40 International Travel Safety Tips: Your Guide to Safety Abroad

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Going overseas?

That’s excellent news.

Traveling abroad can transform your life. It can bring you new and exciting experiences, offer a much-needed recharge and realignment, and ultimately change you for the better.

Like Seneca the Younger, a Roman Stoic philosopher, wrote, “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”

For the most part, the world is a safe place filled with great people, wonderful cultures, charming cities, and gorgeous nature.

But don’t be too naive!

Now, we’re not going to tell you horror stories, like a parent who watches way too much news. You don’t want to hear that (because you probably already heard some gruesome tales).

However, take proper precautions. If you don’t follow traveling safety advice, it’s more likely something will go wrong. Because scammers, con-artists, and thieves prey on easy targets.

To help ensure your safety when traveling overseas, we’ve listed 40 pieces of advice. By taking these travel safety tips to heart, you can increase your chances of having an amazing and hassle-free trip.

40 Ways to Ensure Your Safety when Traveling Abroad

40 International Travel Safety Tips: Your Guide to Safety Abroad

You want to get the most out of your adventure, right?

Having the vacation of a lifetime depends on understanding the ins and outs of traveling safety. This way, when bad situations arise, you know what to do to avoid or limit trouble.

From deceitful taxi drivers and tour guides to complex scams and outright thievery, a lot can come your way. Prepare yourself by following these international travel safety tips.

Pre-Departure Travel Safety Advice

International traveling safety begins with careful planning. Do the following:

1. Enroll in your country’s traveler program

This enables you to receive security updates from the nearest embassy or consulate while abroad. State departments typically offer these services at no cost. For example:

2. Check travel advisories

Whether you’re going to India or Brazil, check travel advisories. A good place to start is with your country’s state or foreign affairs department, like the US Department of State. They’ll alert you of all you need to know, including:

  • local safety conditions
  • possible health hazards, such as communicable diseases
  • natural disasters and climate concerns
  • civil unrest, political violence, etc

3. Research common tourist scams

Ever heard of a broken taxi meter? Don’t get into a cab without the meter running!

Did a stranger spill ketchup on your shirt? Look out for your wallet!

What about giving money to child beggars? The general advice is not to do this, as this sort of begging is often organized and may have ties to a human trafficking operation.

From fake bus tickets to overly friendly ATM helpers, tourist scams exist everywhere. Know what they are, and you most likely won’t be duped.

For a full overview of tourist scams in your destination, check with Lonely PlanetFodor’s, and other travel guides. Their articles cover the unique travel scams in each destination.

4. Make backups of important documents

Having backups comes in handy, especially if you lose your passport (embassies want identification info). Make hard copies of your passport, ID, and other documents. You could also store them in the cloud and on an external hard drive.

5. Arrange your medications

Carry your prescriptions on you when flying—just in case your checked bag ends up in Fiji and you’re actually going to Bali!

6. Write down emergency contact info

Have the numbers of your embassy and the local police. You have to know who to call if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.

Also, prepare a list of local medical providers. Many popular destinations, such as Thailand and Mexico, have international medical clinics. Research these beforehand. Because if you get sick, you want a trustworthy place to go for treatment.

7. Learn the local language

Knowing basic words and phrases in the local dialect can go a long way in preventing misunderstandings. You’ll know how to ask for help, which can prevent you from getting lost. And you’ll know how to talk prices—so you won’t pay more than you should for something.

Speaking the local language also gets you respect with locals. They’ll see you’ve taken the time to learn about their culture.

Don’t know where to begin? Many travel organizations can help.

For example, if you’re traveling to Latin America, start your trip with a Spanish program through Maximo Nivel, a leading volunteer travel provider in the region. These Spanish immersion courses provide you with an immersive language experience, which makes them a perfect way to begin your adventure. By the end of Maximo Nivel’s program, you’ll have another tool for ensuring your safety when traveling abroad: Your Spanish skills!

8. Get travel insurance!

If the unexpected happens, you don’t want to be stuck with a $10,000 hospital bill. That’s a massive financial hit.

To avoid this, spend a few extra bucks and get travel insurance. It will offer you peace of mind.

