Most people in the world treat others decently, but the few who commit crimes require us to proceed with caution. This is especially so when vacationing.
New places and situations make travel appealing, but they can also make you vulnerable.
On top of this, criminals target tourist areas because they can take advantage of people when they are trying to relax and have a good time.
Protect Yourself From Assault on Vacation
When it comes to travel safety, the first order of business is to avoid an assault. In terms of violent crime, getting mugged is the primary concern for travelers.
You might get hurt during a mugging although many of these events only inflict fear and loss of money and personal property.
Sexual assaults are also prevalent. These crimes leave lasting psychological and sometimes physical scars.
Physical assault due to causes other than a mugging, such as an altercation, is another possibility.
Anyone who conducts even a cursory review of personal safety learns about the concept of situational awareness.
Situational awareness requires you to pay attention to your surroundings and assess your area for threats.
- Understanding what is going on in the environment
- Recognizing when you don’t understand the environment
- Scanning for safety hazards
- Making decisions based on immediate conditions
When you practice situational awareness, you increase the chance of spotting a hazard before it’s too late to move to safety.
It includes responding effectively to a threat that arises suddenly because you already took note of where to find safety earlier in case something bad happens.
Driving a motor vehicle is a familiar example of an activity that requires you to practice situational awareness. This is why drivers are taught to check their mirrors frequently and take note of where other vehicles are positioned and what they might do. If you recall from driver’s training, you are advised to have an escape route in mind in case you need to avoid a collision.
In a travel context, situational awareness encompasses many variables depending on where you are.
Questions that improve situational awareness while on vacation:
- What are known threats at your destination?
- Is the location crowded or secluded?
- What is the weather forecast?
- Do you see any obvious safety hazards?
- Are you intoxicated?
- Are you with trusted companions?
- Are you carrying money/credit cards discreetly?
- What is your personal risk to sexual assault? (It’s higher for women)
- What is your physical fitness and age?
- Do people appear to be loitering in your vicinity?
- Does anyone seem to be following you?
You can think of situational awareness as the rational cousin of paranoia. You want to continually assess your environment without spoiling your good time.
Start the habit of situational awareness when planning your trip. Do an internet search to find out if the place that you’re visiting is known for any crime problems. If traveling overseas, use your government resources to look up travel advisories.
The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories is a very useful resource. You should take these warnings seriously. They are not made lightly.
There’s safety in numbers. You are less likely to be attacked if you are with one or more people. The Law of the Jungle dictates that predators target the lone figure. This is why wolves and hunting animals spook herds to get their prey animals moving. The predators are hoping to see someone fall behind or take a wrong turn. Then it’s time to attack.
Whenever possible, you should avoid moving about alone. When sightseeing or trekking about, stay with your people. When you need some solitude, find a location where you feel comfortable, like your room, cabin, tent, or cafe.
If you want to travel solo, consider joining a tour group.
Stay Sober Outside of Safe Spaces
A boozy or buzzed vacation has its charms, but you don’t want to be stumbling around as a tourist. You’re advertising to the world that you are not at the top of your game.
Intoxication increases your chance of being attacked. It’s easier for people to approach you and outmaneuver you physically. You’re more likely to blunder into a place you would have avoided when in a sharper frame of mind.
Unless you’re at your hotel, resort, or other comfortable place, limit intoxicant usage while out on the streets or otherwise sightseeing.
Protect Yourself From Theft
Theft can involve a frightening event like a mugging, where you are physically threatened, or it can happen without you noticing it until later.
A moment of inattention could let someone grab your bag.
A pickpocket slips away with your wallet.
Someone creeps into your hotel room and takes your laptop or credit card.
Your credit card numbers are copied somehow, and you don’t know about it until you get a fraud alert about suspicious purchases.
Travelers deter theft with two strategies:
- You don’t want to look like a vulnerable target.
- You put barriers in place that protect your valuables from theft.
How to Look Like a Poor Target for Theft
Thieves who steal directly off your person, either through confrontational mugging or through stealth or deception, want to steal from people who look like they have the most valuables. In some situations or environments, you may want to avoid attracting attention with fancy clothes, accessories, or relatively large sums of cash.
Admittedly, a vacation can be a time when you want to wear your nicest clothes, but you could consider getting a discreet outfit that does not scream high price tags for outings where you walk the streets or mix with large crowds.
Even with expensive clothing, you can minimize its likelihood of catching a thief’s eye with the gray man technique. Gray man means that you select gray or drably colored clothing, typically with solid colors instead of patterns. The goal is to make yourself look so boring that nothing about you draws attention. The eyes of the thief searching for a target just won’t linger on you.
