General Tips

It is important to remember that accidents and crime occur everywhere, every day—even on campus. Staying safe abroad often comes down to applying strategies to reduce exposure to risk or mitigate the impact of an event.

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Travelers, either novice or intrepid trekkers, should research destination information prior to booking and departing for international locations. It is critical to understand current events, culture, geography, and even the history of the country and region. Travelers should not assume that conditions remain static in foreign countries. Here are some resources to help inform travelers.

It is important to remain informed during travel. The best method to do so is registering in the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The benefits of STEP include:

  • Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
  • Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
  • Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
  • Bookmark our website and the International Safety & Security blog to quickly access important information and updates.

Packing smart consists of knowing what to bring and what to leave home. While your packing list may be more extensive, this list is focuses on safety and security considerations.

General Principles

  • Do not pack more than you can manage by yourself.
  • Leave expensive jewelry at home.
  • Clean out your wallet or purse before departure. Remove everything and set unnecessary items aside, including: voter registration and social security cards; extra credit cards; student identification card; etc. Bring only what is necessary.
  • Ensure that all bags or purses have a secure closure (zipper, zipper plus flap with clasp, etc.).

Health

  • Pack a small medical kit, with band aids, dressings, and anti-septic.
  • Keep prescriptions, supplements, and other medicines in original container with legible labels; get a prescription for the medication from your doctor.
  • Some countries may require a health certificate stating you have had yellow fever shot. Consult with your health care provider to receive this certificate.

Clothing

Plan your wardrobe so that it mirrors local expectations. Merely by being a visitor, locals may perceive you as wealthy. While you probably will not “blend in”, you can minimize extra attention.

  • Lightweight clothing to combine in layers.
  • A windproof and rainproof outer layer.
  • Sturdy but comfortable shoes if significant walking may be involved.
  • Footwear for showers and the ocean.
  • Headgear to protect against the sun or rain.

Other Items

  • Do not pack weapons or items that can be perceived as weapons, even in checked baggage. Some countries have very stringent laws on such items.
  • Research the electrical outlet type used in your destination country and purchase the appropriate power plug adapter or voltage converter.
  • Consider bring a phrase book, dictionary, and/or downloading a translation app.
  • Good sunscreen and anti-mosquito cream/gel. It is often cheaper to buy these goods in the U.S, plus the ingredients and effectiveness are known.
  • Small flashlight.
  • Sewing kit: needles, thread, buttons, patches.
  • Tiny mirror.
  • Small whistle for drawing attention in a crisis.
  • Ear plugs for sleeping or concentrating in noisy areas.
  • If possible, obtain local currency in small bills before departure. Remember, small shops and taxis may have difficulty making change (Keep your small bills when possible—because change is difficult, if local vendors see your small bills, they may ask you to pay the equivalent of a large bill in small denominations. Think twice before doing so.).
  • Consider how you will communicate while traveling and your plan for communicating with friends or family.
  • Check with your current cell phone provider to determine if your plan will work abroad and how much it will cost.
  • Consider buying or renting an unlocked phone that can be used overseas and then purchasing a sim card upon arrival.
  • Establish a plan for communicating with friends and family prior to departure and inform them ahead of time if you know you will deviate from the plan.
  • Verify that your lodging provides internet access.
  • Consider how you will make itinerary changes if required.
  • Does your ticket allow for changes?
  • Can you contact your travel agent or the parent company after office hours to make changes?
  • If you must make changes using a local agent, how will you pay?
  • Consider how you will receive medical care if required.
  • How will you find the nearest hospital or specialty provider? This should be an area of individual research prior to departure.
  • We strongly encourage all travelers to purchase a comprehensive international travel and health policy prior to departure. Most international health care facilities will not accept U.S. domestic health insurance, even if the insurance provides coverage. Additionally, the insurance will not usually cover medical evacuation costs if required. You should inquire with your provider regarding policy benefits and coverage amounts.

