There is no shortage of bad actors preying on travelers. The more time you spend abroad, the more likely you are to cross paths with them. While any given trip will most likely proceed without incident, seasoned travelers take the following sensible precautions to limit their exposure to robberies, scams, and assaults. Some are general, some specific, none are perfect, but all are worth learning:
DON’T leave home uninformed
Research your destination. Learn what you can about the country, the region, the local customs and laws. Familiarize yourself with the transportation system—especially taxi services, which can be dangerous. Some countries are more problematic than others, and they require more of your attention before you go. For most trips, you won’t need detailed directions to the U.S. embassy. But for some you might.
DO register with the U.S. State Department or your local foreign ministry
The State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program provides warnings and alerts for the countries you visit—even those that are presumed safe. If there is an emergency, the U.S. embassy will know how to reach you. If necessary, they can contact your relatives. It’s a simple online form, but it can be a lifeline if you need it. Other countries have also similar programs; check with your local foreign office.
DO copy your travel documents beforehand
Replacing a stolen passport or credit card can go a lot easier if a copy resides on a cloud server. Store digital copies of your itinerary, hotel confirmation, immunizations, medical information, credit card emergency numbers, and anything that might help you prove your identity. Carry paper copies of the most important documents with you.
DON’T let strangers get too close
Especially in airports and railroad stations, be wary of anyone offering unsolicited help. Professional pickpockets can be as young as 10 years old. Thieves working in teams can first distract you, then make off with your luggage. Whoever enters your personal space uninvited should be considered malevolent.
DON’T advertise your circumstances
The company logo on your suitcase tells muggers and con artists more than you want them to know. So does the upscale shopping bag, the high-end camera, the visible gold necklace. These are all open invitations to the wrong people. Even in friendly countries, it’s best to keep your presence low-key, and keep signs of affluence out of sight.
DO plan for emergencies
While emergency planning should be proportional to the risk factors of your destination, basic security consciousness is never ill-advised. Figure out, ahead of time, what you might need in urgent circumstances. Gather the contact information for medical, financial, and legal assistance. Keep that information in the cloud, in your hotel safe, and on your person. Chances are you’ll never have to use it.
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