Top 10 travel tips for safety and security
A little preparation and precaution goes a long way to staying safe and secure on the road
It’s natural to have questions, concerns and even fears about traveling. But it’s nothing you can’t handle with a little preparation, precaution and common sense.
While specific security details vary greatly by location, situation, type of travel and more – the same fundamentals apply for a weekend getaway as an exotic adventure.
We asked our friends and global security experts, Robert Macpherson and Veronica Kenny-Macpherson of Cosantóir Group, for their top travel tips for safety and security.
Here are 10 to dos for a safer trip:
1. Do your research
Do a Google search and scan recent news for situations that may impact your travel, like weather or unrest.
For travel abroad, consult the State Department for current safety information by destination, including travel alerts, embassy contact info and health information. It can be helpful reference a second source, like this foreign travel advice from Great Britain. Set up a Google Alert to keep an eye on current events. Get informed, but don’t let considering potential risks snowball into irrational fear.
Veronica advises enrolling in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This free service registers your trip with the nearest Embassy or Consulate so they can contact you in an emergency, and assist family and friends in doing the same. You are also emailed real-time safety information and updates.
Be aware of cultural considerations to be respectful and help you blend in better, such as modest clothing for certain cultures or holy sites.
2. Document your identity and destinations
Copy important documents like your passport, itinerary, driver’s license and insurance. Make two sets of copies to stash in different bags. And send them to someone back home in case of emergency.
Carry vital contact information on your person. This includes the name, address and phone number of where you’re staying (grab a business card), tour operator or travel agent (if applicable), and embassy information, which can be noted here.
Maps can be crucial in a jam. Hard-copy maps are a great back up for your devices, and reduce time spent walking around looking down at your phone. These can be actual maps, or just print outs of Google maps or map image search results.
Have at least one map app on your smart phone. If you don’t have international data, view maps on Wi-Fi and take screenshots.
3. Use your head
Whether you’re in New York or New Delhi, a little common sense goes a long way. Be aware of your surroundings, and especially vigilant in crowds and at night. Trust your instincts if something feels unsafe. If you are ever robbed, comply and do not risk life and limb. Don’t attract attention with expensive jewelry or electronics.
Make a basic emergency plan in case you get separated from your travel partner(s). It can be as simple as meeting at your hotel within an hour, so one of you isn’t combing the streets while the other is sitting in the lobby.
A small flashlight and a multi-tool device (à la Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman) can come in very handy.
4. Play your cards right
Bob stresses several simple, yet critical, steps toward better card security. Leave all irrelevant cards at home. They distract your focus from the few cards you really need. And their information can cause problems if it falls into the wrong hands.
The cards you really need to travel with are:
• Three credit cards
• Two ATM cards
• Driver’s license and/or passport
• Insurance card
For the cards you are taking, notify the companies of your trip’s dates and locations. This way, they’re on alert for suspicious activity and the cards are not denied when used in usual places. Jot down their international contact numbers in case of theft.
While traveling, consider leaving one credit card in your room in a secure location.
5. Stash your cash
Organize your money for quick access and avoid revealing large wads of cash. Keep small sums close at hand for tips so you’re not whipping out your wallet as much. Leave some cash in a secure place in your room to carry less on your person.
Be quick and discreet using ATMs. Those at banks are more secure. Use your other hand for cover when entering your PIN. Watch for loitering strangers. Put your card and money away asap. Loose, scratched, blocked or bulky card insert slots can indicate tampering. Use caution from the suburbs to subtropics.
6. Secure your valuables
Only bring what you truly need on your trip and out of your room, and leave other valuables behind. Don’t tempt anyone by leaving money or expensive items unattended in plain sight.
Secure any cash, cards or forms of identity left in your room. If your room lacks a safe or has one that’s easy to walk out with, use a lock on your largest suitcase.
In transit, keep backpacks on your lap, between your feet or worn on your front. Don’t pack valuables in outer pockets. Women should wear cross-body purses in the front and keep a hand on them in crowds. Men can keep a hand on your back pocket to mind your wallet in crowds, or move it to a front pocket if concerned.
In taxis, keep bags with valuables between your feet or in the middle seat. Find out if cab fares are flat rates or metered. For flat rates (both firmly established and negotiable), agree on a price with the driver before you or your bags get in the car.
7. Mind your health
One of the first rules of travel is to carry additional prescription medications, glasses and/or contact lenses. Pack these and other critical items in your carryon.
Research if your destination requires vaccinations and whether your activities or locations warrant additional immunizations. Start early, some vaccines take a while to kick in or require multiple doses. Consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or a travel medicine doctor.
If you need medical care while away, contact your doctor back home for advice or a second opinion. U.S. embassies and consulates can help you find English-speaking doctors.
8. Assess your health insurance
Your existing health insurance may cover care received abroad. Some tour companies and member organizations like AAA and AARP offer benefits like medical referrals and supplemental insurance discounts.
Many boomers would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to health coverage and opt for supplemental insurance. Think about how you’d access and pay for medical care if needed. Does your health insurance include treatment in foreign countries? Medicare does not cover anything except for in a few extremely rare situations. Comb through the fine print about the specific terms for key concerns, such as illnesses of you or a family member, pre-existing conditions, etc.
For remote or volatile areas, Bob recommends investing in international medical evacuation insurance. It’s reasonably priced and well worth the cost if needed. Some insurance may include assistance for non-medical evacuations.
9. Tame your technology
Only bring the electronics you need, so there are less items and information to secure. Back up any devices you’re bringing before departure.
Staying connected outside of your network is easy with hotspot technology and the global availability of Wi-Fi. It’s a game changer for staying connected via email, social media and apps like FaceTime and Skype. Make sure your cellular data is turned off if you don’t have coverage abroad.
But be smart about what you do and where you do it. Avoid entering passwords and accessing sensitive information on public computers and Wi-Fi networks.
If you want to make calls or access associated networks overseas, Veronica says to be sure you completely understand roaming and data charges. It may be worth calling your carrier before your trip to avoid a billing shock.
10. Protect your home
Don’t forget about securing your home. Set the alarm and alert the security system company of your travels. Use timer and motion lights. Alert neighbors. Double check all doors and windows are locked. Hold the mail. Unplug major electronics.
We hope this helps you stay safe and secure on the road!
We appreciate the insights of husband and wife team Robert Macpherson and Veronica Kenny-Macpherson. They’re the dynamic duo behind Cosantóir Group – a leading international risk management agency that strives to create safer global humanitarian efforts. They advise organizations on how to protect their workers, clients and assets in the world’s most volatile places, with risk management planning, crisis training and support.