Must-Know Travel Safety Tips
Understanding how to stay safe while traveling can help you kick back and relax so you can better enjoy your vacation. Here's what you need to know—including packing a car emergency kit and keeping your passport safe—so you can travel smarter, take in the sights, and enjoy your vacation worry-free.
Traveling can be an exciting and enriching experience, but a lost passport, stolen wallet, or flat tire can quickly throw a wrench in your plans and destroy an otherwise dreamy excursion. Whether you're road-tripping domestically or flying abroad, make your next trip a success with these safety tips. Our all-in-one guide covers everything you need to know about travel insurance, emergency kits, hotel safety, and more.
Understand What Insurance You Need While Traveling, and Why
Thinking about insurance may slip your mind when traveling, but you should make sure you're covered regardless of where you're going. Items to consider covering include personal valuables, the cost of the trip itself, and possibly additional health insurance.
First, check what's already covered by your existing insurance plans. For example, your renter's or homeowner's insurance policy may cover the cost of personal belongings. If you're concerned about specific valuables, such as a wedding ring or expensive camera, you may want to look into a floater you can tack onto an existing policy. (Sometimes called a rider or endorsement, a floater is an optional insurance add-on that can help protect property that might otherwise not be covered in your policy.)
Should you buy travel insurance? It depends. You probably don't need it for short or inexpensive local trips where you don't have a lot of money at risk. For more expensive trips, trip cancellation or interruption policies cover you in the event that your flight is canceled, or if you're unable to take the trip due to an emergency. Coverage for delayed or lost luggage is also available and can sometimes be purchased with your plane ticket, but be sure to read the fine print on these policies.
Although some health insurance will cover you abroad, if you'll be visiting for a long period of time, or if you plan on participating in high-risk recreational activities (skiing, mountain climbing, etc.), it's wise to have emergency medical coverage and medical evacuation coverage. Nobody wants to consider that they may need to be evacuated off a mountain—which can cost thousands of dollars—so it's good to be prepared.
Build a Road Trip Emergency Kit
Keeping a car emergency kit can mean the difference between a smooth journey and being stranded (or in danger). It may sound dramatic, but having a few basic supplies is smart—especially if you know you're going to be in a remote area or taking a long-distance trip. Although you can pick up a basic kit from a home improvement store, making your own gives you more flexibility.
Here's a general list of items to include (adjust for your climate, travel plans, or personal needs):
- First-aid kit: In addition to a basic store-bought first-aid kit (including bandages, gauze, tape, antibiotic cream, etc.), be sure to also pack any necessary prescription medications. Before departure, be sure to check the storage temperatures on your prescriptions; some medications cannot be exposed to extremely high heat or cold.
- Local road maps
- Extra cell phone charger (one that plugs into your car's 12v port)
- Cash: If the power goes out in a large area, credit card readers will not work.
- Flares or reflective triangles
- Lighter and/or matches (protected in a waterproof container)
- Fire extinguisher
- Hand-crank flashlight (or a flashlight with a spare set of batteries)
- Duct tape
- Nonperishable food: Choose high-calorie, energy-dense options, such as protein bars, mixed nuts, or jerky. Avoid super-salty varieties; they'll just dehydrate you.
- Multipurpose tool with knife and scissors
- Jumper cables
- Tow strap or rope
- Small shovel
- Ice scraper
- Reflective emergency blanket and/or wool blanket
- Loud whistle
- Gloves and hat
- Extra pair of socks
- Hand warmers
- Rain poncho
- Trash bags
- Paper towels or rags
- Disinfecting wipes
- Baby wipes or a roll of toilet paper (for personal sanitation if you are trapped in your car)
- Dust mask: Use in the event of a wildfire, dust storm, or smoky accident to protect yourself from breathing debris.
- Insect repellent
Pack and Protect Your Important Documents
You should always keep copies of necessary documents with you when you travel—like crucial medical records, copies of your passport, and emergency contact lists. Although there are apps for medical records, it's a good idea to have a paper copy on hand, as well. If you have a chronic illness or life-threatening allergies, you may want to carry an alert card that explains your condition in the language of the country you are visiting.
Also keep a list of important emergency numbers. Program them into your phone, but pack hard copies, too, in case something happens to your device. Include your emergency contacts, hotel phone number, the local emergency number, local police number, and the number for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate when abroad. Do your research to find these numbers ahead of time; having everything easily within reach means you won't need to frantically search for contact numbers should an emergency arise.
A lost or stolen passport is an enormous headache for travelers. Make multiple copies of your passport and spread them throughout your luggage so you always have a copy on hand. Airport security and border crossings are usually the only times you need to show your real passport. If asked to verify your identity otherwise, showing a copy is fine in most countries. Tell a trusted contact back home your itinerary, and leave them with a copy of your passport, too. If you do need to get a replacement, you'll have backup.
While you're out and about exploring your destination, you have two options for storing your passport: Keep it on your person, or leave it at the hotel. A money belt or neck pouch is a safe option for carrying it with you discreetly. If you feel comfortable with the hotel, lock it in the safe, but recognize that these can be breached. You can also buy your own travel safe or use a bag lock. At the very least, your passport should be "out of sight, out of mind"—in a hidden or zippered pocket.
Stay Safe While at Your Hotel
Most of the time, your hotel is a safe place to land and rest while on vacation. But that doesn't mean you should let down your guard. Taking a few precautions will ensure a happy, stress-free stay.
- Do your research. Check ahead of time if the hotel has a 24-hour front desk, restricted access to guest floors, security cameras, and other measures.
- When checking in, don't let front desk staff say your room number out loud. If they do, ask for a new room.
- Don't stay on the ground floor if you can avoid it. These rooms are the easiest target for break-ins.
- Inspect all locks on windows and doors (including to adjacent rooms and balconies) when you get to your room. Let the hotel know if any are broken. Make sure they're locked each time you enter the room, just in case housekeeping opens them during cleaning.
- Lock valuables in the safe, or use your own. You can also leave items at the front desk. If you go this route, get a written receipt and find out their policy on loss.
- Pick up a few extra business cards with the address and phone number of the hotel. If you get lost, you can show someone the card.
- If someone comes to your door and claims to be an employee, call the front desk to verify their identity.
- When you leave the room, put the "Do Not Disturb" tag on your door and turn on the TV to make it seem occupied.
Prevent Pickpocketing and Theft
Unfortunately, pickpocketing is a reality in many large cities and at tourist attractions. Protect yourself by avoiding carrying large amounts of cash and valuables. Keep an eye on your bags at all times—never set a phone, wallet, or purse on a table or under a chair. Stay alert in crowded areas, such as on public transportation, in bustling markets, and at popular monuments. Don't put valuable items in your back pocket or backpack, because you won't be able to see behind you. A money bag or other hidden pouch may be a good option, but if you do carry a purse, choose a cross-body bag that zips over a backpack, shoulder purse, or clutch. Bonus points for multiple zippered pockets within the bag—the more layers of protection, the better!