Of course, you may not wish to become a fashion failure. Your personal style and favorite clothes could be important sources of satisfaction for you, but you can try to balance this with safety in certain environments. You can still dress up on vacation sometimes. Reserve your best wardrobe pieces for going to a fine dining restaurant or special event.
Your choice of accessories has a big influence on your hardness or softness as a target. Give a good think to how important it is to wear an expensive watch or piece of jewelry in a particular location.
For many people, your purse, shoulder bag, or backpack could make the difference between getting robbed or passed over by robbers.
Characteristics of anti-theft bags for travelers:
- Cross-body, meaning that the bag is positioned across your front instead of the side or back.
- Slash-proof or slash-resistant material
- Compartments shielded by flaps, zippers, and/or locking mechanisms
Bags with these characteristics keep your possessions front and center. This differs from a shoulder bag or backpack that a thief could get a hand into from behind. The cross-body design also limits a purse snatcher’s ability to yank the purse off of your body.
Men have just as much interest as women in using an anti-theft bag while on vacation. A wallet or phone bulging out of your back pocket is about as safe as a plate of cookies in a kindergarten.
A bag with slash-proof materials adds another layer of protection. Some thieves work with sharp blades. They come up behind you and cut open the bag or purse. They grab whatever falls out.
Finally, a bag with protected access to outer pouches makes it just that much harder for a thief to slip a hand in and make a quick grab before you can react.
Experienced thieves will recognize the anti-theft travel bags that tend to thwart their attempts at crime. They would much prefer to grab some big bag dangling off someone’s arm and make a quick getaway.
Protecting Your Cash
These days most travelers make payments with their credit cards or smartphones. They have a limited need to pay for everything with cash.
However, this does not mean that people never travel with a large sum of cash. You might be traveling a few hundred miles to buy a vehicle for cash. Even on vacation, most people carry some cash for small purchases and just in case they need it.
To avoid drawing attention to your financial resources:
- Never let others see that you have a bundle of cash. Only put what you expect to need for the day in your wallet.
- Keep your cash reserves in a secure location on your body. A money belt is a traditional accessory for traveling with cash. You will want to make sure that it is not visible through your clothing or producing a bulge that an eagle-eyed mugger may recognize. Alternatively, you could keep your cash reserve in an inner compartment of your anti-theft bag.
You don’t want to draw much attention to your credit cards either. This is best accomplished by using touchless pay options through your smartphone.
However, this is not feasible for all people in all situations. In that case, choose one credit card that you keep in your wallet for making purchases. Stow other credit cards in another bag.
If you don’t do this, someone watching you could detect that you have multiple credit cards. That would make you appear to be a more valuable target. A chance to steal one wallet and get three credit cards is of greater value than stealing one wallet with one credit card.
Mindfulness about how appealing you look to a thief goes a long way. Awareness of your security trains you to act strategically and never flaunt your wealth outside of safe environments.
Overall, you can protect your money by not putting your eggs in one proverbial basket. Have the cash and card you need for the day in your wallet and place your reserves in other compartments.
Stay Alert for Travel Scams
Some criminals get more creative than mugging you or picking your pocket. They may pose as helpful locals offering solutions to problems that don’t exist or trying to lure you away to their overpriced or fake businesses.
A local might approach you if you appear to be having trouble finding a place. In this situation, the person offers to arrange transportation for you. After you pay for the ticket, you are left behind or actually go on a tour that is of appalling quality or downright unsafe.
Engaging locals in conversation is one of the great things about travel, but you should decline their invitations to take you to special places that they say are great but tourists don’t know about.
Also watch out for:
- People asking to see your identification, like passports. They might make a grab for your ID or accuse you of having the wrong documents and needing to pay a fine.
- Anyone who wants to load or unload your luggage.
- People selling tours or souvenirs way below what other vendors charge.
How to Protect Your Room From Theft When Traveling
On any kind of trip, there will be times when you are asleep or step away from your belongings. A primary source of vulnerability is the place where you are staying. A hotel, motel, or any short-term rental is not an entirely secure location.
An establishment can only be as honest and trustworthy as its worst employee. Various staff have access to keys and security codes. You cannot be 100% certain that no one can enter the premises when you are out or asleep.
When inside your room, you could use a chair to block the door if one is available. It’s a simple thing to lean the back of a chair underneath the doorknob. It may not be impenetrable, but it will make entry quite difficult and give you time to know that someone is opening the door.
