Former attorney Elizabeth Avery has visited 54 countries in the past 25-plus years. During her international travel, she’s experienced plenty of slippery situations, from run-ins with pickpockets to near misses with low-grade civil wars, deadly wildlife and medical quarantine zones.
“Travelers can unwittingly find themselves in threatening situations, even in relatively safe countries,” says Avery, who currently resides in Washington, D.C., and is founder and president of Solo Trekker 4 U, an Internet company that connects those traveling alone for business or leisure with luxury hotels and top tours.
If you have your wallet pick-pocked while traveling in a high-crime city in a foreign country, you can have a friend or family member send a money transfer online via a service like Western Union. Using a provider that offers a wide-variety of currencies can come in handy if an emergency strikes in a country with a currency that is hard to access from other foreign exchange providers.
The following suggestions can help you stay confident and safe while traveling abroad:
1. Research Potential Risks
The U.S. State Department is a good first stop, as it publishes international travel information on virtually every country in the world. It provides travel warnings, which advise about more serious long-term conflicts like unstable governments and civil wars, and issues alerts for short-term events that may pose a risk, such as unstable national elections or health outbreaks.
2. Find a Local Travel Guide
Find a vetted local travel guide who speaks the language and understands the culture, Avery says, like an independent concierge or tour operator who can act as an interpreter and leverage their local relationships in the event of an emergency. Ask the hotel to arrange tours, taxis and guides if you need help.
3. Pack Smart
Along with locating local assistance, Avery recommends dividing money and credit cards between multiple suitcases so pickpockets and thieves can’t steal all the money at once.
Michael J. Kelly, CEO of medical, travel and security assistance company On Call International, recommends making multiple photocopies of important travel documents like a passport, visa and itinerary. You can leave the originals secured in the hotel room safe and additional copies in your luggage.
4. Stay in Touch
Make sure to pre-arrange regular communications with someone at home, either by phone, text, email or Skype. Chang also suggests bringing a pre-paid satellite phone for reliable mobile coverage in unreliable areas. If you miss your check-in appointment, the contact at home will know that something is wrong and be able to alert authorities.
For the same reason, it’s important to communicate and inform the U.S. State Department of travel plans via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, Chang says.
5. Be Vigilant
Finally, it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings and avoid walking in remote areas. “If you find yourself on a dark street at night in a remote city and a problem occurs, there’s nothing better than a nice, shrill whistle,” says Avery, who always carries a sailing whistle on her keychain when traveling.