The Essential Guide to Travel Safety

Table Of Contents

    In a post-pandemic era, the travel industry is slowly regaining its momentum after being brought to its knees. International arrivals were soaring for nearly four decades, culminating in a staggering 1.5 billion in 2019. Then, the world stood still as COVID-19 forced borders to close, leaving 2020 marked as the "worst year in tourism history." However, there's a glimmer of hope shining through the darkness – global tourism has rebounded, with 2022 witnessing a resurgence that more than doubled international tourist arrivals compared to the previous two years.

    Embarking on an adventure in a foreign land can be both thrilling and daunting, as it presents its own unique set of challenges. How do you navigate the unknown and ensure your safety while immersing yourself in unfamiliar cultures? That's where we come in.

    Welcome to our comprehensive guide to traveling the globe with confidence and resilience. Our mission is to equip you with the essential tools needed to confront any situation life throws your way, ensuring your time in a new country remains an unforgettable experience. Within these pages, we'll explore a wealth of safety tips, empowering strategies, and invaluable insights. From practical advice on personal security to culturally sensitive etiquette, we'll cover it all. Our intention is to arm you with the knowledge to thrive, no matter where your wanderlust takes you. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

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    Is this location safe?

    Before you decide to travel to a new country, a big question that you will probably consider is whether or not this place is safe. But where should you go to find out?

    Here are four different resources you can consult

    Government Warning Lists

    Crime Maps and Statistics

    Online Forums, Travel Bloggers and Social Media

    Personal Safety Apps like Vigilios

    Government Warning Lists

    If you are looking for official government information about a foreign country you intend to visit, you may have already come across your government’s warning lists. Each country’s government has warning lists relating to how safe it is to travel to a particular country. For example, the UK has their Foreign Travel Advice Site.

    The issue with "country dashboards"...

    However, these sites can list an entire country as unsafe based on trouble in just one minor region. For example Mexico could be assessed entirely differently by four different countries (Austria, Germany, UK and US) in terms of how safe it is to visit the country. See our detailed examination of the differences between safety assessments by different governments here:

    How different governments assess country risks differently

    In this series of articles we examine how countries are assessed quite differently by different governments.

    Read More: One country - four perspectives

    In conclusion, take your time and closely examine the warnings issued by your country as one of the available resources. While a severe warning should be duly considered, it is equally important to consider additional resources to assess the warning.

    Crime Maps and Statistics

    There are quite a few pages on the internet that can offer you detailed crime statistics right down to a local postcode. You can find detailed crime statistics for your local neighborhood in the US or the UK and other English-speaking countries. For example, ADT, a home security systems company offers the Crime in my Area tracker, that will show you crime statistics based on a UK postcode. In the US, you can access FBI Crime Data Explorer to get the same type of information about areas across the US.

    However, there are a few things to consider when it comes to such crime maps and statistics.

    1. Not all countries offer these statistics

    There is no standardized global way of reporting crime, so the date you need may not even be publicly available or not in such detail. In addition, not every country has companies or institutions with the capacity to set up crime tracker databases.

    2. Language barrier

    If you are not traveling to a country whose official language is English, you will probably struggle to get really detailed crime statistics for the area you are traveling to.

    3. Statistics are not everything

    Figures may tell one story but the situation on the ground can be entirely different. In many cases, crimes may go unreported for a number of reasons such as shame or worries of appearing complicit. And even when crimes are reported, they do not necessarily make it into the final database of the local authorities publishing the overarching national statistics.

    Therefore it is fair to say that while Crime Maps can give you a general indication of what to expect, they should not be your only source of information.

    Online Forums, Travel Bloggers and Social Media

    The internet is a treasure trove of information; this we all know. So why not leverage this? There are a number of online forums, and we include the Couchsurfing website in that category, where you can ask the world wide web for information and see what you get back.

    You can also consider contacting travel bloggers with your questions. After all, they are the pros and have a vast pool of knowledge and experience to draw from, so they can probably give you a detailed insight into your destination.

