Whether you are traveling within the United States or to a foreign country, you should take extra precautions to stay safe. Travel distractions — such as enjoying the scenery, eating delicious food, and exploring new cities — can increase your risk.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
These international and domestic travel safety tips will help you reduce risks so you can enjoy your vacation and avoid hassles as much as possible.
How to travel safely
Our safety tips include actions that can be taken immediately and those that require more preparation.
1. Digitize important documents
Your wallet or purse is full of important documents that criminals can exploit. Leave nonessential things at home (like your Social Security card) and make copies of everything else you might need in an emergency, like prescriptions, a backup credit card (so you can at least make a digital purchase when necessary), and your passport.
Take a picture and upload it to a secure folder on the web. This way, if anything is stolen, you can easily take steps to reduce the damage criminals can cause. You can easily contact the bank to cancel your debit and credit cards and request a new ID from the embassy. You can also use a secure digital vault system such as 1Password or LastPass to store these documents.
2. Reduce the amount of cash you carry
It is important to have a little cash when traveling, but most retailers accept credit cards, even abroad. Having no cash reduces the value of your wallet to the thief, and you can dispute the unknown charges from the card. Just be sure to carry a card that has no foreign transaction fees when traveling internationally.
3. You look less like a tourist
The more you dress and act like a local, the less risk you will be targeted by criminals as a tourist. Adapting your style to that of the locals, walking confidently and hiding maps can help you blend in. When using directions on your phone, only look at them briefly while walking.
Moreover, get to know the city and your route before leaving the hotel. If you need to look for directions for an extended period of time, consider going to a store or coffee shop to do so, rather than staying outside.
4. Share your itinerary with someone you trust
Whether you are traveling alone or with others, share your itinerary with someone you trust in your country. Check-in once a day to let them know you’ve arrived at your next destination or are back at your hotel. These small steps increase your safety while traveling.
It’s also wise to create a safe word and share it so family members or friends know if you’re in trouble, even if the conversation seems normal to someone else who might be listening. You can take this a step further and consider sharing your live location with a trusted friend or family member via your smartphone.
5. Travel Tips Search for destinations
According to the US State Department, “conditions can change rapidly in any country at any time.” Their website maintains a continuous list of travel tips for destinations around the world. While these warnings don’t always mean you shouldn’t travel, they do help make you aware of the potential conditions you’ll find when you arrive, or areas to avoid.
Check the State Department’s website before making travel plans, and again before you leave. A place that might have been safe when you booked your flight may have deteriorated since then.
6. Register for the Smart Traveler Registration Program
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, is a free service from the Department of State that allows citizens traveling or living abroad to receive the latest security updates. The information you provide also makes it easier for the nearest US embassy or consulate to contact you in the event of an emergency.
7. Notify credit card companies of your travel plans
Since you may be traveling to cities outside of your usual spending patterns, tell your bank your travel dates and destinations. Many banks allow you to notify them via their online banking portal.
This will reduce the likelihood of your bank closing your account due to perceived fraudulent transactions, which could leave you stuck.
Additionally, consider bringing a spare credit card.
8. Be careful with public Wi-Fi networks
Wi-Fi can unlock your devices and sensitive information to hackers. Using a VPN is one of the best ways we know to stay safe at the airport, when exploring your destination, or at your hotel. VPN services create a secure connection to protect your personal information when browsing the Internet or using web-connected applications on an open connection.
Security.org, a security product review site, conducted a study in June 2020 and found that only 31% of US Internet users use a VPN for public Wi-Fi connections. This means that nearly 70% of public Wi-Fi users are at risk of being hacked
9. Get travel insurance
To improve your physical and financial safety, consider purchasing a travel insurance policy before your trip. This safety net is useful for avoiding personal expenses for emergency medical treatment, flight delays, cancellations, interruptions, baggage loss or evacuations.
Most policies will compensate travelers for unused accommodations, transit, or activities that were non-refundable but should have been canceled for a covered reason. Likewise, if an airline or train company loses your baggage, you will likely be compensated through baggage protection on your policy. Additionally, if your policy includes emergency medical coverage, you won’t be hit with a huge bill for medical care abroad (as your US health insurance likely won’t be helpful).
Some credit cards come with built-in protections, while others don’t – in the case of the latter, you’ll need to purchase a stand-alone policy.
If your goal is to find ways to travel safely…
Now that we’ve shared some tips on how to travel safely, you can travel with more confidence and with less risk. Although most of these tips have little or no cost to implement, it may take some time to set up. Investing time to increase the safety of your travels will be worth it if you can avoid dangerous situations that could interrupt or destroy your next trip.
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Lee Hoffman writes for NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com.
The article 9 Ways to Travel More Safely originally appeared on NerdWallet.