Nothing is more important than safety when traveling in unfamiliar surroundings. Knowing where to stay, the contents of food and beverages, and how to handle an emergency all are essential to a safe and pleasant business or leisure trip. Some proactive steps can lessen the inherent dangers, especially when traveling alone.
Do Your Research
First and foremost, the State Department is always a reliable resource for safety conditions abroad. It provides crucial information -- including crime warnings, news of natural disasters and laws -- for every country in the world. Learn where the police and fire stations and embassies are. In addition to the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have embassies around the globe known for assisting travelers in danger.
Phone and App Smarts
Your phone no doubt will be a constant companion as you explore the world. But it can present some problems too. Phones bandied about may draw attention to pickpockets, not to mention distracting a traveler from their surroundings or, worse, oncoming traffic. A scenic but meaningless SnapChat could be your last if you're not careful. Always use discretion when typing in passwords or personal information on your electronics, especially if the Wi-Fi is less than secure.
Your phone also can be a lifesaver, literally. First, confirm with your mobile provider that you’ll have coverage abroad. Next, load up any of the wide variety of apps aimed at travelers’ safety. For example, the State Department’s Smart Traveler service has up-to-date intel, travel alerts, warnings, embassy locations and more. The site and app will keep travelers warned of areas deemed high risks.
Setting up Google Alerts can help you stay informed of various areas’ potential dangers, and Ellwood suggests keeping an eye on social media for information. A long list of Twitter accounts are available to keep travelers updated on their current locations.
You can tuck your phone away and try a very low-tech but practical and inexpensive suggestion from Ellwood: Carry a local newspaper under your arm to look like a local.
Car, Bus, Train and Taxi Safety
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for American citizens traveling overseas, according to the World Health Organization. Stick to well-trusted traveling services that emphasize safety, not those whose vehicles are missing seat belts. Stay away from motorcycles, mopeds and other potentially dangerous vehicles when traveling.
Penn Medicine professor and Penn Global Medicine Medical Director Stephen Gluckman says a personal driver can be a good option if the budget allows. In an interview with The Inquirer, he also advised that even tourists driving cars should steer clear of areas with dim streetlights and avoid areas that hold a risk of colliding with another vehicle or animal. Lastly, he recommended always keeping a phone charged, double checking the condition of the vehicle and its tires, and learning the driving laws of the country you’re visiting.
For mass transportation, try to learn how metro-card purchases work -- buying in advance if possible -- instead of looking confused in front of the ticket machine. Have the exact fare, and have it ready, for buses.
Check for company logos or other identifying information for taxis and ride-sharing companies before getting into a car. Uber, in many countries, is the safest option for a traveler in need of transportation.
Hotel and Cruise Safety
Lodgings are a key factor in taking safety into your own hands. “Choose accommodations with modern security features,” former FBI agent James Hamilton told Forbes. “While not always the case, most international hotel brands are more security conscious. A Google search of a specific property can often provide information on security and prior incidents.” He suggested requesting a room between the second and sixth floors, to make it easier to exit in case of an emergency. Never wear fancy jewelry or flashy clothing, he added; it will just draw unwanted attention.
Cruises require fewer precautions than land travel, but it’s wise to stay vigilant. Passengers going overboard get lots of press, but going overboard isn't the only cause for concern. Cruise ships are basically floating cities, which can invite crime just as they do on land. Be vigilant and, just like a traveler would in a foreign surrounding, stay aware and enjoy yourself.
Experts interviewed by Insider.com say cruise ship guests should prioritize hand washing, and the Centers for Disease Control says soap and water is better than hand sanitizer. "Cruise lines make this easy by having hand-washing and sanitizer stations throughout the ship," Erica Silverstein of Cruise Critic said.
Cruise Critic recommends avoiding sushi, touching the soft-serve ice cream machine, powdered eggs and communal condiments to avoid germs while on board. Health expert Ali Shapiro says to be on the lookout for compromised foods, such as buffet items that have been touched and put back.
Food and Drink Safety
Don’t just take Instagram photos of your enticing vacation meals; pay attention to what they contain and where they come from. Nobody wants the stomach flu or worse when on a business or pleasure trip. If you’re on a long journey, pack healthy snacks, such as fresh fruit, nuts and dried apple slices. Once you arrive at your destination, stock up on grapes, oranges or bananas to ensure a steady intake of nutrients including fiber, which staves off constipation.
Thoroughly cooked hot meals are generally a safe option, the CDC says, because the heat kills germs. Raw meat or seafood, on the other hand, has a higher risk of germs. Know that street vendors may have lesser hygiene standards than the average restaurant, so aim for food that’s hot and fresh off the grill.
Be sure to stay hydrated during your travels, but know that tap water is a common risk outside the US. Savvy travelers stick to canned or bottled water and soda, as soda fountains generally mix the flavored syrup with carbonated water that may come from a tap. If visiting a developing country, don’t ask for ice -- it’s likely made with tap water. The CDC and State Department have detailed information on the water quality for most locales.
It may seem like a lot to remember, but the peace of mind is worth it. Sixty percent of people in one study say their lives are enriched by traveling to other countries--thanks in part to taking precautions like these.
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