    When selecting the bloggers to contact, make sure to consider their geographical focus – have they traveled mostly in Africa, Europe or Asia? Find the specialists in your intended area to be sure to get the most detailed and accurate information.

    Furthermore, travel bloggers cater to a diverse range of needs and preferences. There is the adventurous solo traveler, who embraces a nomadic lifestyle on a shoestring budget, seeking unique experiences and off-the-beaten-path destinations. Then there is the family of four, opting for a campervan rental to accommodate their toddlers, allowing them to embark on family-friendly adventures while enjoying the convenience of a mobile home. Additionally, there are bloggers who focus on luxury travel, showcasing extravagant resorts, fine dining experiences, and indulgent spa treatments, catering to those seeking opulence and refined experiences.

    These various examples highlight the vast array of travel bloggers who provide valuable insights and inspiration for different travel styles and preferences. It has to be said, however, that these travelers’ insights can be quite anecdotal and biased. Furthermore, as we mentioned above, your experience could differ greatly from another person’s based on your preferences, needs and personality. It is therefore smart to consider a number of different sources.

    What is more, climbing your way through endless group discussions and countless personal blogs takes a lot of time and energy. And in the end you will still not have one convenient location that collects all of your safety information. It is definitely not the most time efficient method of researching safety at your destination.

    Which brings us to the final segment of this particular topic: Safety Apps.

    Personal Safety Apps like Vigilios

    With smartphones being with us for most of our lives and certainly accompanying us on exciting trips abroad, there are also very useful safety apps that can give you a feel for the level of safety you can expect in any country you are considering to visit.

    The Vigilios app offers country profiles that include helpful and reliable information on the level of safety at your destination as well as helpful safety tips to ensure you can enjoy your trip without experiencing any safety issues.

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    Well then, you have scoped out your destination and are already packing your bags? This takes us on to the next part of our journey – one, people can experience in varying degrees. We are talking about pre-travel anxiety.

    Travel Anxiety

    What is travel anxiety?

    You’ve applied for time off work and booked the plane ticket? Or have you quit your job and hired the movers?

    Whether it is just a short trip or a longer time abroad, at some point during the preparation stage you are highly likely to experience conflicting emotions about your upcoming trip. Are you fretting about missing events your friends and family are talking about? Are you worried about finances? Did someone make a negative comment about safety at your destination? Or are you straight up scared you are making a colossal mistake?

    Then you are probably experiencing pre-travel anxiety. In more serious cases, you may even be leaning towards calling off the trip or move altogether.

    Don’t fret too much. This is something that happens even to experienced travelers. If you suffer from pre-travel anxiety, we have a detailed breakdown of what may be causing it and how you can deal with it right here.

    Read here more about what to do when you experience pre-travel anxiety.

    Overcoming Travel Anxiety

    Anxiety is not something uncontrollable. Once you have figured out what exactly triggers your anxiety, you can try your best to take into consideration your triggers when planning your next adventure.

    Preparation is Key: Important Steps to Take before your Travel

    Prior to embarking on your next adventure, it is advisable to tick some practical to dos off of your list. This goes beyond simply ensuring that your passport is valid. We have compiled an ultimate pre-trip safety checklist to assist you in this endeavor and ensure a hassle-free journey.

    1. Let your bank know where you will be

    If your card is suddenly swiped in a country at the other end of the world, your bank may quickly get suspicious and freeze it just to be sure it has not been compromised. This can leave you in a very stressful situation stuck in a foreign country without access to any money besides the cash you have with you. Therefore, it is a good idea to call up your bank and give them a heads up, so they do not block your card as a precaution and leave you stranded.

    2. Make copies of your travel documents

    Getting your passport stolen or losing it during a trip is not an unrealistic scenario. Losing your passport in a foreign country is, simply put, a bureaucratic nightmare. You will need to prove to the authorities that you are who you say you are and that you have the citizenship of the country you claim you do.

    This is why it is a good choice to keep a physical copy of your passport on your person, though always separate from the original document. Another option is to have a scan of the document stored online in a way you can easily access it, i.e. send an email with the picture attached or store it in cloud services. By providing the authorities with this backup copy, the process to get a new passport issued should become a lot quicker and easier.

