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Money Security Travel Technology

The 9 Best RFID Wallets to Protect Your Identity

Protect yourself from being electronically pickpocketed with these RFID-blocking wallets that look like normal wallets.

Tumi Alpha Global Wallet

Tumi Alpha Global Wallet.

Made out of a water-resistant tech fabric, Tumi’s Alpha Global Wallet will protect your stuff from both rain and RFID thieves. Inside, everything stays organized with a currency pouch, an ID window, pockets, and card slots.

Travelon RFID-Blocking Wristlet Clutch

Travelon RFID-Blocking Wristlet Clutch.

Use Travelon’s RFID-Blocking Wristlet Clutch as a wristlet, clutch, or wallet—the strap detaches so you have options. Made out of a nylon fabric, this wallet is lightweight and easy to clean. It features four card slots and a zippered pocket, plus a main compartment that’s large enough to hold your phone.

Vera Bradley Iconic RFID Ultimate Card Case

Vera Bradley Iconic RFID Ultimate Card Case.

Made out of Vera Bradley’s iconic quilted microfiber and topped with her fun seasonal prints, this RFID wallet will stylishly protect your information. Snap and zipper closures keep everything secure, and there are seven RFID-protected card slots, one ID window, and two slip pockets inside.

Timberland Genuine Leather RFID-Blocking Trifold Security Wallet

Timberland Genuine Leather RFID-Blocking Trifold Security Wallet.

Made out of 100 percent leather, Timberland’s RFID-Blocking Trifold Security Wallet is just as rugged as its famous boots. Available in black, brown, and cognac, the wallet’s leather ages with use to look even better over time. The trifold design has six card slots, two slip pockets, an ID window, and two cash pockets.

Bellroy Hide & Seek

Bellroy Hide & Seek.

For the perfectly sized RFID-blocking wallet, look no further than Bellroy’s Hide & Seek. Available in two sizes (LO for bills shorter than 74mm and HI for bills taller than 74mm), this wallet holds up to 12 cards. There’s also a hidden coin pouch and designated section for business cards. Made out of an environmentally certified leather, the wallet is covered under a three-year warranty.

The Ridge Metal Aluminum Cash Strap

The Ridge Metal Aluminum Cash Strap.

Minimalists will love this ultra-sleek, RFID-blocking card case that can hold up to 12 cards (plus cash via the external elastic strap). Like to change up your wallet to match your outfit? The case’s color plates can easily be changed out to update your look.

Fossil Logan Leather RFID Bifold Wallet

Fossil Logan Leather RFID Bifold Wallet.

Keep your coins, bills, and cards neatly organized with Fossil’s Logan Leather RFID Bifold Wallet. This compact wallet hides plenty of storage space, including a zipper pouch for coins, one ID window, and five card slots. This wallet comes in lots of fun colors and patterns like hearts, colorful stripes, or rose gold.

Herschel Supply Co. Charlie RFID Wallet

Herschel Supply Co. Charlie RFID Wallet.

Just bringing the essentials with you? Keep everything streamlined with Herschel Supply Co.’s Unisex Charlie RFID Wallet. This slim cardholder has three card slots, plus one in the middle for cash or extra storage. It weighs just one ounce, so you really can bring it everywhere.

Columbia Leather Extra Capacity Slimfold Wallet

Columbia Leather Extra Capacity Slimfold Wallet.

Columbia’s Leather Extra Capacity Slimfold Wallet holds a ton of stuff without bulging out or being too bulky. This large capacity wallet has six credit card slots, one slip pocket, one removable ID window, and a large bill compartment.

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Principal Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for travel advice and inspiration.

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At Home Booking Strategy Miles & Points Security Travel Technology Travel Trends

Non-Emergency Passport Applications Have Halted

Were you planning to apply for, or renew, a passport this spring? With the rolling governmental measures in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do so. The State Department is limiting in-person service at passport offices to emergencies in which travelers need a passport for an international trip within 72 hours because of a “qualified life-or-death emergency.” And mail-in renewals are being discouraged due to “significant delays.”

