Traveling internationally is not without its risk. By following the recommendations outlined below, you can make your travels rewarding while minimizing your risk and vulnerability.
• Travel documents – Ensure you have the necessary documents for your travel – passport, travel Visa, green card for return entry, etc. These documents should not be near the end of their respective expiration windows- aim for 3-6 months validity remaining on the document. You should have photocopies of each critical travel document for each person in your group in case documents become lost or stolen.
• Do your research – A critical component to traveling internationally is knowing and understanding the country in which you will travel. Learn about your destination(s) through research. The State Department and CIA websites provide easy-to-access information on most international destinations and will outline any travel restrictions or alerts. Obtain a travel report from a security company for more detailed information and security concerns. Enroll in STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – a free service offered by the State Department.
• Cell phones – Everyone in your travel group should have the contact information for the U.S. Embassy set in everyone’s phones. Check your international calling plan from your mobile carrier or have a plan to obtain a local calling card or “minutes” immediately upon arrival.
• Medical – Verify that you have the required and suggested immunizations before traveling. You can also obtain prescription medication to prevent certain diseases, such as malaria, but be mindful that users may need to start their course of medication before departing for the trip. Also ensure you have adequate medical coverage, including medical evacuation insurance.
• Room location – Request a room between the 3rd and 6th floor- these rooms are off the ground and present less risk of break-in but can still be reached by ladder in the event of a fire. Familiarize yourself with the layout to determine where the fire alarms and exits are located. Have children run the route. Set a rally point set outside the hotel to meet with your travel group in the event of an emergency.
• Valuables – Use the hotel safe for simple valuables, such as sunglasses and power cords. Do not store money, laptops, or jewelry in hotel safes.
• Hotel information – Get a card from the hotel featuring the address in the native language and write the address and phone number for the U.S. Embassy on the back.
• Vehicle transportation – Use dedicated hotel shuttle services when possible. If you are required to take alternate transportation, ask a hotel staff member to call a limo or cab, being mindful of the price of taxis in second and third world countries. If you are considering a rideshare program, ask hotel staff about the safety of Uber or similar companies.
• Keep your documents secure – Don’t provide easy access to pickpockets. Keep money, cards, and travel documents in your front pocket, where you have a better visual and are more likely to feel if someone attempts to pickpocket from you. If you require a carry pack, such as a backpack or purse, ensure it has strong straps and is zipped/buttoned shut at every opening.
• Rally points – If you are traveling as a group, identify landmarks throughout your site-seeing to set as a last place to meet in the event your group is separated. This can be a fun game for kids.
• Avoid crowds – If you can’t avoid crowds while visiting tourist sites, try to go on off-peak hours to minimize the risk of separation and pickpocket. Throughout your travels, visually identify a way out of a building or area in case you need to escape quickly.
• Minimize risk – Do not wear flashy or high-value clothing or jewelry. Doing so may make you a target for crime.
If asked if you are traveling alone, do not answer or advise that you are on your way to meet with your group. It is largely recommended to not let anyone know you are a tourist, but if you must, mention that you are Canadian.
As rewarding as international travel is, it is not without its risks. Listen to your instincts and use the gift of fear to avoid potentially threatening situations.
1) Surviving is as much mental as physical
2) The world is a dangerous place – Evil can have a normal face
3) Awareness is critical
4) The right attitude can save you from a fight you never saw coming
5) Prepared does not mean fearful
We hope this is helpful guidance when you begin traveling in the post-Covid19 world.