    3. Leave your itinerary and insurance paper copies with someone you trust

    While you are not planning on being involved in an accident that would leave you unconscious or otherwise incapacitated, it is a good idea to provide someone you trust back in your home country with all your travel details such as itinerary and accommodation as well as a copy of the travel insurance you picked to cover you for your particular trip.

    4. Select the most sensible phone plan

    Having access to the internet while on the go is a must when trying to safely navigate a foreign country. How are you going to book Ubers or find your way home otherwise?

    As Wifi coverage is never guaranteed, and some countries do not offer free Wifi in restaurants or at public places, you do want to make sure you are connected even when you leave the safety of your hotel.

    It is therefore worth spending some time figuring out whether it makes more financial sense to simply unlock your regular SIM card for international roaming and calls or whether getting a local SIM card is the less expensive option (it usually is).

    There is good news for the European residents among us. If you are using an EU SIM card and traveling within the EU, your roaming usually counts exactly the same as the mobile internet in the EU country where you live.

    So, you’ve got the lowdown on what to prepare, let’s dive deeper into the different types of accommodation.

    Which type of accommodation is the safest?

    Naturally, an important part of your trip will involve finding the right accommodation. Nowadays there are many more options available when it comes to short-term accommodation for travelers. You can take your pick between low-budget hostels, five-star hotels and Airbnbs for a more local feel. But when it comes to safety, which of these options is the best?

    We have a detailed breakdown for you on how to stay safe in each type of accommodation and what to consider in terms of safety when choosing among the three. Find all the information you need here:

    Safe accommodations

    Your Health Abroad

    Our health is the most important asset we have. Traveling abroad comes with its very own set of new challenges when it comes to maintaining our health. That can be an illness that we have never encountered in our home country. Or the altitude during a hike we are not prepared to.

    1. Buy a travel insurance

    One thing you really need to do when picking your insurance is to read the fine print. In this case, as tempting as it is, simply clicking the OK button on the terms & conditions could turn into a costly mistake. Why is this? Travel insurance deals do tend to come with a couple of caveats.

    Insurance Tip

    Get a pre-existing medical condition exclusion waiver from the insurance company.

    Do you have asthma? Or diabetes? Then it is a very good idea to make sure your travel insurance provider signs a pre-existing medical condition exclusion waiver. Having a pre-existing medical condition can significantly impact travel insurance coverage otherwise. If you experience health issues related to your condition during your trip and do not have a pre-existing medical condition exclusion waiver, your travel insurance may not cover your medical expenses.

    Travel insurance companies often review medical records during the claims process and may deny coverage if they find a history of the condition within a specific "look-back period" preceding the policy purchase. However, if you have a waiver in place, you can be reimbursed for various medical expenses if your condition worsens during your trip.

    Keep in mind that different insurance companies have varying definitions of pre-existing conditions, that is why we recommend carefully reviewing the details and terms of these waivers as well.

    2. Check and update your vaccinations

    Since different regions may pose specific health risks such as infectious diseases, foodborne illnesses, or wildlife that transmits diseases not existent in your home country, you want to see a healthcare professional before traveling to make sure you have all the necessary vaccinations. On the Vigilios App you will find an overview of all required vaccinations for your selected destination.

    3. Have a notice from your doctor if you are carrying havy-duty medication

    As the Brittney Griner case of 2022 very clearly illustrates, you need to watch out when taking certain medications or remedies across borders. The WNBA basketball player was arrested upon trying to enter Russia due to the fact she was allegedly carrying cannabis oil. She was sentenced to nine years in prison but managed to return home to the US in a prisoner swap after a few months.

    That is why, if you plan on traveling for longer and are taking serious medication from home, the best idea is to carry a note from your doctor with proof that this medication is necessary and only for your personal use.

    4. Find the medical facilities in your destination and learn how they work

    Did you know that getting sick during international travel is actually pretty common? While the percentage tends to vary drastically depending on which study you look at, some studies say around half and even up to >80% of individuals will get sick during an international trip.

