Planning for a trip abroad can be an exciting time! You may think about the sights you’re about to see, the food you’re about to try, the history you’re going to learn, the culture you’re going to interact with, and much more. As there is definitely much to look forward to when traveling abroad. Though for some, the idea of traveling abroad can be scary. For there are many terrible things happening in the world that make headline news or are at the top of social media feeds. Though these are things that should never be taken too lightly, they are not something that should keep you from experiencing the glorious benefits of world travel. There are many things that you can do to help keep yourself safe when traveling. This post will cover 5 safety tips to consider when planning your trip abroad.
Throughout my travels so far I have been in some rather precarious situations. I’ve walked through the streets of a foreign city while police officers clad in full riot gear kept a protest from getting out of control. I’ve even visited a country where certain areas were under control by terrorist organizations. So far though, nothing serious has happened to me. Some may say that’s because I was lucky, and that very well may be the case. However, I like to think that it’s because I was prepared.
There are certain steps that I take during my trip planning to help ensure my safety. Some of which I’ve learned during my tenure in the Marine Corps, and some from just experience with traveling the world. Whether you’re new to international travel or a long-time veteran, these can be very beneficial steps to consider when planning your own trip.
1. Establish Your At Home Points of Contact (POCs)
These are the people, or person, who will act as you home based liaison in the event of an emergency. They can be your parents, sibling, roommate, or whomever. Just make sure that they are trustworthy and dependable. Once you’ve established your POCs, share your trip itinerary with them. Your itinerary will tell them where you’re expected to be at any particular time. Also, create a flexible schedule for when you will check in with them and how (i.e. phone call, e-mail, social media message, etc.).
2. Find Your Safe Havens
This refers to places in country that you can go to in case of an emergency. These can include, but are not limited too, the embassy or consulate of your home country, police stations, and hospitals. If you’re an American traveling abroad, the locations of US embassies can be found here. You can also obtain the phone numbers for the embassies as well. Along with this, you should jot down the emergency service number(s) (equivalent to US 911) for the country you’re visiting. Emergency service numbers for each country are listed here. Once you’ve obtained these numbers, you should also share them with your POCs.
Google Maps is a useful tool for locating your safe havens. Before departing for your trip, you should take a glance to see where your safe havens are located in accordance to your accommodation and any attractions that you intend to visit. You may even consider booking accommodations that are close to these safe havens. Once you’ve found them on Google Maps, you can use the street view feature to check them out. This way you will know what the building looks like so you can easily identify it if you need to go to there while in country.
3. Check Travel Advisories
The State Department’s website from step 2 can also provide you with any travel advisories that may be in place for the country you’re looking to visit. I first used this resource to get information on Israel when I was planning my trip to go there. It provided me with some great information as to which areas should be avoided.
I would also recommend registering for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This is a free service in which you can enroll your upcoming trip with the US Embassy located in the country you’re going to visit. While enrolled you will receive messages telling you of any travel advisories as they come up. The embassy will also know to contact you in the event of an emergency (i.e. civil unrest, natural disaster, etc.)
These are great resources to utilize so that you can receive useful information about the country you’re looking to visit, and to help you make informed decisions.
4. Learn The Language
Okay, so this is a bit of a hyperbolic statement. You certainly don’t have to be fluent in the official language of a particular country in order to travel there safely. However, it would be very beneficial to write down key words and phrases on a flash card to carry with you. There are also several apps, like Google Translate, that you can use on your phone. This way if you need help or directions, you can ask and be better understood.
This can also help you gain the respect of the locals as well. I’ve found that many people in other countries appreciate that I try to communicate with them in the local language, even if I’m terrible at it. By doing so they seemed more inclined to help me.
5. Train Yourself
Practice being aware of your surroundings. I often see many people constantly distracting themselves by looking down at their phones or wearing headphones while walking. These can significant decrease their ability to effectively react to different situations. So practice not being distracted by these things while you’re out and about. You may be on your phone while sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant to send a message, check movie showtimes, or for whatever else. But when you’re getting ready to leave, the phone goes back into your pocket and it’s time to be alert and ready.
I would also highly recommend undergoing self-defense training. This is something that I’ve done, and continue to do, and my personal preference is practicing Krav Maga. Krav Maga was designed specifically for combat for the Israeli military, and has been adapted for civilian self-defense as well. What I like best about it is that it doesn’t focus on rules, and it teaches you how to quickly and effectively neutralize a threat. It also goes over many ways to avoid confrontation in the first place, and what you can do to make sure you’re protected legally if you do have to defend yourself. I’ve tried different styles of martial arts throughout the years; such as Karate, Muay Thai, and Jiu Jitsu. Each one has greatly benefited me in many ways. However, if I were to ever find myself in a situation where I would need to defend myself, I would draw upon my training in Krav Maga to do so.
To Sum it Up
Some of these tips may seem excessive and tedious, but I always refer to the saying that I’d rather have them and not need them, then need them and not have them. It’s my hope that you have a lifetime of traveling the world without any serious incidences. However, there will always be the possibility that something can go wrong. Even though you don’t look for trouble while traveling, that doesn’t mean that trouble won’t find you. So take the proper steps when planning your trip. That way, when shit hits the fan, you’ll be better able to keep yourself safe.