Your Guide To Feeling Safer When Traveling

Anytime you travel anywhere, regardless of where you're going, you have to be smart about your surroundings. Tourists are easy targets for scams, thefts, and even accidents from trying to capture a moment. By taking a few simple precautions, you can protect yourself from the unexpected when traveling. 

Some places have higher theft statistics than others, like Belgium and Spain having the current highest theft rates in Europe (via Travel Off Path). Passports are among the most stolen items, which further solidifies how important it is to keep track of your things.

That said, travel safety precautions are common sense. Keep your valuables safe during travel, have backup plans, and know how to handle a variety of emergency circumstances. Things can happen when you least expect them to, so it's best to be prepared. Have no fear, though, as there are a lot of easy ways to step up your safety game. The best kind of travel is safe travel, particularly if you're new to traveling long distances.

Make copies of documents

Creating copies of your important documents is a solid backup measure. By having a backup of your passport, for example, you will have a legible alternative if something happens to your actual passport. Make copies of a variety of important paperwork in addition to your passport (like your driver's license or other IDs or credit cards) and keep all of the copies in one bundle for safekeeping (via USA Today).

Having either a color or black-and-white copy of your passport handy if yours goes missing abroad isn't a perfect science. A copy isn't going to be able to get you through an airport and sent home, but it will help the local embassy get your replacement started more quickly, according to CoverTrip. You don't necessarily even need physical copies. Digital copies are an excellent resource, since they're less likely to get damaged or lost.

To be extra cautious, email a copy of the digital files to yourself, too. That way, if your phone gets damaged, you'll still have access to document copies if you need them. If you decide to bring physical copies, be sure to waterproof them by putting them inside a plastic bag, laminating them, or keeping them in a protective file folder.

Be aware of travel scams

Tourists are easy scam targets. Scammers can ram into you and distract you while they swipe your wallet, try to give you a "free" bracelet, or any number of other common cons. The best way to avoid scams is to not play into the dialogue. For the bracelet (or any free item) scam, Nomadic Matt notes that the scammers will be friendly until you refuse to pay them. That's when the scammer makes a spectacle, hoping you'll just pay them to make them stop.

Most travel scams are easy to avoid. Don't participate in street gambling, don't take things from strangers, and be wary of things that seem too good to be true. One of the most common kinds of scams that can be a pain to avoid is transportation scams. If you get into a taxi and their meter is broken, don't go with them. Most likely, they'll tell you a ridiculously high price for the ride, which you may or may not realize is outrageous at the time. A way to ensure this doesn't happen to you is to have your hotel arrange for taxis on your behalf or ask them what the typical fare is for your destination. Lastly, if you do end up falling for an elaborate scam, don't feel too bad — it happens to the best of us.

Take care of your cash

Being extra careful with your money while traveling is a surefire way to protect yourself from theft — both digital and physical. For your digital financial footprint, before you depart, contact your bank to let them know your travel plans. That way, they can track where your transactions are coming from and alert you if sudden charges occur elsewhere.

As for your physical cash, you may want to ditch some old habits. Don't keep your wallet in your back pocket, do not carry all of your cash with you, and do keep some emergency cash hidden in your personal items left behind at the hotel. If something were to happen to your money, your best course of action is to have some stashed away. This advice is also helpful even if you aren't traveling, because wallets are an easily stolen commodity.

For an extra layer of protection, consider hiding cash in nondescript personal items. Michelle O'Donnell of Brit Adventures Travel Blog told Go BankingRates that she personally uses empty lip balm containers as an emergency stash. Companies also sell fake item safes like hairbrushes, soda cans and other common objects. Still, the lip balm container technique is a great way to keep your cash safe while simultaneously recycling.

Don't wear flashy clothes or jewelry

Adorning yourself with name-brand ensembles looks great for photos — while simultaneously looking good to thieves. Luxury brands thrive on people being able to identify their items at a distance, which makes anyone who wears them in public more likely to be spotted by light-fingered opportunists. Wearing clothes or accessories with obvious monetary value alerts would-be thieves that you are a good target.

