Global Health Center

Steps You Can Take to Travel More Safely

Prepare for emergencies before they happen

Know how to react 

International SOS can help you deal with an emergency, but you need to remove yourself from any danger first (e.g., by getting yourself out of the building if there's a fire)

It can be hard to know how to react if you've never thought about it before

  • Don't think, "That won't happen to me." 
  • Take this approach instead: "If it happens to me, I can keep myself safe."

Consider in advance the possibility of various emergencies occurring during your travel and how to react

Consider plausible emergencies 

  • An earthquake?
  • Fire?
  • Being mugged?
  • Getting sick?
  • What else?

Then ask yourself questions... 

  • If there were a fire in my residence, can I escape through my window?
  • How many doors in the hallway to the nearest exit?
  • What would I do I'm trapped in my room?

or

  • What would I do if I were mugged as I walk home from class?
  • What would be my nearest escape route?
  • Where could I go to be safe and contact the police?

or

  • If there were a natural disaster and my city were in chaos, who would I call?
  • How would I know if I should stay or leave the country? How would I find transportation to the nearest embassy if I needed it?
  • If needed, could my hotel or residence supply me with food and water for a couple days?

Build confidence 

It may seem silly to think about these possibilities, but occasionally they do happen

  • You're preparing yourself to stay calm and act quickly in an emergency!
  • Eventually, you'll feel safer and more confident
 

Manage cash needs safely

Before leaving home 

Tell your bank and credit card companies that you'll be traveling

  • Ask if they charge foreign transaction fees
  • Ask if you'll need a PIN to make purchases abroad

Clean out your wallet or purse

  • Take only the credit cards and ID you will need

Exchange some cash to your destination's currency to last the first few days

Find out if traveler's checks are a viable option or if you should rely on a debit card and ATMs to obtain cash

While you're abroad 

At ATMs be especially aware of your surroundings

  • If you become distracted, cancel your transaction and walk away
  • Use a reputable company or bank to exchange money
  • Keep only the cash you need for the day in your purse or wallet
  • Don't carry more cash than you can afford to lose
  • Split up larger sums of cash, with the largest sum preferably in a money belt
  • Don't reach into your money belt in public – go to a bathroom or private area
 

Learn the do's and don'ts of transportation

Driving or renting a vehicle 

It's highly recommended that you use public transportation, taxis, or contract with a transportation service instead of renting or driving a vehicle.  If organizing group travel, 12- and 15-passenger vans are not allowed due to their high rate of rollover crashes

Taxi Safety 

  • Travel only in locally licensed and authorized taxis
  • Ask someone to call a taxi for you until you know what the taxis should look like
  • Wear a seatbelt if available
  • Don't get into a taxi with another person already in it
  • If the taxi driver is driving too fast or recklessly, ask him or her to slow down, or end the ride and get out if it's safe
  • Get any luggage from the trunk before paying 
  • Try to agree upon an approximate cost for the taxi ride before getting in the vehicle
  • Especially if you are unfamiliar with the area, if  there's no meter, or if the driver doesn't start the meter
  • Ask a local friend or acquaintance for help until you know how much the trip should cost
 

Understand the culture and risks around alcohol, illegal drug use, and nightlife

Alcohol and culture 

Know the culture around alcohol in your destination

  • Is drinking socially acceptable? Is public intoxication?
  • What are the penalties for public intoxication or drinking and driving?

Don't leave drinks unattended and don't accept a drink that has already been opened.  This advice pertains to women and men! 

Alcohol is involved in most arrests, accidents, violent crimes, rapes, and deaths suffered by American students

Illegal drugs 

You are subject to the drug laws of your host country

  • Einstein, the U.S. government, or your own government will likely not be able to negotiate your release
  • Penalties for drug possession may be severe 

Nightlife 

If you enjoy the nightlife during your travels, do so safely:

  • Know the areas to avoid late at night
  • Always go out with people you trust, in pairs or small groups, then watch out for one another
  • Never walk home alone
 

Observe protests from a distance

Observe and learn, and make smart decisions 

Protests provide a unique opportunity to learn about the culture, politics, and current affairs of a country

  • Realize that protests can be volatile and turn violent quickly

Observe protests from a safe distance so you're not mistaken for being involved (by police or other protesters)

Documenting a protest 

Be aware of local laws, customs, and regulations regarding documenting the protest

  • You can be arrested for taking pictures or videos or recording your observations
  • You may also put the protesters in danger
 

What to do if you're arrested

If you are arrested 

Then, call International SOS.

While in custody 

For U.S. citizens, a consular officer:

  • can help you find legal representation and monitor the conditions of your detention
  • cannot provide bail money or arrange for free legal aid

Do not admit to wrongdoing or sign anything

Do not agree to help your detainer

 

Educate yourself about local culture and customs

In general, keep a low profile 

Clothing 

  • Learn what is customary for professional workplaces, government buildings, or religious/holy sites
  • Don't wear clothes that announce your affiliation with Einstein or that you're a foreigner
  • Don't wear expensive-looking jewelry – even if it's fake

Exercise 

  • Learn if it's appropriate or safe to exercise outdoors and in public spaces

Tactful conversations 

  • Be careful when discussing contentious topics (e.g., religion, politics) with strangers; be discreet and sensitive to those around you

Photography 

  • Learn if it's legal or appropriate to take photos of people, monuments, government or military buildings/personnel, or religious/holy sites
 

Practice smart personal safety habits

Before you go 

In your residence 

Whenever possible:

  • Make sure your home, residence, or room has a working smoke detector
  • When you arrive, figure out a possible escape route or routes in case there is a fire
  • Make sure door and window locks work
  • Take a small flashlight and keep it handy

When out and about 

  • Be careful when sharing information about your lodging, travel plans, or your travel companions (including Facebook and Twitter posts, especially if you are adding new acquaintances)
  • Keep your cell phone at least 50% charged and don't let your SIM card balance get too low
  • If you are mugged, always do what the mugger says:  your belongings are never worth more than your life
  • Don't hitchhike – as mentioned, if you wouldn't do it at home, don't do it while traveling
  • If you're being kidnapped, do anything (without risking your life) to avoid being taken to a second location
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