Do your research on third-party review sites, such as Reviews.com, to find the best travel insurance companies. Many expert international travelers recommend World Nomads.

If you travel abroad with an organization, know many reputable ones may require you to get travel insurance. For instance, GoEco, a leader in ecotourism, requires all travelers get insurance for their tours and volunteer programs.

9. Check about travel vaccinations

You can find trustworthy vaccine info with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

10. Learn basic self-defense

Want to truly ensure your safety when traveling internationally?

Take a self-defense course. And acquire the skills to prevent and escape an attack.

Many travel organizations offer martial arts and boxing courses while you’re there. Taking a class can be a great way to learn about local culture and improve your self-defense skills.

Frontier, an organization specializing in volunteer abroad programs and gap year adventures, has many martial arts courses, like their Kung Fu Academy in Shandong Province, China.

11. Bring a first-aid kit

Proper traveling safety means preparing for the worst. A medical kit is a necessity, especially if you like outdoor sports like mountain climbing, scuba diving, and cycling. Put together a first-aid kit to treat cuts, gashes, burns, and other potential injuries.

Add in other essentials such as:

  • rehydration salts
  • sunscreen
  • antihistamines
  • emergency space blanket

12. Take travel safety training

Reading tips for safety when traveling abroad is one thing. A training course will show you how to put your knowledge into action.

If you sign up for a volunteer travel program through International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), they’ll prepare you thoroughly. As the world’s most trusted volunteer abroad organization, IVHQ equips their volunteers with the necessary knowledge to make smart decisions when in a foreign country. IVHQ’s pre-departure training covers topics like:

  • Wearing appropriate clothing
  • Displaying culturally-sensitive behavior
  • Steps to take in case of an emergency or serious incident

Travel safety training courses can be done online. Check what’s available through your travel organization or through other providers if you’re arranging your trip on your own.

13. Get CPR, First Aid, AED Certification

Having this certification gives you the tools to deal with medical emergencies. It could save your life or someone else’s.

Some volunteer travel programs require you undergo such training, such as GoEco’s Diving for Marine Conservation Project in Mexico. For this program, you’ll get certified in First Aid and CPR for adults and children.

14. Only pack what you need

Evaluate each item in your luggage. Do you really need it?

As a guide in SmarterTravel notes, minimalist packing has its benefits. Not only can you avoid baggage fees, but you’ll also have less weight to carry around and less stuff that could get stolen.

15. Spend more for safety

While you don’t want to waste money, sometimes it pays to pay a little more. Because one bad incident, like getting scammed by a “taxi service”, can offset savings.

So, opt for accommodation with better reviews, even if it costs a little more. And get a flight or train ride that arrives in the day, which will leave you more legit transportation options into town.

16. Pay attention to clothing

You don’t want your clothing to scream, “I’m a tourist!” That makes you a target. You could also offend locals, and that’s something you certainly don’t want to do.

Research clothing laws and customs for your destination. Ignoring local dress code guidelines can give an impression of arrogance and ignorance. Dressing appropriately will make you safer and allow you to feel more comfortable, and locals will take it as a sign of respect.

Note: Unfortunately, in some countries, women have to pay more attention to clothing. As a World Economic Forum article notes, certain socially conservative countries have strict and somewhat specific dress requirements for women. This doesn’t mean that countries are off limits —you can definitely have a wonderful time there. Just dress to blend in with the locals. Typically, this means wearing something more modest.

17. Learn about the local culture

Read travel guides to learn about specific customs and behavior. Get advice from others who’ve traveled to the country. Study the country’s history, beliefs, and religion. And come with an open mind and willingness to learn.

If you don’t know something, ask a local, like a staff worker at your hotel. If you make an effort to understand the culture, you’ll have an easier time navigating your travels.

If you’d like an in-depth understanding of local culture, consider starting your journey with a travel program. For instance, you could sign up for a volunteer travel program through Global Vision International (GVI), a volunteer and intern abroad organization that’s been around since 1998. For each participant, GVI ensures safety when traveling through:

  • 24/7 support
  • cultural orientation and training
  • pre-departure travel advice for your destination

18. Tell your bank where you’re going

You don’t want your bank to think you’re the thief when you try to swipe your card for a meal in Barcelona, Spain.

