Health and Safety Abroad

It is important to plan ahead on your health and safety abroad, especially when traveling alone or to a new country. However, taking a few simple precautions can go a long way! Read on to discover some of my favorite tips and resources for staying healthy and safe while traveling!

STEP: Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free government service allowing U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Through this program, you will receive (via email) the latest safety and security information for your destination country. Registering for STEP also enables the U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you in case of an emergency (natural disaster, civil unrest or family crisis) and could assist if an evacuation becomes necessary. Click here to enroll with STEP before you leave on your trip!

Health Insurance Abroad

If your health insurance covers international travel, you should print an international claim form to bring with you and keep scanned copies accessible on your phone or in your email. If you go to the doctor’s abroad, they will need to fill out this form during your visit. It’s also a good idea to carry photos or copies of your health insurance card with you while traveling.

And if your health insurance doesn’t cover foreign travel, you may want to consider getting short-term travelers insurance. If you are traveling with an organization or program, check to see if they offer any medical coverage while you are abroad. Allianz Global Assistance is the largest travel insurance company, and its size enables it to process claims quickly for a lower cost than many other providers. Travelex is also a great option, with reliable service and great coverage.

Immunizations / Vaccines

Vaccines are an essential tool for protecting both your own health and of those around you. Click here to visit the US government CDC website for travelers, which information about recommended vaccines by country, health tips, and more. Note that some countries require proof of vaccinations against certain diseases (i.e. Yellow Fever) in order to enter the country, so be sure to look this up before you leave!

You can get immunized at your doctor’s office or at a travel clinic (most chain pharmacies have travel clinics at many of their locations). Keep in mind that many dangerous mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue fever and zika, do not yet have a vaccine. For this reason, a strong and effective mosquito repellent is highly recommended for tropical destinations!

Prescriptions: Health and Safety Abroad

If you take any prescription medications, it’s a good idea to bring a paper copy of your prescription. If it’s a controlled substance (like Adderall), you should bring a note from your doctor confirming you need the medication. Be sure to obtain enough of your prescription medication to last the duration of your trip, as attempting to refill medications abroad can be incredibly difficult if not impossible. Ask your doctor for a “vacation override,” which permits many insurance companies to cover the extended-length prescriptions.

Harassment: Health and Safety Abroad

Click here to read an entire blog post dedicated to this topic, but here are some tips to start! Unabashed stares and cat calls are the most common forms of harassment while traveling, especially for a woman walking alone. The perpetrators of harassment are the only individuals who can prevent it from happening. However, there are strategies that travelers can employ for mitigating the risk of harassment:

  • Ignore it, if at all possible. The harasser is looking for a reaction, so don’t give them one!
  • Learn key phrases such as “go away” or “leave me alone” in the local language. But still try to ignore it first – some harassers become even more “enthusiastic” if they think you speak their language…
  • Walk in groups, especially at night, so that you are not considered as vulnerable and unprotected
  • Some locals may push boundaries with regards to cultural norms surrounding dress, but as a guest you should dress modestly both to be respectful and to ward off unwanted attention. Wearing dark sunglasses is also a good way to appear uninterested and unapproachable
  • Monitor your body language and maintain a stern, uninterested expression when walking alone. In many countries, strangers of the opposite gender do not interact unless there is a purpose (i.e. a transaction between a cab driver and passenger or shopkeeper and customer). As a result, making eye contact, smiling or responding to comments/questions from strangers/passersby in the street will likely be interpreted as a sexual advance
  • In many countries, women do not sit in the front seat of taxis and it is recommended that female travelers in this situation should mirror this practice to enhance their safety
  • Maintain your personal space, and never give your phone number to strangers
  • Avoid traveling alone to unfamiliar areas at night or being intoxicated, as this will make you a target

Don’t Be a Target & Avoiding Pickpockets

As a traveler, the biggest crime you should be worried about is pickpocketing, especially in touristy areas. Always keep your purse or bag under your arm in crowded areas, such as subway stations, busy markets and popular squares. In cities where pickpockets are particularly bad, like Barcelona, you should never put anything in your backpack that might get stolen. You may also want to consider wearing a money belt to hide your valuables while you are out exploring. Click here to read my full blog post on accessing money abroad, with more advice on safeguarding your cash! Other tips to avoid being a target in general include:

  • Familiarize yourself with the city, ideally before you arrive, and know the areas of the city that you should avoid late at night (or in general)
  • Try to walk in groups, especially at night
  • Try not to look like a tourist with your maps and guidebooks
  • Use bags with lots of zippers and leave your passport and other valuables locked away in your room. In the past, travelers often believed it was safer to carry your passport with you. But either hotels have gotten safer or pickpockets have gotten worse, because this is certainly not the case anymore! My family has had four different passports stolen, and we’ve realized that leaving your passport locked in your room is safer even than a money belt!

I hope you enjoyed this post on health and safety abroad! Want more tips for your travels? Check out some of my latest blog posts on finding cheap flights, accessing money while traveling, dealing with harassment, the best travel apps, and packing for study abroad! And you can click here to see all of my tips and tricks for travel! Or, if you prefer, you can read about the different countries where I have studied and lived abroad, such as India, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Morocco!

Happy Travels!


2 thoughts on “Health and Safety Abroad

  1. Hi Ann,
    This post was very informative and I think it is crucial that all travellers are aware of the risks you have outlined! Personally, I believe it is always best to adopt the “better safe than sorry” approach when travelling as being in a foreign place is challenging enough on its own without being unwell or feeling unsafe.

    I especially loved your comment that “the perpetrators of harassment are the only individuals who can prevent it from happening.” This is very important to remember as it is easy to ask ourselves “what did I do wrong?” when we find ourselves in a threatening situation. When I was in France, my friend and I were approached by a man when we were in a station analysing a poster of the underground train. He had overheard us planning our route and our end destination and told us that he “lived around that area too” and could help us get there. So, bearing this in mind, I think it is also worth keeping your conversation exclusively between yourself and who you are travelling with, making sure that it cannot be easily overheard or interpreted.

    Also, I saw a great post on Facebook once that said “prioritise being safe over being nice,” and I think this is also crucial to remember when travelling as we often feel obliged to be polite even though we might feel uncomfortable. What are your thoughts on this?

    Devyn 🙂

  2. Hi Devyn,
    Thanks for your comments – I think you’re totally right! It can definitely be hard to find the right balance between being friendly and staying safe. This is something that I still struggle with – not wanting to miss out on meeting locals and new people, while also not taking any unnecessary risks. But at the end of the day, I definitely think you’re right – safety always comes first!
    Thanks again for your insightful comments and for checking out my blog!
    Happy Travels,

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