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8 Travel Safety Tips You Probably Ignore (But Shouldn’t)

Be honest. How many times have you read a safety tip for travelers and thought: “Yep, that makes sense” … and then just totally ignored it next time you took a trip?

We’ve all been there. So let’s make a pact together to stop ignoring the good advice and start following these rules to stay safe while traveling.

Register with the State Department

travel safety

No one expects to experience a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or other emergency while they’re abroad. But if you do, you’ll want to be prepared.

Enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) before you leave, and the nearest U.S. Embassy will easily be able to find and help you if something bad happens (either abroad or back home, like a family emergency).

Leave an Itinerary

You should also leave an itinerary with a trusted friend or family member back home. That way, if you don’t return they’ll know exactly where to begin the search, instead of trying to piece together your steps through social media postings. This can also be helpful if you have a family member that worries when you travel—if they hear of something bad happening in the general region that you’re traveling, they can double-check that you’re not actually near there.

Make a Copy of Your Passport

travel safety

It seems like a hassle to make a copy of your passport, but if yours gets stolen or lost while abroad, you’ll be really glad that you took the extra 10 seconds to do it. If you don’t want to carry paper around, you can also scan your passport and e-mail it to yourself, so you’ll be able to access it anywhere.

Don’t Have Your Phone Out

I know I’m guilty of this—whenever I’m bored on the subway or bus, I usually turn to my phone for entertainment. Unfortunately, having your phone out makes you a target for petty thieves, especially on crowded public transit. It’s easy for criminals to snatch your phone out of your hand and jump off at the next stop if you’re not paying attention.

Buckle Up / Choose Your Transportation Wisely

When in a foreign destination, you might be tempted to be a little more lax than at home when it comes to wearing your seatbelt or taking a scooter out for a spin. In fact, the most common cause of death for Americans abroad is traffic accidents. So be careful: Insist on a taxi that has seatbelts (even in the backseat), don’t drive yourself if you’re not comfortable with the roads (especially if you’re driving on a different side than at home), and always wear a helmet while on a scooter/moped/motorcycle/bike.

Learn the Local 911 Equivalent

We’ve been conditioned since we were kids to dial 911 in case of an emergency, but if you dial those three numbers while abroad, you’re not likely to get any help. Learn the local emergency numbers for police/fire/EMS (in some countries, these are all different numbers) and save them to your phone (if your phone will work at your destination). In a dangerous situation, every second counts.

Keep Your Seatbelt on While Flying

It can be tempting to unbuckle when the seatbelt sign is off (or even when it’s on) just to get a little more comfortable in your tiny airplane seat. But if turbulence strikes, you could be seriously injured when you’re not securely strapped in, as these passengers learned.

Not Checking State Department Warnings or Advisories

The U.S. State Department’s cautions, warnings, and advisories can seem a little alarmist sometimes. (Just look at the current worldwide caution, for example.) And I’m not saying you should cancel your trip based on a warning/alert/advisory for a destination, but it is important to at least read them so you know what to look out for. (Confused about the difference between alerts and warnings? Read this.)

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Follow Caroline Morse’s travels on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline and on Twitter @CarolineMorse1.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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