The State Department defines that emergency in-person service as only for “serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family (e.g., parent, child, spouse, sibling, aunt, uncle, etc.).” A more complete list is available on the State Department’s website.

However, if you have travel plans on the far horizon (or hope to) you can still apply for renewal by mail, with some caveats. Expedited service is not available, and the State Department notes that you can “expect significant delays.” It’s unclear how long that delay will be, and it’s worth noting that for a renewal you’ll need to mail in your current passport with the renewal application. The department urges travelers to “please consider waiting to apply until we resume normal operations.”

Even if you qualify for emergency in-person service, options are currently very limited: The State Department says that passport offices in Atlanta, Connecticut, New Orleans, New York, and San Juan (Puerto Rico) are among those completely closed until further notice. And many of the other acceptance facilities, such as court clerks and post offices, are either closed or no longer accepting in-person passport applications.

At any in-person facility you will need an appointment, which you can make through the National Passport Information Center here, or by calling your local court or post office. For that appointment, you’ll need a completed application, supporting documents, proof of the life-or-death emergency, and proof of international travel specific to the emergency.

If you have an application in process, the State Department will continue to process it, but you can expect those undefined delays. Check the State Department’s website for details and application tracking.

The State Department says these current limitations will remain in effect until “normal operations” resume, which is clearly a very uncertain deadline at this time. If you will need a new or renewed passport in the near future, bookmark the above links for up-to-date information.

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Airport Security

Everything Travelers Need to Know About the REAL ID Act

Are your days of flying domestically using only your driver’s license numbered? They could be, if you don’t have a new type of license. As the deadline for the REAL ID Act looms, it’s vital for you to know if your current driver’s licenses doesn’t meet the new criteria. If you are without a REAL ID come October 1, 2021, (previously October 2020, until the global pandemic pushed off the deadline) you might not be able to fly in the U.S. with just your state-issued ID.

Here’s a quick and easy primer with everything you need to know about the REAL ID Act, about when to use a REAL ID vs. a passport, and about the Department of Homeland Security’s hard deadline on the changes.

What Is the REAL ID Act?

In 2005, the REAL ID Act established nationwide requirements for state IDs as a post-9/11 security measure. States had well over a decade to make the changes: The deadline is now October 2021. Some states struggled to make the switch to issuing the new, compliant licenses; having trouble finding the budget for the new licenses, or lacking other logistical means to enact the changes until as late as mid-2020. This made for a short deadline that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ultimately pushed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused many governmental agencies to close indefinitely. If you don’t have a REAL ID come October 2021, you’ll need a passport or alternate form of identification for domestic air travel.

[st_related]6 Passport Rules for Faster Renewal[/st_related]

REAL ID Changes Timeline: When to Worry About Invalid IDs for Flying

The original deadline to implement the new regulations passed in 2016, but all non-compliant states were granted extension periods and the REAL ID deadline was pushed back multiple times to accommodate them. The Department of Homeland Security provides an up-to-date map on its website showing which states are compliant.

October 1, 2021: According to the DHS website, by this date “every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification, for domestic air travel” as well as to enter federal government buildings. If by this date your state license is not a REAL ID compatible one, you will need to bring another form of ID to the airport, like a passport.

How Do I Get a REAL ID?

The process for getting your REAL ID is a little more difficult than the last time you renewed your license: You’ll probably have to visit a DMV and provide paperwork, like proof of residency and proof of lawful presence in the United States. You can, however, submit this paperwork (which you’ll still need to bring with you) online ahead of time for approval: Check your state’s DMV requirements online for more information.

If you’re a non-citizen or you think getting your ID might be more complicated for any other reason, check the Department of Homeland Security’s DHS REAL ID FAQ page for more information on your particular case.

