The recent cluster of tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic has raised concerns about the safety of international travel. While the specifics behind those deaths are still being investigated, there are some general steps you can take regardless of where you're traveling to help you and your family stay safe.
Attorney Loni Coombs has some advice for staying secure when you're on the road.
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Travel safety starts before you ever leave home. "The very first thing you want to do is research where you're going to," Coombs said. There are a number of resources that can fill you in on the relative safety of the places you're looking to visit. A good place to start is the website for the U.S. State Department, where you'll find safety information on every country in the world.
There are also some clever ways to use the internet for information, like looking at other people's pictures from the location on social media or using Google Maps' street view to get an accurate view of your hotel. "Sometimes you're looking at the PR photos and you think 'Oh, this is a safe area' and maybe it's not," Coombs said.
Don't be a tourist target
We all know the cliché of the bumbling tourist: camera around the neck, map in hand, confused look, heavy backpack, etc. Presenting this image makes you a target for thieves. "You don't want to stand out like 'I'm a tourist. Here I am,'" Coombs said. Try to dress in a way that doesn't make you stand out. Only bring what you need for that day. Look up where you're going ahead of time and step into a safe place if you need to check a map.
One unexpected place you're vulnerable when you travel is online. Public wifi is extremely vulnerable to hacking. Even internet cafes are prime targets for identity thieves. It's best to limit your internet use or find a more secure location if you have to do anything sensitive like banking. One trick is to schedule any online payments you need to make before you leave so you don't have to log into your bank account or credit cards while you're on the road.
Be careful with alcohol
"Being a tourist makes you a target, but if you're a drunk tourist, you're really going to be in trouble," Coombs said. It's also important not to assume that your normal drinking level at home will have the same result when you're abroad. Things like jet lag or altitude can have a major effect on your level of intoxication. Also the amount of alcohol in any given drink can be wildly different to the mix you're used to.
Protect your belongings
It may seem obvious, but minding your belongings is a crucial part of travel safety. Often, the most important thing lost isn't a camera or wallet, but critical documents you might be stranded without. "Take photographs of your itinerary, your tickets, your immunization records and mail them to yourself," Coombs said. As a general rule, it's important to make sure you have your eyes on your stuff at all times, even when you're carrying it with you. "Don't put anything behind you. Not in your back pocket. Not in your backpack," Coombs said.