We're told the world is a scary place. That there are terrorists or drug cartels waiting, just outside of airports, hotels and so on, ready to rob, kidnap or kill us in other countries. And when that's not the case, we might be told it's dirty, or people will be rude to you because you're an American.
Only a little over one-third of Americans have a passport, compared to nearly three-quarters of Australians and Brits. Much of the reason behind that is fear (and lack of funding, of course).
If fear has been holding you back, you should know that much of the world is quite safe to travel in. In fact, in rankings based on "crime/homicide rates and drugs and crime, likelihood of terrorism and terrorism casualties, police force effectiveness, costs of security within the country on business, reliability of protection services, rates of property crime and violence," as SafeDestinations.com notes, it's the U.S. that looks a lot more scary, ranking at No. 73 of the safest countries to travel, below Albania, Bahrain and Kazakhstan. View the entire list here: Safe Countries For Travel
Are there any surprises? Which countries did you think were probably safest, and which did you think would be more dangerous?
You also might be surprised to learn that many Europeans I've met are actually afraid to travel in the U.S. because of gun violence and other issues.
It's time to give up that notion that we can only travel safely at home - the key, no matter where you travel, and whether or not you travel alone, is to follow a few common sense safety tips.
The first thing you should do, even before purchasing those airline tickets, is to check for travel warnings, alerts and particular requirements in your desired destination by visiting travel.state.gov. Here you can also learn about local customs and laws, medical care and visa requirements. Some foreign destinations require you to have certain vaccinations, so you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of time to take care of that in advance, if necessary.
Make copies of important documents
Make electronic copies of all your important documents before you leave, including a copy of your passport, visas if necessary, driver’s license, medical insurance card, travel insurance and immunization record, if applicable. By scanning these items you can email the file to yourself so you can access it easily on the road should any of the paperwork become damaged or misplaced.
What not to bring
Although it’s a good idea to avoid bringing valuables no matter where you go, it’s especially important when heading to poorer countries where there may be a greater threat of having items stolen. There’s really no need to bring all of that shiny, sparkling jewelry with you anyway. While you may think you look like an icon of style, to con-artists and criminals, you’re a great target. If you must bring it, keep it in a hotel safe and take it out only for special occasions.
The key is to not look like a tourist, but to be confident, and fit in with the local crowd as much as you can – it makes for a more authentic experience too.
Research your destination
Before you go, take time to get to know your destination by doing some research online. Find out if there are any areas you should avoid. You may also want to review a map of the area to make it easier to get your bearings when you arrive. Take note of the nearest U.S. embassy and carry those contact details with you, in English as well as the local language in case of emergency.
Be aware of common scams and be prepared for pickpockets
Before you go, do some research into common scams – for example, in Rome thieves may try to distract you by offering to take your photo with a parakeet, once the bird is on your shoulder, they’ll make off with your purse or wallet. Pickpocketing is common in many big cities around the world, which means you should never keep anything in your back pocket, like your cell phone, hotel room keys or wallet. Women should keep their purses around their neck, and not over their shoulder.
Give Someone a Copy of Your Itinerary
At least one person back home should have a copy of your itinerary. Then be sure to update them by email, social media status updates, or phone, so that they know you're safe and happy. If for some reason they don't hear from you, they'll at least have an idea as to where you last were and where you're headed.
Get a Global Data Plan For Your Phone
Being able to use your phone while you're abroad is a great way to stay safe - you'll easily be able to use it if you get lost, for example - and you'll also be able to stay in touch with people back home easier too. These days staying connected is cheaper than ever before, so there's no reason not to have a working cell phone with you.
Listen to Your Gut
If it doesn't feel right don't do it. Your intuition is one of the best things you have when it comes to staying safe.
Following these tips and simply using common sense, can help ensure that you enjoy the best possible, incident-free experience.