REAL ID vs. Passports

If your state is unable to provide REAL IDs or if you don’t acquire one yourself before October 1, 2021, you’ll need to bring a passport or another TSA-acceptable document with you to the airport in order to pass through security. The DHS reminded travelers often of the looming deadline, in part because if everyone rushes to get a REAL ID at once, there could be long wait times in many states.

If you don’t have a passport, there’s also some urgency to get one before late 2021: the State Department has warned of longer-than-usual passport processing times in recent years. This first happened in 2017 after a large number of passports expired (10 years after the U.S. first required passports for Canada and Mexico). The REAL ID fervor could cause another spike in passport applications close to October 2021, so it’s best to renew early.

Also, keep in mind that some destinations require six-month passport validity to enter the country—so you should be thinking about renewing your passport early regardless of your ID type.

Does a REAL ID Replace a Passport?

The short answer: no. You’ll need a REAL ID at minimum for domestic travel come October 2021, and your passport can work in place of a REAL ID for domestic travel—but a valid passport will still be required for international travel. So whether you have a REAL ID or not, a passport will always get you through airport security. And whether you have a REAL ID or not, a passport will always be required for international travel.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016 and has been updated to reflect the most current information. Shannon McMahon and Jamie Ditaranto contributed reporting.

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Airport Security Travel Technology Travel Trends

REAL ID Documents Can Be Submitted Online

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has pushed its REAL ID deadline back once again, this time to October 1, 2021, due to complications created by the coronavirus pandemic. This may seem like a long way off, as most people procrastinate going to the DMV for as long as possible, but the months can fly by quickly. And if put off, you might not be able to fly domestically with your ID.

But if you still don’t have REAL ID-compliant form of identification (more on that in a moment), good news: DHS will now allow you to submit your documentation electronically beforehand. Your state’s DMV website should have more information when you go online to complete the process.

This should save time when you visit the DMV (or AAA office) to complete your application. That’s good news, since Chad Wolf, the acting DHS secretary, has said two-thirds of Americans still don’t have a REAL ID-compliant license.

“Ensuring every state is REAL ID compliant by October is one of the department’s top priorities,” Wolf said. “While progress has been made, the real work is still ahead.” 

If you do submit electronically, you’ll still need to bring hard copies of your documents with you, but submitting them online will save time at the DMV and mitigate the risk of showing up with invalid or incorrect documents and having to start over. I saw this happen to someone when I got my own REAL ID at the RMV, and rest assured, the only thing worse than spending time at the DMV is having to go home and do it over.

What Is REAL ID, Again?

The REAL ID Act of 2005 essentially established nationwide standards for the issuance of identification. Why? Because up until now, Americans have carried a hodgepodge of IDs, mostly issued by states, each their own differing standards. Each state sets its own criteria for acquiring an ID as well as its own rules for what information is included on the ID itself.

Post-9/11, the government decided this was less than ideal, passed a law fixing the situation, and gave states what turned out to be about 15 years to comply. (The original, actual deadline was in 2016, but non-compliant states received extensions.) And so, here we are.

The primary implication of the law concerns travel. Starting October 1, 2021, all domestic travelers must bring a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or other form of identification when they fly. This includes passports, but few people use their passport when traveling domestically, so the government has been working to raise awareness of the change and the deadline.

Readers, are you ready for the REAL ID reality?

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11 Important Rideshare Safety Tips for Travelers

If you use Uber, Lyft, or other rideshare services while traveling in new places, there are a few specific safety tips you should keep in mind to avoid dangerous situations. Uber lists some of these on its website under Rider Safety Tips, but the list is incomplete. Here’s what you need to do before, during, and even after your ride to ensure rideshare safety for you and others.

Rideshare Safety Tips for Travelers

Make these 11 rideshare safety tips part of your routine, whether you’re traveling around your hometown or in a new and unfamiliar destination.

Share Your Trip

When traveling alone, especially at night, always share your trip with others. It’s the easiest and quickest way to let someone track your whereabouts in case something happens during your ride. The person you share your trip with will get a notification to their phone and be able to follow along via GPS. To do so, hit the “Share trip status” option with Uber and “Share ride details” with Lyft.

