you can access a digital insurance card.
When your valuables aren’t in use, be sure to lock them up in a hotel safe or stash them away in your vacation rental. For an international traveler, chances are you won’t need your passport on you at all times. Lock it away with emergency money, jewelry, and electronics then carry a photocopy with you.
A few basic changes or planning ahead could make a difference in enjoying a worry-free memorable trip.