Around the Globe: Tips to Make Your International Travel Safer - ITS Tactical

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Around the Globe: Tips to Make Your International Travel Safer

By ITS Guest Contributor

The appeal of international travel is undeniable and visiting another country can be a life-changing adventure. It’s a chance to meet new people, experience another culture and sample amazing cuisine. However, being in an entirely new world also brings risks. From the relatively minor, (such as picking up a mild case of food poisoning) to the deadly serious (like getting caught in a civil war). Still, millions of people travel safely every year and you can too.

The following tips can help you come home from a grand adventure with nothing but souvenirs and happy memories to show for it.

Before You Go

Preparing for a trip can be fun; think of buying new clothes and choosing which cities to visit. However, if you want to truly enjoy yourself and have a healthy, safe vacation, you’ll need to lay some groundwork first.

Visit the Doctor

International travel requires you to be current on routine vaccinations. Depending on your destination, you may also need to be vaccinated against diseases like cholera or typhoid. You can find lists of recommended vaccines and information about current health crises around the world at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Additionally, be aware that some countries have bans on specific drugs. For example, codeine is banned in Hong Kong. Do some research to make sure your medications aren’t banned in countries you’re either passing through or visiting. If they’re banned, contact each country’s embassy and get permission to carry those medications with you, or speak with your doctor about prescription alternatives.

You should also get a letter from your physician describing your health conditions and the medications you’re taking. You’ll want this in case you’re questioned at customs. Additionally, make sure to leave your prescriptions in their marked containers during your travels.

Check for Travel Advisories

Travel advisories can help you be aware of any civil unrest, terrorism, armed conflict or crime in your destination country before you get there. The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs releases travel advisories with real-time information about every country in the world, indicating if they’re safe to visit or if they’re flagged as “do not travel” location.

Check the State Deparment website for updates and enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which allows the US Embassy to send direct alerts and contact you in an emergency.

Get Your Technology Travel Ready

It’s rare that people go anywhere without their cell phones, laptops or other mobile devices and vacations are no exception. Before you hop on the plane, take the following steps to secure your technology.

Clear All Phones and Computers. Remove any information you want to keep secure. That includes erasing your passwords and usernames from your browser history and favorite sites. Move personal and business files to the cloud, update your antivirus software and enable your firewall.

Prepare Your Phone in Advance. Ensure you’ll be able to use it after you land. Either add an international roaming plan to your phone or purchase a prepaid disposable phone and add an international SIM card.

Make Electronic Copies of All Critical Documents. This includes your passport, visa, plane tickets, medical records and itinerary. Share these copies with a family member or friend and save the files on a mobile device so you can access them if needed.

Secure Your Home

Odds are at least one criminal is out there taking notes.

Run a home security assessment before you leave. If you don’t have motion-activated lights or a security system, consider investing in them. Look for a system that allows you to monitor your home remotely so you can have peace of mind, even when you’re thousands of miles away.

With all the doors and windows locked and a good security system in place, you still want people to think someone is actually home. Ask a neighbor or friend to visit your house at various times of the day to turn lights on and off, pick up papers outside and have a car temporarily parked in the driveway.

Finally, think twice about posting your vacation plans on social media. You may think everyone is enjoying your pictures of white sand beaches or gothic cathedrals, but odds are at least one criminal is out there taking notes.

After You Arrive

The minute you arrive in an exotic location, it’s easy to switch into vacation mode. Don’t let that be an excuse for dropping your guard. Follow these tips so your holiday doesn’t get derailed.

Get to Your Destination Safely

Always make safe choices when traveling by car in another country. “The majority of deaths from road traffic crashes (90%) occur in low and middle income countries, many of which are the same countries frequented by Western tourists and business people,” says Lloyd Figgins, an international risk expert. Avoid potential problems with some of Figgins’ additional advice.

Always Wear a Seatbelt. If there aren’t any in the vehicle, find another cab.

Sit Behind the Driver. When traveling alone in a cab, you should sit directly behind the driver and not in the front seat to have the best chance of exiting the vehicle quickly if needed.