Give Feedback

This is an often overlooked part of rideshare safety, but an important step to take once your ride is complete. Post-trip, make sure to rate your driver and leave helpful feedback so you can keep good drivers on the road and bad ones off.

Keep Your Personal Info Confidential

There’s no harm in exchanging pleasantries with your driver, but avoid giving him or her any personal information, like how long you’re traveling for, where you live, your phone number, or any other contact information.

Request Your Ride While Inside

If you can, request your ride while indoors to avoid lingering outside too long with your phone out, which may attract thieves or pickpockets.

Confirm Your Driver and Car Before Getting In

There are some reported cases of scammers posing as rideshare drivers, so always confirm the license plate and name of your driver before getting in, and check their appearance against the photo in the app. And, if you’re getting picked up in a popular area, like an airport, this will also avoid accidentally taking someone else’s ride. 

Pro tip: Always ask a driver for the name of the passenger before you get in the car instead of saying your name first. This way, you can be 100 percent sure that person is your driver.

Wear Your Seatbelt

Just because you’re in someone else’s car or riding in the back seat doesn’t mean you’re at less of a risk of being in an accident. Always buckle up—drivers appreciate it. Under Uber’s description of “Your Rating” you’ll find that wearing your seatbelt is listed as an item that helps your passenger rating. 

Sit in the Back Seat

If you’re traveling alone, always choose the back seat. According to Dave Sutton, spokesperson for Who’s Driving You?, a public safety campaign from the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association that promotes for-hire vehicle safety, “Many of the incidents that we’ve seen … have happened to passengers riding up front.”

Check Your Driver’s Rating

Both Uber and Lyft allow passengers to rate drivers on a scale of one to five Always double-check that your driver has prior experience and a rating as close to 5.0 as possible (over 4.8 is generally pretty good). Uber and Lyft may deactivate drivers whose ratings fall below a certain standard.

Never Pay Cash

A driver should never ask you to pay cash for your ride. Both Uber and Lyft give you an option to tip through the app after your trip, so there’s no need to have your wallet out during a rideshare.

Know Your Surroundings

If you’re in an unfamiliar city or area, make sure to track your route on your own maps app to ensure the driver is following the correct route. If you’re getting picked up from the airport, be sure to follow the prompted instructions when you open the rideshare app.

This also goes for the neighborhood and time of day you’re requesting a ride. Be smart and aware of open businesses around you and avoid calling rideshares alone late at night. If you’re getting picked up from a bar or restaurant, pay extra attention to these tips.

Call for Help

Both Uber and Lyft have emergency buttons that let you call 911 directly from the app if something goes wrong. The apps will display your current whereabouts so you can share them with the dispatcher during your call.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Security

What Every Traveler Should Know About Travel Advisories and Alerts

These days, you’re probably not planning a trip to Iraq or Afghanistan—most nations are currently advising citizens against all non-essential travel to these countries. And due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, governments around the world are issuing even more travel advisories and alerts than usual.

Though global crises such as pandemics should always be taken seriously, not every government travel warning means you need to immediately cancel a trip to a particular part of the world. In fact, within the past few years the governments of the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. have released travel advisories and alerts about the following popular tourist destinations: Thailand, Mexico, China, India, and even the United States.

Before you decide to avoid these countries altogether, it’s worth taking a closer look at what a government’s travel advisories and alerts mean, why they’re released, and how to evaluate them.

What Is a Travel Advisory?

Governments issue travel advisories to let their citizens know about safety concerns that may affect travel to a particular country or region. Travel advisories may also note parts of the world where a government does not have the ability to respond to the problems of citizens traveling there—for example, if the government doesn’t have an embassy in a particular country, or if the functioning of its embassy is threatened by local violence.

In the United States, travel advisories are issued by the State Department.

