An estimated 25 million Americans opt to travel abroad each year for both business and pleasure, according to the U.S. State Department. Most of those travelers return home safely, but a percentage experience some sort of malady while abroad, whether that be food poisoning, robbery or worse.
Should you stay home to avoid the problems that go with travel? Absolutely not! I’ve never let a few uncomfortable feelings take me away from a fun adventure — and neither should you.
Travel is all about expanding your horizons and experiencing new things, but this openness should be practiced cautiously when it comes to food and booze, advises travel safety company International SOS. Don’t drink or take anything you wouldn’t at home — and be sure to know where you are at all times, along with the best routes back to your hotel.
Why? Alcohol and drugs can lead you to drop your guard, putting you at risk for everything from robbery to rape or worse. Also, taking illegal substances can land you in a foreign jail — and that’s nowhere any traveler plans to end up during vacation.
“Be aware that in some popular spring break locations, such as Mexico and other Caribbean destinations, prescription drugs and other narcotics are commonly offered to tourists,” International SOS advises. “Not only is the purchase of illicit substances punishable by strict fines and lengthy jail time, but oftentimes the products sold are laced with dangerous additives.”
Be Street Smart
We might be worried about looking like “dumb Americans” while traveling, but there’s a real reason you should try to blend in while abroad: Tourists are like walking neon signs that scream “rob me!” You might not ever completely “fit in” while abroad, but you should be aware of the dangers at all times. International SOS recommends to always stick with a group when traveling in unfamiliar lands. In addition, I only take one or two forms of payment with me when I go out for a day trip. The rest stay back in my hotel’s safe. That way, I’m not up a creek financially if someone mugs me.
“Be sure to only access an ATM during business hours from a trusted and secured facility, like a bank,” the organization recommends. For women, I advise sticking credit cards and cash in the side band of your bra (not the cup) — it hides your money better than a pocket or touristy “money wallet” and no one can touch your cards or cash without you knowing.
Pay Attention to Your Health
Getting sick is about the last thing you want to have happen while traveling, especially because the level of healthcare available varies wildly from country to country. However, it’s also important to know if your destination has any restrictions on which medications you can bring through the border — you don’t want to get caught with something that can land you in jail.
“Travelers who violate medication transport rules may face serious consequences, even if the violation was unintentional,” International SOS says. “Keep all drugs in their original packaging and always bring a copy of the prescription.”
Also, be sure to bring extra medication, just in case something happens to your current supply. Medications — like healthcare — can vary in quality and the quality might not be the same if you purchase it abroad. Take it from me: It’s no fun to be sick or injured in a foreign country — it’s actually downright terrifying.
Eat Local Fare With Care
One of the best parts of traveling is eating the local fare. However, you never know which foods might not agree with your body, leaving you with serious food-borne illness. You can’t ensure that the food won’t make you sick, but listen to your gut (literally) — if something looks dirty, or undercooked, then don’t eat it.
Also, pay special attention to the quality of water — not every country has potable water to drink. The best bet is to stick with bottled water and forego ice and fountain drinks.
Take the High Road
Traveling often means you’ll be forced to navigate unfamiliar roads and public transportation. This can mean big danger if you’re not careful.
“If you plan on driving while abroad, be advised that international travelers face a great risk of serious disability or death from motor vehicle related incidents, especially in developing countries,” International SOS says. “If you must drive, plan the safest route to your destination before getting behind the wheel, and obey all local driving laws.”
Also, only rent cars from reputable firms (think Enterprise, Alamo, etc.) to ensure you actually get a vehicle that is in proper working order.
Taxis are another ball game all together. When traveling by taxi, only use regulated drivers (your hotel can provide a list of vetted companies) and always sit in the backseat with a seatbelt. Also, I always agree on a price before leaving with a driver to keep from charging outrageous prices at the destination.
What other tips do you have for staying safe while abroad?