Don’t Travel at Night. Once the sun is gone, there’s a greater chance you’ll be involved in an accident. This is particularly true in developing countries where cars and streets often lack working lights.

Use Map Programs to Ensure Your Route is Correct. Using a GPS or map app can help you keep track of where you’re going and speak up if the driver seems to be taking you on a roundabout way to increase the fare.

Secure Your Accommodations

Once you get to your hotel, ask for a room that’s not on the ground floor, as those are the easiest targets for burglaries. Getting a room on the second floor is preferable, as many times you’re still close enough to the ground to lower yourself from a window in an emergency.

You should also select a hotel that has installed electronic locks. Many times, physical keys are hung behind the reception desk, giving a criminal a perfect view of who’s in and who’s out of the hotel rooms.

Ensure your room has a working lock, deadlock and peephole. If the room is missing any of these features, ask to be moved. Finally before you go anywhere, tell a family member, friend or the hotel receptionist where you’ll be going and about when you’ll be back so someone can expect your return.

Don’t Become a Victim

If you do become the victim of a crime, don’t be a hero.

Chances are you’ll have an amazing vacation that goes off without a hitch. As a tourist though, you may be a target for crooks. Always be aware of your surroundings to avoid becoming the victim of a scam or crime. Pickpocketing and identity theft are two of the biggest things to be aware of when traveling internationally and there’s no end to the tricks thieves will use to get your valuables or your personal information.

Keep any cash, credit cards, IDs and checks you won’t be using locked in your hotel room safe. Rather than carrying a wallet or purse, purchase a money belt to keep your documents secure under your clothes. Even with a money belt, you should still separate your valuables into different locations on your body so if you do get pickpocketed, you won’t lose everything. Never hang a purse or bag off the back of your chair; place it in your lap or at your feet and wrap the straps around your leg.

Additionally, you’ll need to protect yourself from identify theft. When using computers in public locations, don’t enter any personal information or use your credit card. In general, use cash whenever possible. If you do become the victim of a crime, don’t be a hero. Give up your belongings quickly. Once you’re safe, report the incident to the authorities or the nearest US Consulate.

After You Return Home

Once you return home, finalize a few things to avoid any future issues from your trip. Check your credit card and bank statements for anything unusual, such as double charges or purchases you didn’t make and report anything suspicious. You”ll also need to remove any international calling, texting or data packages you added to your phone plan. Lastly, change your passwords and pin numbers on your phone, computer and bank cards to foil any attempts at identity theft.

After all these preparations, hopefully the trip is everything you want it to be. You’ll likely come home with amazing memories, an urge to do it all again and the confidence that you can plan another safe excursion overseas.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Scott Bay is a Digital Journalist that reports on the latest technology trends. He specializes in travel, design and the Internet of Things. He also dabbles in furniture design and if he’s not working, he’s traveling. You can keep in touch with Scott on Instagram!

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  • Karl Hungus

    This article is lacking big time in anything practical. Having been to 100+ countries including ones that are current war zones, here are some practical tips:

    1) Script the first 24 hours when you land and know every step you’re going to take to get to your hotel. Land, immigration, customs, local money, transport… put Google Maps to use and find out how long it will take and the approximate cost. Jet lag makes you stupid. Game face
    2) use a travel-only credit card and bank card. That way if your debit card is compromised you won’t be bled dry.
    3) bringing a phone/computer/tablet? Use VPN everywhere.
    4) Have a “mugging wallet” – a few bucks and an expired credit card in case you do get mugged.
    5) write down the US Embassy/Consulate number before you go and if bad stuff happens ask for the duty officer.
    6) make a PDF of your passport and visa and have them easily accessible (gmail?). Same with insurance information.
    7) roll up your money and place it inside a tampon applicator. No thief rummaging in your hotel room will want to touch it because it’s gross lady stuff.
    8) know the exits in your hotel. Third/fourth story is better than second.
    9) pack cipro because traveler’s diarrhea will kill you just the same as a bullet.
    10) standing in public with a tourist map looking lost and confused sometimes leads to awkward situations with touts who like to scam. Need to check a map? Go into something public like a store and check the map there.
    11) travel medical insurance isn’t that expensive. Get it.

