How to Stay Safe When Traveling Abroad
Last summer, I went abroad for the first time, and I went entirely by myself. Needless to say, my mom was not very excited when I told her I booked the trip, and she continued to panic about my impending departure as I counted down the days. I had no idea what to expect, and neither did my parents—they have never left the country, much less by themselves. As a single woman traveling alone, I did have my concerns. I worried about going to places where I didn’t know the language, and trying to navigate unfamiliar transportation systems while dragging my luggage behind me. My parents worried about me getting robbed, and that they would have to go all Liam Neeson on some Europeans if I suddenly ended up missing in action.
Anyone preparing to travel abroad—especially for the first time, and especially by themselves—might be getting the same nervous sweats I got when I first booked my trip. It’s totally normal to be anxious, and even a little scared. But, if you keep your wits about you and remember a few safety tips, your trip will probably be every bit as great as you hoped.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but some people really do enjoy just going with the flow, and making last minute decisions as they travel abroad. I’m a planner, so I planned the bones of my trip before I left, including air travel, train travel, and lodging. Because I planned these things ahead of time, I was able to avoid getting lost or overwhelmed. I felt more comfortable navigating an unfamiliar place when I knew where I was headed.
Leave a detailed itinerary with someone at home.
Before I left for Europe, I knew all the countries I would be travelling to and where I would be staying when I got to each of them. I even pre-booked all my train tickets between cities, so I knew around when I would be leaving and arriving at all times. I kept a document with all of this information as I planned my trip, and when I was ready to go, I gave a copy of it to my parents. This way, if I didn’t check in or couldn’t be reached, my parents would know the first place to call and look for me.
Even if you don’t have every single detail planned out before you go, leave what plans you do have with someone at home, and update them as you go so someone knows where you are, or where you should be, at any given time.
Make photocopies of important documents.
Your passport, driver’s license or photo ID, and credit cards are all super important documents that you don’t want to lose sight of when traveling. But, accidents happen, so keeping copies of these things in the event that you lose one of them is absolutely crucial. Keep the photocopies in a safe place, separate from where you keep the originals.
When I went abroad, I kept the copies in a folder that held all of my itineraries, boarding passes, and lodging confirmations. I kept this folder in my backpack, which I then kept locked in my hostel locker whenever I went out to explore.
Purchase traveler’s insurance.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to use the traveler’s insurance I purchased, but I’m glad I had it on the off chance that I needed it. There are many kinds of insurance you can purchase, but this kind of insurance covers any medical costs you might incur while abroad, as well as any travel plans and transportation you might have to cancel or re-book if there is an emergency. Find a plan that suits your needs with a comparison tool like Insure My Trip.
Keep your money in separate places.
When you arrive in a new country and get some paper currency, don’t keep all of it in one place. Keep some on your person, some in your luggage, and some in another safe place. This way, if you lose the cash you’re carrying or lose your luggage, you will still have some money to fall back on.
Also, make sure you notify your bank and credit card companies of your upcoming travel. If you use your card overseas without notifying them first, they may assume any international purchases are fraudulent and freeze your account.
Keep your belongings close to you when exploring a new city.
Some bigger European cities like Rome are known for their pickpockets. Oftentimes, thieves will target someone who looks like a tourist, or whose bags or belongings aren’t kept close to their body and secured. Make sure you keep your things close to you; if you carry a purse, pick one that has a secure latch or lock, and wear it snugly across your body. Avoid keeping wallets or phones in your back pockets.
Listen to your gut.
If something is making you especially anxious, or if your gut is telling you to get out of a certain situation, listen to it. Don’t be afraid to change your plans or do something different if you feel like you aren’t safe or if you might be in danger. Do your research and make sure you are staying in safe places, and avoid areas with high crime.
Check in with someone at home.
Set a certain time each day or every other day to check in with someone at home. Let them know what time (in their timezone) that you will contact them, so they will be expecting your call, text, or e-mail at that time. Not only will this help you feel a little safer, it will give your friends and family at home some peace of mind. Using social media to update friends and family is also a great option.
Traveling abroad, especially going it alone, can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone. But with a little extra care and caution, anyone can have the awesome experience of seeing the world and staying safe while doing so. Happy travels!