Demand for extra security while staying in a room has motivated companies to make several personal security products. Many of them are simple, affordable, and easy to pack.
Hotel Room Security Products:
Door Wedge – This single block of material is lightweight and benign enough not to upset airport security. You slide the narrow end of the wedge under any inward-opening door and then push it tightly against the door. The simple object will prevent someone from opening the door or at least impede the intruder enough to give you time to react.
Motion Detector Alarm – One or more of these could grant you peace of mind. They are a good choice when you have something other than a door to monitor. One of these on a patio or porch can alert you to someone approaching from outside. These are something to think about if planning to stay at a remote vacation rental with a dark backyard.
Portable Door Lock – Instead of putting your faith in the lock already on your door, temporarily install your own door lock. These products are designed to attach to the door hardware on the inside. They prevent someone from opening your door unless they choose to use brute force, but most thieves will not go that far.
Portable Door Alarm – This security product does not prevent anyone from opening your door. The device simply issues a loud alarm when triggered by the door opening. The unexpected noise will attract attention, which is exactly what a thief hopes to avoid.
Theft has long been the top concern of travelers. You want to avoid these losses that have the potential to ruin your vacation. Although no one can be completely secure, you can prepare yourself to present a bad target to thieves and put barriers in place that foil their crimes if they do choose to target you.
How To Prepare For Injury And Illness
Safety goes beyond avoidance of attack or theft. Ideally, you will do what you can to prevent injury or illness while on your trip. Being away from home adds to your vulnerability if something bad should happen. A little preparation and caution could protect you from a worst-case scenario.
Before You Leave On A Trip
When planning your trip, you probably looked up local attractions, restaurants, and so forth. While you do this, take a moment to search for the hospital, emergency clinics, and pharmacies at your destination.
Write down their names, addresses, and contact information. Take this information with you just in case you need medical services.
Knowing where the medical resources are at your destination could make a difference during a health emergency. Instead of wasting a whole day looking for a pharmacy, you’ll know right where to go. If you get sick, you will know ahead of time where you can see a doctor.
While on the topic of medical care, you should call your insurer and find out what your health plan will cover or not cover while you are away from home. You might want to look into getting a temporary health plan for travelers.
Keep Safety Top of Mind
Admittedly, you can’t always avoid accidents. Sometimes they are not your fault, and you are truly the hapless victim.
That said, you can adopt cautious habits. Cultivate your inner “Mom Voice” that warns you to be careful.
On a vacation, it’s easy to get distracted by new sights and experiences. Mindfulness about the high chance of distraction can reduce this risk.
Without spoiling your good time, check in with your surroundings from time to time. Give a quick scan for things that could cause an accident, like a dark stairwell, wet floor, or chaotic traffic near a pedestrian area.
Even noticing one hazard and steering clear of it makes you safer.
Do What You Can to Avoid Illness
No one thinks that they choose to be sick, but you can make choices that reduce your risk of getting sick.
Avoiding illness can mean:
- Getting vaccines recommended for where you are traveling
- Making sure you have the medications that you need while away from home
- Finding out if there are any health alerts at your destination
- Being wary of food poisoning
How can I avoid food poisoning while traveling?
You might think that you have little control over whether you get hit by some bad food. It can happen to anybody, but there are actually many ways to reduce your risk.
Food poisoning strikes on a spectrum of severity. It could cause a bothersome upset tummy or put you through a few good sessions on the “thunder bucket” as Anthony Bourdain once called it. Bad food poisoning will require hospitalization. At its worst, you could die.
Tips to protect you from food poisoning:
- Only drink water that is sanitized or factory sealed in a bottle if you are in a place where you have any doubts about the water supply.
- Don’t use ice cubes unless you know they were made from clean water.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid salads and other raw vegetable dishes because the produce might have been washed in unsanitary water.
- Be skeptical of buffets because the food sits out in warm pans and many people handle the utensils.
- Don’t eat bleached coconuts treated to be easier to crack. https://travelexperta.com/ways-avoid-food-poisoning-traveling/
- Only eat fully cooked meat.
- Try to eat cooked vegetarian dishes when possible.
- Skip the seafood.
Not all upset stomachs happen because of food poisoning. Your stomach might be sensitive to unfamiliar ingredients and spices.
If you are visiting a place with cuisine that is exotic to your digestive system, try small portions to see how your stomach reacts. Don’t go hog wild your first day only to discover you can’t digest something.