Generally, the same tips that travelers apply when visiting big cities in the U.S. also apply while traveling abroad. These actions include:

  • Trust your instincts. If something seems wrong, ask a local or depart the area (with others in your group, never alone).
  • Travel in a group of at least two people, preferably four or more in case the group needs or decides to separate. Agree to group plans before going out and keep the plan.
  • Walk with a purpose. Make eye contact with people but be cautious of people trying to gain your attention and stop you. Without being overly rude, keep moving.
  • Stay in well-lighted and populated areas. Avoid areas with overgrown bushes or other objects where people can hide. Do not take suspect shortcuts through alleys, side streets, or isolated or unlighted areas.
  • Do not wear or carry expensive jewelry or significant amounts of money. Limit the amount of cash or other valuables that you are carrying; ideally, carry only what you need for that day or excursion.
  • Consider carrying a “fake” wallet with the day’s money (above) in U.S. and local currency to provide in the event of a mugging.
  • Keep your valuables in a bag or close to your body.
  • Maintain awareness of what is happening around you. Use only one ear bud and do not focus on your smart phone or other handheld devices.
  • Increase your level of alertness in large crowds where pickpockets may operate. Carry your bags in front of you.
  • Observe how locals dress and mirror as appropriate. While you may not blend with locals, minimize standing out.
  • If traveling any distance at night, use a taxi. Restaurants, clubs, and hotels will usually be happy to call a taxi for you.
  • If you’re confronted by a thief, the police generally advise not to fight back as the robbers could be armed. Instead, stay calm and hand over that small amount of money that you’ve prepared for this possibility. However, you should read local travel advice to know or understand the risk.
  • Before going out, have a plan and follow it. ALWAYS go out and remain in a group.
  • Know your limit and stop before becoming drunk.
  • Never leave your drink(s) unattended.
  • Never accept a drink from a stranger.
  • Do not try to “keep up” with the locals when drinking.
  • Know the local attitude towards drinking and being drunk. In many cultures, being drunk in public is offensive and a crime that will land you in jail.
  • Make sure you know what you are being served. Avoid questionable beverages as some homemade or illegal alcohol can be dangerous.
  • Know customs regarding photographing people. Ask about special classes or categories of people, such as children, religious adherents or those living in a more traditional manner. If there is any question, always seek permission and err on the side of caution. Follow any program guidance you may be given.
  • Avoid photographing sensitive buildings or infrastructure, such as border areas, military installations, airports, or “utility” infrastructure.
  • Pay attention when taking “selfies” and avoid dangerous situations. Avoid culturally inappropriate or thoughtless poses.
  • Be careful what you share on social media, particularly while still in that country. Travelers are occasionally detained for their social media posts.
  • Consider how you will access money while abroad. Financial institutions in many countries do not accept traveler’s checks today. If ATMs are present, U.S. credit cards (Visa and MasterCard) will work in many countries, but fraud is always a risk.
  • Before travel, alert your bank and credit card companies that you will be abroad or your accounts may be frozen when the cards are used. You should also inquire regarding exchange rates and fees for using credit cards abroad.
  • If bringing newer U.S. currency, carry the most current “version” of the bills with no markings or discolorations. Bank, currency exchangers, hotels, and other businesses may refuse older or marked bills for fear of counterfeiting.
  • Pay with small bills or credit card whenever possible.
  • Only exchange currency at official locations; unofficial or “black market” transactions are usually illegal and may lead to arrest. Such transactions are also more prone to lead to crime.
  • Try to use ATMS inside a building. Bring a travel companion when using an ATM and keep watch for each other.
  • Shield your hand when entering your PIN at a bank ATM.
  • Check for obvious signs of skimmers being attached to an ATM before use.

Remember, petty criminals often seek the easiest “mark” or victim. If you make yourself harder to target than those around you, the odds of being robbed decrease. This is one aspect where it is good to stand out from the crowd.