Traveling Safety While On The Road

Now that you have all the travel safety tips for before you go, let’s cover advice for while you’re there.

19. Don’t flash wealth

Not only can flashing wealth come across as tasteless, but it also makes you a target for thieves and scammers. Even some vendors may charge you more.

The lesson is simple: Don’t wear expensive jewelry or carry around wads of cash.

20. Blend in!

You don’t have to act like a spy (though you could). Simply dress and act in a way that’s appropriate and doesn’t garner unwanted attention.

21. Stay in contact with friends and family

Send family members and friends your travel itinerary. As you’re traveling abroad, ensure consistent connectivity. When you change locations, send messages via Skype, WhatsApp, or Facebook. This makes locating you in case of emergency easier. Have a local SIM card so you can make and receive calls as well.

22. Have a natural disaster emergency plan

When traveling abroad, understand natural disasters are a possibility. From earthquakes in Nepal to hurricanes in the Caribbean, natural disasters can happen quickly and cause a lot of destruction.

So, do the following to increase your safety when traveling and disaster strikes:

  • check weather in advance
  • pay attention to travel alerts from your embassy
  • follow evacuation instructions and other directives from local authorities
  • stock up on food and supplies (easily portable stuff)
  • leave the area as quickly as possible
  • contact friends and family when you can

23. Have a medical emergency plan

If over-the-counter medicine can’t alleviate your illness or injury, find a medical clinic nearby. Have the address and numbers of well-regarded medical clinics on hand. Major issues, such as food poisoning or a broken bone, obviously need to be dealt with right away.

But what if you’re not near a medical facility? What if you’re hiking in the mountains or kayaking at sea? Well, there are steps you can take:

  • Have certification in First Aid and CPR: It can literally save a life.
  • Have all emergency numbers on hand: This includes local police, your nearest embassy, medical facilities, etc.
  • Rent/buy and bring a satellite phone or messenger: These devices can get expensive, but they could save your life. Satellite phones can make calls to authorities when your mobile phone can’t. They can send your exact location to search and rescue teams and your family.
  • Know survival skills: Take a class! Fronteering, a volunteer abroad organization, offers wilderness survival courses in exciting destinations like the Scottish Highlands and Yukon, Canada.

24. Have an exit strategy

Dangerous situations often arise unexpectedly. Your best preparation to avoid trouble is knowing how to get away fast. Wherever you go, have an exit plan.

For instance, if you’re at a bar, know how you can leave quickly if the scene becomes uncomfortable or unsafe.

25. Stay alert and (mostly) sober

Most criminals seek out easy victims, so project confidence and awareness (even if you’re scared or tired).

If you like going out for cocktails, dancing, and socializing, go ahead. Just stay hydrated, well-fed, and aware of your surroundings. And don’t drink too much. If possible, go out with a friend or group and don’t wander around unfamiliar areas. Also, adhere to local laws concerning drugs and alcohol.

26. Protect your valuables with the right gear

Invest in products like:

  • backpack locks
  • pickpocket-proof pants
  • clothing and bags with zippered pockets on the inside

Additionally, make use of safes in your hostel or hotel (as long as the lodging is trustworthy). Carry very important documents on your person, especially when in transit to another destination (don’t put it in undercarry!).

Lastly, keep important belongings tethered to your body or chair (it’s harder for someone to run off!). When you’re not using your laptop, that computer bag strap should be wrapped around something.

27. Don’t put money in your back pocket

It’s just so much easier for pickpockets. Ideally, keep it secured within a zippered pocket.

28. Choose accommodation wisely

Read hotel reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor. Ask friends or family that have visited that destination before. This will make sure you don’t end up in a shady hotel.

29. Go with reliable tour providers

While traveling in Northern Sichuan, China, I made the mistake of joining a tour group where the guide constantly had us stopping to shop. I even felt forced to buy things, and it made the trip to a wonderful destination unpleasant. It was my fault I was on the tour, though. I needed transportation and I hadn’t planned anything in advance.