The State Department’s travel advisories detail a variety of potential risks in a given destination, including terrorism, natural disasters, political unrest, wars, health concerns, and outbreaks of crime. The State Department offers travel advisories for all countries across the globe, along with a risk level for each on a scale of one (“exercise normal precautions”) to four (“do not travel”). In some cases, certain regions of a country may have a higher rating than the country as a whole.

The State Department uses eight different letters to denote the reasons for its travel advisory levels:

  • C: Crime
  • T: Terrorism
  • U: Civil unrest
  • H: Health risks
  • N: Natural disaster
  • E: Time-limited event
  • K: Kidnapping or hostage taking
  • O: Other

Travel advisories may remain static for months at a time, or they may change rapidly when circumstances demand.

Governments occasionally publish global or worldwide travel advisories in extraordinary circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed countries such as the United States, Canada, and New Zealand to advise their citizens against any non-essential international travel.

What Is a Travel Alert?

Travel alerts are issued to cover “specific safety and security concerns in a country, such as demonstrations, crime trends, and weather events,” according to the State Department. Alerts often come from embassies and consulates and may cover breaking news or shorter-term problems for travelers.

Alerts don’t necessarily mean “don’t travel,” but rather contain information that’s worth knowing about so you are prepared.

Unlike travel advisories, which can remain in place for months, alerts tend to be much shorter-lived; most alerts on the State Department’s country pages are less than a month old.

How to Evaluate Travel Advisories and Alerts

In general, a travel advisory—no matter how strongly worded—cannot legally stop you from traveling to a particular place. After reading an advisory, it is up to you to decide whether to heed or ignore the advice, and to determine whether your planned trip is essential or not. While your government will usually try to help you if you run into trouble abroad, you will always be traveling at your own risk.

Not all travel warnings are created equal. When deciding how seriously to take a particular travel advisory, below are a few questions to ask yourself.

Is the Entire Country Affected?

In many cases, violence, unrest, or natural disasters are confined to a particular region while the rest of the country is still safe and welcoming to tourists. For example, in recent years the U.K. has cautioned visitors against traveling in Gulf Coast states of the U.S. during hurricane season. And while Mexico’s recent struggles with violence are well publicized, government warnings apply only to select states; many popular tourist destinations such as the Mayan Riviera have remained safe.

While your well-being always comes first, keep in mind that the fallout from an isolated act of violence can affect an entire country’s tourist industry—and have a disproportionate effect on the economy of a developing nation.

What’s the Danger?

For travel advisories dealing with violence or terrorism, pay attention to what kind of attacks are taking place and who the targets are. Assaults that specifically pinpoint foreign tourists should raise a bigger red flag than civil unrest among locals. If violence generally happens away from primary tourist locations, there may be less risk for visitors.

How Up to Date Is the Warning?

If you’re looking at a travel alert that’s more than a few months old, it may be worth doing a little research to check the current situation on the ground and see if there’s been any improvement. The websites of international newspapers are often a good source of accurate and up-to-date information. Searching Google News can help you find these. (Compare multiple sources to avoid being taken in by less reputable publications.)

Is the Warning Corroborated by Other Governments?

To get a fuller sense of what’s happening in a particular country, check travel warnings from multiple sources (see our links below). Critics have speculated that some advisories are unduly influenced by politics, so checking a U.S. advisory against a Canadian or an Australian one can give you a fresh perspective—or confirm that a threat is cause for a change in your travel plans.

Will You Have a Safety Net?

Find out whether your home country has an embassy or consulate in the place you want to visit, and make sure it’s fully staffed and functioning. If the worst happens, you don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country without an embassy to help with emergency evacuation or to get you in contact with family and friends at home.

Is Travel Insurance an Option?

Keep in mind that travel insurance may not cover you in all countries or circumstances. According to TripInsuranceStore.com, most policies do not cover acts of war, riots, or civil disorder. Other exclusions apply too, so read your policy carefully before purchasing.