    This article is basic and boring and makes me wonder if the author has actually been anywhere instead of copying from other sources. Firsthand knowledge matters.

    • Zach Banks

      Excellent tips. Thanks for sharing. Why is the third or fourth story better than the second story?

    • nsummy

      Bookmarking this page in my travel category. Not for the article content., but for the useful information like this in the comments 🙂

  • InklingBooks

    If you’re going to be traveling through multiple countries, getting a cellphone SIM for each can be a nuisance, or if you’re going to be places where the government or the cellular service can’t be trusted you might want to look into getting a satellite two-way, text-only device like Garmin’s InReach SE+.

    They go through Iridium’s low-earth-orbit satellites, so you can send and receive text messages any place on earth where you can get a clear view of the sky. Nothing local is used. You can exchange text messages with anyone who can also text (cellphone or another InReach) and there’s a bridge to email. You can even have it regularly report your GPS position and even display that on a webpage. It is far cheaper than a satellite phone, and there’s a variety of plans. There is even an SOS mode to summon help and in an emergency, two-way is a must, i.e. in a medical emergency you want to hear from your MD. YouTube is filled with rave reviews about them. And Iridium is doing so well, they’re throwing up 10 satellites at a time.

    Garmin bought the original designer, DeLorme a few years ago. Amazon still sells the original DeLorme InReach SE for about $250 and also has Garmin’s improved InReach SE+ model for $350. They’re about the size and have the UI of the old feature phones, although there are apps that let you operate them more smoothly via iOS and Android apps.

    Long ago, when I did a year-long ramble through Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, I’d have loved to have one of these along. Alas, now I’m such a homebody, I have no need for one. All I can do is recommend them to those who have more opportunity for adventure.

  • EricSteel

    Here are some more tips from an experienced 2nd generation road warrior. Second to your life, your identification is the next most important thing you have. You don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country without an ID. Be prepared and have a plan for what to do if you lose your identification. You can’t get home without it.

    1) This one is mentioned already, but needs reiterating. Make a photocopy of the front and back of all important papers (i.e. passport, credit cards, travelers checks, insurance cards, itinerary, tickets etc.) leave a copy with someone at home. Take a copy on an encrypted thumb drive, or put it in a secure place in the cloud.
    2) I keep a small black binder clip or large paperclip on my passport. It makes it harder to pickpocket and you can attach visas, entry/exit forms, etc to the passport. When walking around I usually keep a $20 bill in the passport too. Think about an RFID passport wallet too.
    3) When traveling internationally, I usually keep $100 in cash in my shoe, along with address/phone number of the embassy/consulate, and the website for my ID papers.
    4) Know the local weapons laws. A simple pocket knife can get you into real trouble.
    5) Traveling internationally, leave the phone at home and get a cheap burner phone. If you can do the same with a laptop, do it. Leave normal credit/debit cards at home, get temporary credit cards with reasonable limit on them. Get a prepaid phone card with enough to make a few phone calls home in a crisis. Learn how how to make an international call from a local phone.
    6) I agree with Karl Hungus. Have a mugging wallet. Always carry some small bills if you need to pay off local hoods. I was at a McDonald’s in Europe. In the men’s room local hoods would shake down patrons for a few Euros. If you didn’t pay, they would throw a cup of water on your crotch so that it looked like you pissed yourself.
    7) Take some basic first aid, like advil, pepto bismol, bandages, neosporin, etc. and think about travel insurance.
    8) In the last few years I started packing a Lifestraw
    9) Do NOT put your name and address on luggage tags for anyone to see.
    10) Bring a small flashlight
    11) Know the weather and pack accordingly.
    12) When you make reservations for hotels, cars, flights, etc. Keep the confirmation numbers handy.
    13) Make friends with the hotel concierge.

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