If you are wearing something like a wedding ring or another ring of value, be sure it's fitted correctly or keep it on tighter with an adjuster, suggests Slashed Beauty. Doing so ensures that the ring won't accidentally slip off while you're traveling or be easily snatched by a thief. Plus, having your rings fitted anyway is a good precaution for when you're at home as well.

Planning on wearing something flashy while traveling can be done safely; just be very aware of yourself while you're dressed up. Perhaps, you can plan on wearing that outfit on a day away from the most crowded, touristy areas where it's harder to get lost in a crowd. Otherwise, leave those statement pieces for a different day.

Share your itinerary with a loved one

Sharing your itinerary with someone you trust doesn't mean posting a play-by-play on social media. Email your flight and hotel info to a loved one so they can keep track of you in case something happens. Be sure this person will be reachable during your trip, but also let them know ahead of them that they're your trusted contact. Nationwide recommends checking in with those contacts during your travel so they know if you're still on schedule. That will help avoid miscommunication or concern on your loved one's part.

Whoever you send your itinerary to could also hold on to copies of your passport and other important documents. That way, if something really bad were to happen, they'd know where you are and have information to help get access to you. While no one likes to think the worst could happen on a trip, it's also a good idea to have your affairs in order before embarking on a long journey.

Look less like a tourist

From being aware of local clothing customs to not staying glued to your phone, there are many easy ways to look less touristy when you travel. Knowing how locals dress, for example, is a great way to figure out your attire, too. In Europe, that means ditching activewear and white sneakers to blend in better or patriotic/branded/location-tagged clothing (via Travelex Insurance). Nothing screams "I am a tourist" more than wearing a shirt with the name of the city you're currently visiting — save that souvenir for home.

More than not standing out from the crowd with what you wear, part of blending in also means paying attention to folks around you. When visiting a temple, for example, it might be customary to take your shoes off (per The Invisible Tourist). When in doubt, look around you. If locals are taking off shoes or covering their hair in certain locations, it's a good idea to follow suit.

Be smart with public Wi-Fi

Anytime you travel, you'll probably access public Wi-Fi. Especially in a hotel, you wouldn't have much of a choice, unless you rely on data during your trip. Using the Wi-Fi isn't the safety problem, though — it's how you use it that matters. 

When connecting to public Wi-Fi, double or triple check the network name before connecting, try not to log in to sites while using public wi-fi, and have your logins set to two-step authentication for extra protection, notes Travel Pulse.

There will be times when you'll want to check sensitive sites like your banking information, which might be the time to rely on your phone's data. Alternatively, you can connect through a VPN (virtual private network), which adds an additional layer of protection over a public wi-fi by scrambling your data. Practice using your VPN at home before you travel if you haven't used it before, because it may take getting used to the process. You can also download authentication apps to your phone to help safeguard passwords for places like your social media accounts or email. Digital pirates are no joke.

Pay attention to your surroundings

Pickpocketing wouldn't be such a prolific theft tactic if it didn't work. Part of the reason that it works so well is that people, especially in crowds or at tourist destinations, are often distracted. It only takes a second of ignoring what's around you for someone to swipe your phone from your hand or pocket or even cut the bag off your shoulder. Being alert and aware can't eliminate the threat of theft, but it can dramatically improve your personal safety.

Other than people who stick out as obvious tourists, thieves are more likely to target folks who look distracted, per World Packers. Always appearing engaged is one way to reduce your chance of being targeted, so just keep your eyes open. That can be difficult if you're seeing a significant landmark for the first time, like the Eiffel Tower, but it's better to be aware and safe.

Also, consider investing in lockable bags, or at least ones with slash proof straps and/or RFID blocking technology. Though improved products won't guarantee your safety, they make it a lot harder for thieves to get away with their crime. Knowing that your back is slash-proof or locked might be that extra layer of protection that helps you enjoy your destination a little bit more.