How To Avoid Breaking The Law
You like to think of yourself as a law-abiding person who doesn’t get in trouble with the law. But this can be hard when you don’t know local laws or make assumptions that you can do whatever you want because you’re a tourist.
Activities that commonly get international travelers in trouble include:
- Religious missionary work
- Removal of artifacts, antiques, or other historical objects
- Drug use and possession
- Discussion of or engagement in various behaviors related to sexual orientation
- Immodest dress
- Picture taking in sensitive locations
Because arrest and detention in a foreign country would be awful things to endure, you need to do some research about laws in your destination.
The internet makes this easy for you. Conduct internet searches for the place where you’re going for things like:
- Drug laws – This can be important even if you don’t use drugs. Your prescribed medication could get you in trouble.
- Alcohol laws – These vary by country. For example, in the United States, you must be 21 or older to consume alcohol, which may not be the case where you live.
You also need to check into things that are not so much laws but customs. This can include anything from hand gestures that cause offense to how to dress modestly in cultures that demand it.
After browsing news sites and travel blogs about laws and customs at your destination, you can check governmental sources. The destination country might even have online resources that spell out what is expected of tourists.
Whether you’re in the United States or not, the U.S. Department of State publishes extensive information about countries around the world of great use to travelers.
Each country will have a status ranging from travel being OK with normal precautions to DO NOT TRAVEL, which is the case for North Korea and Russia.
On top of legal issues, warnings can include risk of natural disasters, health alerts, civil unrest, and war.
The State Department also has extra information regarding country-specific laws and customs and advice for traveling students, missionaries, women, LGBTQ people, and journalists.
To look up any country, go to: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages.html
- Enter the country that you plan to visit.
- You will see several headings, but for the purpose of researching issues that can get you in trouble, click the heading “Local Laws & Special Customs.”
- This opens specific information for the country.
- Read this information carefully and plan to comply during your trip.
Examples of warnings:
2022 Travel Status: DO NOT TRAVEL For U.S. Citizens
- Examples Of Issues:
- It is illegal to pay for anything with U.S. dollars except at authorized locations.
- You can expect to be arrested, fined, and likely imprisoned for using, possessing, or trafficking in illegal drugs.
- You cannot leave the country with antiques, even if you bought them at a legally operating antique dealer.
- If you are conducting religious missionary activities, you run the risk of harassment, arrest, fines, and deportation.
2022 Travel Status: RECONSIDER TRAVEL
Examples Of Issues:
- Your risk is high if you are LGBTQ. Although same-sex relations are not officially illegal, officials will look to prosecute you for “debauchery” if they feel motivated to do so. At a minimum, expect heavy discrimination and harassment in this country.
- You should never remove any objects that could be interpreted as cultural property, like antiques or even pieces of stone fallen off of a ruin.
U.S. Citizens planning international travel can sign up with the State Department before they leave to make sure that they are on record with the local consulates and embassies in case something bad happens.
People from other countries should look into informing their national authorities about their trips abroad for similar reasons.
Happy Safe Travels
After reading this guide, you may feel like staying home and locking your door.
The truth is that you enhance your safety quite a bit through research and preparation. Knowing your risks and making choices that make you less appealing as a victim go a long way toward protecting you from criminals or accidents.
Appendix: Top Safety Concerns for Business Travelers
Business laptops and personal cell phones connected to business email and other files are vulnerable to hackers and snoopers eager to trade in stolen data.
65% of business travelers worry about theft or hacking of their employers’ data.
29% of business travelers cite theft of their laptops or phones as their top concern.
21% of business travelers cite working on public Wi-Fi as their top cybersecurity concern.
The room where you stay on a business trip should make you feel safe, but hotel safety concerns are common among business travelers.
35% have concerns about hotel safety in the U.S.
44% of business travelers fear someone will break into their hotel rooms.
53% felt their U.S. hotels were in unsafe neighborhoods.
40% of international business travelers worry about hotel staff giving strangers their room keys or personal information.
The pandemic brought the thought of getting sick to the forefront of business travelers’ minds.
81% now think that travel insurance for medical care is very important.
66% want to know if quality medical care is available at their destination.
Although other issues harm more people than those who are the victims of terrorism, the nature of this crime makes it a high-profile concern.
45% view terrorism as their top concern.
GBTA Foundation Survey
Extreme heat waves, wildfires, tsunamis, and hurricanes disrupt travel and create multiple health and safety threats.
27% say that their employers leave them very unprepared for severe weather during business trips.