For your safety when traveling abroad, avoid just hopping on any tour. Arrange your sightseeing with reliable tour providers who will educate you about the sites. Other travelers and your hotel may have good recommendations for what companies are legit.

You can also book tours beforehand with trusted providers. Projects Abroad, a volunteer travel organization, has tailored trips for teens, young adults, and seniors and retirees. For example, if you have an interest in seeing Mongolia, you can arrange your trip with Projects Abroad. And you can live and work with nomads in the serene countryside.

30. Use ATMs attached to banks

These have a lower chance of being tampered with. And scammers are less likely to hang out at bank ATMs.

If you need to exchange money, go to an international or national bank or reputable exchange service. Don’t exchange money with someone offering you a “great conversion rate” or at a pop-up kiosk (that’s how you end up with counterfeit bills).

31. Beware of identity theft

You’ve probably heard staggering stats about identity theft, like how there are about 17 million victims per year.

To reduce the chance of personal data being stolen while traveling abroad, do the following:

  • Don’t log onto random WiFi networks: If you’re using public WiFi at a cafe or hostel, only check sensitive information, like your bank account, if the internet is password protected.
  • Delete your browsing history after using a public computer
  • Protect your home while away: Ideally, have someone check in on your place. Nothing says “I’m not here” like an overflowing mailbox.
  • Get a portable router: These act as a mobile hotspot, so you’ll need to get a local SIM data card at an electronics store or airport kiosk. A portable wireless router gives you a secure, private internet connection.
  • Install a VPN: A virtual private network (VPN) allows you to communicate privately over a public, unsecured network. It masks your data and strengthens protection against hackers. A VPN also allows you to access restricted sites when traveling abroad in countries with heavily censored internet (i.e. you can get on Twitter in China).
  • Change your passwords when you get home: Traveling safety extends to even after the trip.

32. Use common sense

You want to meet new people and explore new cultures. So have fun, but use good judgment. If an area or situation seems off or potentially dangerous, simply avoid it.

33. Know your limits

Don’t go on an epic mountain climb unless you’re physically and mentally ready.

Note: If you enjoy outdoor expeditions, check out our article on hiking, mountain climbing, and running trips.

34. Pay attention to food and drink

Here’s a game plan:

  • Dine at restaurants with proper health certificates.
  • If you go to a street vendor, use good judgment and only eat fully-cooked foods.
  • Drink only bottled and filtered water.
  • Eat only peelable fruits to avoid bacteria.
  • Carry translation cards to communicate any allergies and dietary requirements.

You can find lots of great apps to help. For example, if you have celiac disease and can’t eat gluten, take gluten free restaurant cards from Legal Nomads with you. Whether you’re in GreeceJapan, or Italy, these cards will ensure you get a gluten free meal.

35. Ask locals for advice

In my experience, the staff at reputable guesthouses and hotels have great recommendations when it comes to sightseeing, dining, and entertainment. They can even assist with travel needs, such as arranging transportation and getting a SIM card and travel adapter.

36. Don’t share too much info

At your destination, don’t just tell anyone where you’re staying if they ask. Give them a general answer or say a different hotel. They’re probably just being friendly, but err on the side of caution and don’t spill all the details.

Additionally, if you can, wait until you get back home to post everything on social media. We know you want to show off those amazing pics on Instagram, but it may not be wise. After all, 78% of burglars use social media to find targets who are on vacation (and therefore have empty homes).

37. Figure out local transportation

Familiarize yourself with the bus and/or subway system and take note of all the legitimate taxi services in the town. Research renting bikes and motorcycles. If possible, stay in a central location so you can walk most of the time.

Also, see if rideshares are an option in your destination. Uber offers airport taxis and car service at more than 500 airports across the globe.

38. Exercise safety when getting from point A to point B

Buckle up if you’re in a car. If you’re riding a bike or motorcycle, wear a helmet. While motorcycles are a super cool way to get around, especially in Southeast Asia, bike accidents are common in the region (Thailand’s the deadliest country for motorcyclists).

So, wear a helmet. That’s traveling safety 101!

39. Travel with a group when needed

You’re much less likely to encounter trouble. Solo travelers, unfortunately, make for easier targets.