Be prepared for emergencies

Remembering how to get in touch with emergency services wherever you're traveling will help tremendously in case of trouble, particularly if you can speak a little of the local language. It can help alleviate the language barrier that could delay the help you need in an emergency. You can even create a handy emergency contact document to bring along so you don't forget, or save it on your phone. 

Don't assume that every country uses 911, when very few actually do. For example, some countries like Switzerland or Japan have separate numbers depending on what kind of emergency you're having: police, firefighters or ambulance services (via Life Hacker). Some groups of countries have shared emergency numbers (like 112 in the European Union), so those are easier to remember. If you're planning on visiting multiple places during your trip, remember to include all of the relevant emergency info on your contact document.

If you are traveling with a medical condition to a country where you don't speak the language, consider creating an emergency document in that local language. This way, you can communicate the emergency situation more quickly, and hopefully get the help you need faster.

Register with the embassy

If you're planning a trip abroad, no matter how long or short, it's a good idea to register your travel with the United States State Department. Their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a way for the authorities to help in case of emergencies during your travel. Most importantly, it can help the local embassy branch find you in the event of any trouble.

Additionally, STEP helps the State Department send you alerts about your destination before as well as during travel. It also helps the government get in touch with your loved ones (or your loved ones get in contact with you) in an emergency situation. Enrollment only takes a few minutes of uploading your itinerary information. You never know when you might need those alerts.

The Points Guy highly recommends enrolling in STEP, particularly for certain kinds of situations. These may include taking an extended trip abroad, visiting a place that is known for instability, attending a major event that could be a target for violence, and going to an area where you may be targeted as a minority.

Maintain strong body language

Beyond not wearing a neon fanny pack with an oversized camera and baseball cap, there's an even simpler way to look like you belong somewhere: body language. Though what is considered appropriate body language is different throughout the world, you can easily walk with confidence somewhere to give passersby the notion that you're a strong person. Maintaining strong body language also helps you more naturally keep an eye on your surroundings, because you'll have your head and eyes up.

Using strong body language might require practice before you travel, though they are skills that can serve you well at home, too. Taking the Power Pose (or Superhero Pose), for example, is an excellent way to immediately boost one's confidence during times when you don't feel so confident (via F5 Escapes). You can also practice staying calm in stressful situations and maintaining a normal tone of voice even when you're uncomfortable. Both are necessary for keeping composed. More than that, practicing these body language tactics can help you handle situations differently as well.

"There are a couple of things you can do that are simple, just little mindfulness things with your body, that can really help keep you in a more safe space," communications expert Lisa Mitchell told Fox 59. Even something as simple as walking with intention can give people the impression that you know where you're going.

Use your front pockets

Since you can't see behind you, back pockets are the easiest target for thieves. Because of that, front pockets should always be utilized, or a bag kept in front of your body to store your phone, wallet, and other valuables. From the front, not only can you see someone approaching you, but you can also defend yourself more easily (than if you suddenly realize something is gone and have to chase a person in the opposite direction).

Corporate Travel Safety recommends bringing a slim wallet, especially for folks who carry wallets in their pockets. Slim wallets are less visible to the eye and harder to pry out of someone's pocket. Ideally, your wallet will sit far down in the pocket to make theft even less likely. A slash-proof bag worn on the front of your body is another recommended way of avoiding thieves; make sure to keep your wallet or cash in a deeper or less obvious pocket inside the bag.

If you do suspect you're being pursued or watched by a would-be thief, try to throw them off guard. Switch walking directions or go into a store. The more complicated you make your pursuit, the less likely a thief will think you're a worthwhile target. Be especially mindful of your pockets in crowded, heavily trafficked areas like train stations or bus stops. These busy locations, which are full of distracted people, are where pickpockets thrive.