International Travel

Staying Safe When Traveling Abroad

Traveling internationally can be an incredible experience for you and your family.  Crossing the borders of the U.S. can open up your kids to the larger world around them and teach them a tremendous amount about other cultures, ethnicities, and ways of living.

Any time you are traveling, no matter the destination, there’s a certain level of awareness and caution you should exercise to make sure you and your family stay out of harm’s way.  Basically, keep your wits about you and do what you do best – protect your baby cub(s).

International travel is no exception to the rule of general caution, but does include some additional safety considerations you might not encounter, or at least not as much, if you were traveling domestically.  Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you globe-trot with your tribe:

Research your destination.  

Many international destinations present the same typical safety concerns as any city in the U.S., except with the complication of being in a foreign land and often times speaking a foreign language.  With language barriers added into unfamiliar territory, it’s much easier to accidentally wander into an area that should be avoided. It’s crucial to be well educated on your travels and fortunately you have the world’s resources at your fingertips to help you safely plan your next adventure: Google, TripAdvisor, WikiTravel, government websites, message boards, other blogs, my blog, and on and on.  USE THESE. There is virtually nothing you can’t find online.

Know the travel advisories for your destination.

Included in the laundry list of online resources is the U.S. Department of State website (click here) where you can find every official worldwide travel advisory issued by the U.S. government along with a country-specific detailed report of the advisory.  From crime, to terrorism, to poor infrastructure, riots, and piracy, you will find the nitty gritty laid out for you here, down to the neighborhoods and specific streets to avoid. Read more detailed information about travel advisories on my Travel Advisory page (click here).

Create an emergency plan before departing.

Emergency planning is such a buzzkill.  It’s one of those plans you pray you never have to use, but without one in place you could land in some serious hot water if poop hits the fan.  You should have copies of your passports, U.S. consulate information, health insurance information, and the latest travel advisories with you at all times.  Someone back home should have these documents too, in additional to a rough idea of your itinerary. Emergency planning is an important process, so be sure to read more detailed information on what this should look like for you and your family on my Emergency Planning page (found here).  Domestic hot water is bad enough; you certainly don’t want to end up in foreign hot water with your kiddos.

Don’t display overt signs of wealth.

Being an international tourist already makes you more of a target for theft.  Think about it. Most people who visit tourist destinations and landmarks aren’t those who actually live in those cities or neighborhoods; they’re people who have paid money to travel there, and sometimes a lot of it.  A criminal’s theory is that if you had the money to get over there in the first place then you have the money on you, too. Leave your Coach purse at home. Tuck your Apple Watch safely away somewhere out of sight. Don’t carry too much cash on you at once and for goodness sake, don’t whip out a huge wad of it when you go to pay for something.

Keep your belongings in front of you at all times, especially in crowded tourist areas.  Thieves LOOOOVE tourist areas.  Part of the magic of traveling and seeing new things is being present in the moment, which means you may not always be present with your stuff.  And also, when you’re waiting in line or squished in with other people an “accidental” jostle on the back or elbow seems like a perfectly natural and harmless thing to happen.  The meanies will exploit all of this and swipe your wallet or phone before you even know what hit you. When you’re in a crowded area make sure all wallets and cell phones are out of pockets and either in hands (risky) or safely stowed away in your bag (better).  When you’re taking pictures and doing touristy things or chasing your kids around, it’s easy to lose awareness of your belongings. Always carry your purse, bag, or backpack on your chest or in front of you instead of behind you. This will make theft and pickpocketing much harder and criminals will quickly lose interest.  They’re looking for a quick, easy target. Make it hard for them!

Use cash or credit cards ONLY.

Do not, and I repeat DO NOT EVER use your debit card abroad unless it’s an absolute emergency.  Using your debit card or any other card with a direct link to your bank account serves as an open door to clean you out entirely if these card numbers are stolen.  This kind of theft would be unpleasant with a credit card too, but at least your cash would still be protected. Even if you think you’ll keep a careful eye on your belongings, don’t risk it.  This type of theft frequently happens when a card skimmer is implanted into the device you are using to swipe your card for payment. They’re almost impossible to spot. The card skimmer scans your card numbers and the rest is history…along with all your money.  

RFID is up to you.

Warnings have been issued against criminals roaming around with actual scanners, or RFID skimmers.  These skimmers are strong enough to scan your card numbers through the walls of your wallet or pocket.  There’s some debate on how often this actually happens, but if you are concerned about it you can purchase a special RFID blocking wallet for a fairly reasonable price.  Thank you, Amazon!

Communicate with your bank(s) and credit card companies before departure.

To protect you from theft, many bank and credit card companies will freeze your card if a random purchase from Italy or Mexico shows up and they don’t know about it beforehand.  Sometimes you won’t even know your card has been frozen until you try to buy something and can’t = stressful. Call them in advance to let them know where you’ll be and when and they’ll note it in your account.

In a nutshell: know where the rough neighborhoods are and stay out of them, don’t travel to a country in the middle of a civil war, know what you’ll do in case of an emergency, don’t flash your cash, keep your belongings in front of you, and don’t use your debit card.  Oh, and your kids…don’t lose sight of them either. Stay safe, mamas!

If you’re worried about RFID skimmers but don’t want to spend the money on a special wallet, a few layers of tin foil will also do the trick.