As an International Safety & Security Advisor, I have completed a lot of research on international travel, including polls and focus groups to learn what is most important to people, especially women when traveling. I am often asked for advice as someone is preparing for an international trip. Here are some practical key learnings anyone traveling overseas can adopt to help stay safe when in an unfamiliar area. Remember the goal is always prevention!
1. Be aware of your surroundings: Paying attention to your environment, not texting and walking (yes!), or walking and looking at a map (looking like a tourist or a target). Don’t get so caught up in a conversation, reading, etc, that if someone took your wallet off the table, or brushed against you, you wouldn’t notice. Choose well-lit area, populated areas, and be careful of deserted areas or ridiculously loud areas.
2. Travel in groups: This may seem very basic, but when traveling alone it can be very noticeable to others. When in line at a store have “small talk” with the person next to you. It’s a great way to learn the local area, meet new people and to learn about the culture. If someone you don’t know asks you if you are traveling alone always say “no.” State you are “meeting someone” or “waiting for a friend”. This is especially important for women. I did this while vacationing by myself in the US Virgin Islands and it was very helpful. I was amazed how often I was asked if I was alone.
3. Intuition: You know that feeling you get when you know you should make a left instead of a right? How about when you think there is someone behind you yet you don’t hear anything? Yes, that’s your intuition, your inner knowing or reasoning that causes you to take a specific action. Pay attention to it while traveling alone. In many cases, it will help steer you out of a challenging situation.
4. Visa: Always make sure your visa is updated and that you have all the necessary information via the US Embassy to not violate country entrance or exit laws. If your visa is going to expire before you leave the country you are residing in, let the local embassy or consulate know as soon as possible so they can help you resolve concern with the host country.
5. Understand being an American can make you a target: Not always, of course, but this is a fact that can’t be escaped. It is part of the politics of today’s world. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s nothing to fear; taking precautions are important. Review the US State Department warnings for the country in which you are traveling. Use sound judgment, avoids large crowds of unknown origins, minimize your profile when in public, and always have a cell phone. Yes, this is tricky because perhaps you don’t plan on taking your phone to avoid accruing international charges. You can always change your phone plan for the duration of your trip, or purchase a temporary phone prior your trip or when you arrive to the country.
6. Have insurance: About 30% of Americans travelers get travel insurance. Insurance is just that – a very important backup plan in case something BAD happens. General reasons to get insurance are if your flight gets cancelled, your passport or wallet is stolen and you need money (or emergency plan), natural disaster, you are involved in an accident, you can to cancel your trip because of an illness, or you have a medical emergency while traveling. In the digital, post 9/11 world, I could go on and on.
Jessica Robinson is an International Safety & Security Advisor for PurePoint International and speaker and frequently publishes on the topic. To learn more about her work and company please visit www.the-purepoint.com.
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