Most of us have experienced at least one travel headache recently. These come in the form of flight delays, unexpected expenses, travel scams, lost documents, and other setbacks. And for the lucky few whose trips work out perfectly, they’ve heard someone else’s vacation horror story.
Dealing with these headaches and scrambling to get vacation plans back on track can be expensive and time-consuming. But with the right planning, we can avoid some of these disasters altogether. Here, we’ll explore some best practices for safe and healthy travel.
Try to blend in with the locals. Leave your designer duds at home and don’t wear flashy jewelry. As a tourist, it’s safest to avoid standing out and calling attention to yourself, which means being mindful of the local culture.
Tip: Invest in a secure travel bag. Here are several options with slash-proof fabric, interlocking zippers, and other features that help prevent theft.
Have an emergency plan
Know who to call and what to do in case of an emergency. Keep a short list of emergency contacts in an accessible place. If you’re traveling abroad, memorize that country’s emergency number (check this list) and know where the closest U.S. Embassy is (look here).
Tip: Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get alerts from the U.S. Embassy about disasters or civil unrest in your destination. You can also get alerts about family emergencies through STEP.
Bring a basic first aid kit
Start with any medications you take regularly and don’t forget allergy medicines, inhalers, or motion sickness drugs. Be sure to include bandages for minor cuts, antiseptic wipes, and over-the-counter pain medicine. These supplies can help you treat minor injuries on the go and avoid having to find a local pharmacy.
Tip: Pack sunscreen, bug repellent, and an EpiPen. EpiPens can be lifesavers for severe allergic reactions.
Get short-term travel insurance
Make sure you get both trip insurance and travel medical insurance. While trip insurance covers cancellations and lost or stolen property, travel medical insurance covers medical needs and emergency care during your trip.
Tip: Confirm whether your insurance covers a single trip or a given period. If you travel often, consider buying an annual travel insurance plan so you’re always covered.
Make digital copies of travel documents
Scan all your important documents, including your ID, passport, travel itinerary, airline tickets, hotel confirmations, and any other document you will need during your vacation. If anything happens to the physical versions of these items, your digital backups can verify who you are and help you get where you need to be.
Tip: Also scan vaccination cards, medication information, and emergency contact information. Keep your digital items in a “digital wallet” or secure cloud location, so you can get them anywhere you have internet access.
Avoid going solo
Whenever possible, don’t travel alone. Consider vacationing with a friend, a family member, or a group. If you’re on your own abroad, you’re more vulnerable to being taken advantage of. It can also be easier to get lost, lonely, or make a wrong call in a strange place. A travel companion is another set of eyes and ears looking out for you. And hopefully they make your trip more fun!
Tip: If you don’t have a travel buddy (or even if you do), sign up for an organized tour as part of your vacation. If you start your trip with a tour, you might also meet new friends to buddy up with later on.
Regularly check in back home
Call or message a friend or loved one from home every day, ideally around the same time. Briefly share your upcoming plans—where you are going, who you are going with, and what you will do. If anything goes wrong, getting help ASAP will be much easier.
Tip: Plan your check-ins for the morning, right before you go out for the day, or the evening, right before you eat dinner or go to bed. Even if you end up leaving a message, these check-ins are still effective.
Keep your wits about you. Pay attention to your surroundings, including who is nearby. Instead of looking around like you’re lost, take a moment to sit down and observe calmly. Trust your instincts if you feel weird about a situation or person.
Tip: Don’t overshare with strangers or locals. Keep your cards close to your chest. That means not disclosing you’re a first timer in the area or sharing the name/address of where you’re staying.
Hide a cash stash
Plan for at least two stashes of money and credit cards when you travel. Carry one stash and hide the other in a separate, secure spot. That way, you will have instant access to backup funds if you’re pickpocketed or somehow lose the cash you’re carrying.
Tip: Hide cash in unusual places, like in an empty (dry) toiletry bottle, inside a sock or shoe, or in between a mobile device and its case.
No matter where you go or what you already know about travel safety, we can all be vulnerable when we’re abroad. Thankfully, it only takes a little foresight and some thoughtful prep to limit our risks.
So think ahead, have a contingency plan, and get a little help from some folks you trust—and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying safe and spectacular travels.
- Replacing lost or stolen items, rebooking flights, and more can be expensive and time-consuming when traveling.
- Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get alerts from the U.S. Embassy while traveling out of country.
- Check in with a friend every day while abroad and share your upcoming plans. If anything goes wrong, it’ll be much easier to get help quickly.