    That is why when traveling to a new destination, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the medical facilities available in that area and understand how they operate. Start by researching and identifying the hospitals, clinics, and healthcare centers in your destination. Learn about the healthcare system in the country you are visiting, as it may differ from what you are accustomed to. Additionally, check if your travel insurance covers medical expenses and understand the procedures for seeking reimbursement or direct billing.

    In the Vigilios App you will find all this information – from detailed descriptions on region-specific medical & health services to the list of all relevant emergency contact numbers, including local emergency services.

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    Being prepared and informed about medical facilities in your destination will help you navigate any health-related issues with greater ease and ensure you receive the necessary care, should the need arise.

    5. Keep food and drink safety in mind

    You can’t wait to try out all the exciting new foods at your travel destination but are also a little bit worried about encountering the nightmare that is traveler’s diarrhea? Although it's impossible to eliminate the risk of food poisoning and the like entirely, you can significantly lower the chances of getting sick from unclean food or drinks by making smart and safe choices when it comes to what you consume.

    When it comes to food, you want to go for cooked ingredients to be on the safe side. Intense heat does a great job of wiping out harmful germs, which is why food that's cooked thoroughly and served hot is generally safe to eat. However, be cautious when it comes to dishes that have been cooked and left to cool down to lukewarm or room temperature, such as you might encounter at a buffet, as there is a risk of contamination.

    Since most germs that can make you sick thrive in moist and oxygen-rich environments, dry foods like nuts, bread, and potato chips are usually safe to consume. With packaged foods, make sure the factory-sealed container remains unopened and the seal is intact.

    You’ll want to steer clear of consuming most raw foods. Some raw fruits or vegetables can be safe to eat if you take certain precautions, such as peeling them yourself or thoroughly washing them using bottled or disinfected water. Using tap water to wash your food can introduce additional risks as the water may be contaminated. If you are unsure whether the produce has been washed, or if it's not a peelable fruit you probably want to avoid it altogether.

    Pay extra attention to items like fruit and vegetable platters, fresh-squeezed juice, salads, fresh salsas, and condiments. These foods have the potential to harbor harmful bacteria and other germs that can lead to illness if they have been left out in the air for a longer period of time.

    While street food can be a big part of the culinary culture in your destination, you should approach it with caution. Street vendors often operate under different food safety regulations compared to restaurants. If you decide to indulge in street food, it's essential to avoid raw or undercooked dishes.

    When it comes to drinks, sealed beverages like water, juice, and soda are generally considered safe to consume. Carbonated drinks are usually the safest option since the presence of bubbles indicates that the bottle or can has been properly sealed. Steer clear of unpasteurized milk and dairy products and avoid drinking tap water, unless you can be 100% certain that it is safe for drinking (the safest option is to avoid it either way). If you are sensitive to contaminated water, using bottled water to brush your teeth can be a good idea in some locations.

    As ice is typically made from tap water, you want to avoid it in all beverages. Even in mixed drinks, the alcohol content might not be high enough to kill bacteria present in the ice, so do yourself a favor and stay ice-free.

    If you do end up with a bout of diarrhea, make sure to drink a lot of bottled water in order to stay hydrated, as dehydration can seriously damage your health. You can also consider taking Imodium or coal tablets to reduce the severity of your symptoms.

    Enjoy your Travels and Stay Safe

    Hopefully this guide has provided you with an overview on what steps to take for a secure journey. One important safety companion we think you should not miss out on is the Vigilios Safety App. With both real-time safety alerts and in-depth safety advice about your destination, this app can help you stay safe by combining all the important information in a single, easy-to-access place. So don’t forget your safety companion on your next trip!

    If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to contact us at

A profile picture of Ana-Marija Autischer
by Ana-Marija Autischer
The visionary Founder & CEO of Vigilios, where her extensive research into travel safety over the past two years has positioned her at the forefront of the industry. With a keen eye for innovation, she translates complex safety concepts into practical advice for travelers worldwide.

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