This doesn’t mean you should avoid solo travel. By all means, go on an epic solo journey. Traveling abroad by yourself can be a profound experience.

The tip here is that, in some situations and activities, joining a group may be more fun and safer. There are organizations that you can join up with when traveling abroad, as well!

40. Have hidden cash and a credit card

Keep money and a backup credit card somewhere in case you lose everything. Places to put it include:

  • secret pockets in your clothes or socks
  • locked in an interior pocket of your backpack
  • with luggage that’s being held at your accommodation

The idea is that a thief probably won’t get that money and card if you’re successfully pickpocketed or robbed.

Note: Look up Western Union and MoneyGram services in your area in case you need to have money wired.

Plan to Volunteer Abroad? Choose Only Trusted Organizations

Volunteering abroad is a great way to begin your travels. It offers you an affordable, safe, and immersive way to experience another country. Not only can you go beyond the typical tourist destinations and live like a local, but you can also make a positive difference in the communities you visit.

If you want to join a volunteer abroad program, think about traveling safety. Because some programs are more reputable than others. The best volunteer abroad organizations prioritize safety when traveling abroad.

Begin your journey overseas with one of the good volunteer abroad organizations, and you’ll then have the confidence to go on your own as you travel the world. Considerable the well-respected volunteer travel organizations below:

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)

Having sent about 105,000 folks overseas since beginning in 2007, IVHQ knows a thing or two about traveling safety. To guarantee your safety when traveling overseas, they offer:

  • pre-departure online safety training to teach you everything from emergency protocol to local customs
  • airport pickup, accommodation, meals, and 24/7 support
  • risk mitigation plan designed to enhance your safety and comfort, prevent things like theft, and prepare you for emergencies

Example programs:

Plan My Gap Year (PMGY)

Known for their affordable, trusted volunteer abroad programs, Plan My Gap Year focuses on your traveling safety by offering live pre-departure webinars, airport pickup, and 24/7 in-country and international support.

For each program, PMGY sets you up with a travel mentor to answer any questions you have. And each participant gets a comprehensive handbook to prepare you for your destination.

Example programs:

Maximo Nivel

Based in Latin America, Maximo Nivel is operated locally, by in-country staff (meaning there is no middleman when you sign up for a trip) who emphasize the importance of safety first. All programs and host families are carefully and regularly vetted, and you have 24/7 support as a participant before, during, and after your trip. With an emphasis on education, and offering a wide variety of programs for people who want to volunteer, intern, teach, or study abroad, Maximo Nivel offers excellent placements for students – and travelers of all ages.

Example programs:

Love Volunteers

Focused on transparency, Love Volunteers only places volunteers on programs that have been fully audited for quality, safety, and social impact. When you sign up for a project, they’ll also assign you a staff member to assist you with anything you need—from choosing travel insurance to packing clothing.

When you arrive, Love Volunteers truly goes the extra mile. They host a thorough orientation session and give you a welcome pack that includes a local SIM phone card, transport guide, and map with key locations.

Example programs:

Naturally Africa Volunteers

If you want to volunteer abroad in Africa, look no further than Naturally Africa Volunteers, a leader in responsible volunteering projects across the continent. Created by experienced volunteers, Naturally Africa Volunteers aims to deliver exceptional customer service and achieve high standards for safety and quality.

Naturally Africa Volunteers cooperates closely with charities and organizations across Africa, ensuring that their projects are both impactful and safe. While volunteering, in-country staff are available around the clock and ready to help you integrate into the community.

Example programs:

Ready to Travel Abroad?

Remember: Travel inherently carries risk, like any endeavor does. But don’t let over-worried parents or bad news on TV deter you from going overseas. The world isn’t as scary as some people paint it to be.

There’s a lot of fascinating people, cultures, and places to discover. It’s a great big beautiful world. And you should dive in!

Now, don’t ignore anything bad you hear about a place. Instead, research these warnings to get the facts. Then, put together contingency plans. This will ready you for anything, and ultimately improve your safety when traveling around the globe.

That concludes our safety abroad guide. You now know all the essential travel safety tips. Use them, and your international travels will have a much, much better chance of going smoothly.

Safe travels!

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