What Happens If You Decide to Ignore Travel Advisories

Each year, many tourists choose to visit certain countries despite their government’s warnings. If you decide to do the same, consider taking the following safety precautions.

Register Yourself

Let your government know when and where you will be traveling so that you can be reached in an emergency. U.S. citizens can register themselves here; Canadians can do so here. Other countries have similar programs.

Check In

Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that they know where you’re supposed to be and when. Stay in touch on a regular basis by email, phone, text, or Skype.

Stay Informed

It can be tempting to take a complete break from the world when you’re on vacation, but if you’re in a place where conditions are unstable, you’ll want to keep yourself posted on what’s happening by following the news on your phone.

Be Prepared

Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Find your home country’s embassy or consulate in the area you’ll be visiting and store its contact details in your phone. But be aware of what the embassy—and your home government—can and cannot do. (For example, if you’re injured, the State Department can help you find medical assistance in your destination, but you or your relatives will have to foot the bill.)

Protect Yourself

Purchase a travel insurance policy after reading carefully to see what is and isn’t covered. Consider getting a policy with a “cancel for any reason” option so you can back out of your trip without penalty if you feel uneasy. Check out 10 Smart Ways to Carry Money While Traveling to help shield yourself against crime. Finally, do your research; read up on the political or cultural situation of the area you’re visiting and know exactly which threats you might face.

Where to Find Travel Warnings, Advisories, and Alerts

Below are a few governments offering travel advisories in English. (Keep in mind that the State Department does not offer information about U.S. territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, so you’ll need to turn to foreign governments for any advisories about these destinations.)

The downside of travel alerts and advisories is that they can strike more fear into travelers than necessary. But read as a precaution, travel warnings and alerts can provide even the most seasoned travelers with the latest information, and are a good refresher for how to handle an emergency should you encounter one.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Kate Sitarz contributed to this story.

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Health & Wellness Security

6 Ways to Get Home Safely from Abroad During an Emergency

Following President Trump’s recent announcement of a ban on travel from Europe due to COVID-19, chaos ensued: U.S. citizens abroad scrambled to get back into the country before the ban kicked in, waiting in long lines or paying exorbitant prices to get one of the few available tickets home. Though the Trump administration later clarified that the ban did not apply to U.S. citizens or permanent residents, the ever-shifting regulations and the evolving pandemic have left many travelers needing to make an emergency departure from the countries they’re visiting.

While the novel coronavirus pandemic is a unique situation, there are plenty of other instances when you might need to make an emergency departure in the middle of a trip, from impending hurricanes to sudden political unrest. If you ever find yourself in a similar high-risk scenario, the following tips will help.

Contact Your Airline as Soon as Possible

Airlines will be aware of the situation and often will rebook you for free and with no questions asked—though their call centers and airport service desks will quickly become swamped. If you’re having trouble getting through to an agent in the country where you’re located, see if someone back home (such as your spouse or other family member) might have better luck calling the airline’s toll-free U.S. phone number and making changes on your behalf. (Make sure the other person has your confirmation number and other pertinent information.) Be patient and prepare to wait in line or on hold for up to several hours.

Keep Your Wits About You

It can be difficult to stay calm in a crisis, but it’s worth slowing down and prioritizing what’s most important. Keep your passport and wallet secure and close to hand, make sure your cell phone is charged, and program essential emergency numbers into your contacts (this could include the local equivalent of 911 as well as numbers for the nearest embassy, your travel insurance company, and your airline).

Take Care of Yourself

Sleep may be impossible while you’re waiting out the hours before an emergency departure, whether wailing sirens are keeping you up or you’re simply glued to your phone for the latest news. Still, take care of your health as much as you can by eating well, staying hydrated, and trying to rest when you can.

Register Your Trip with the State Department

U.S. citizens can sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to register their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Doing so can give you access to information from the local embassy as well as help friends and family at home contact you in an emergency.

Go to the Airport Far Earlier Than Usual

When everyone is trying to escape at the same time, expect long lines and chaos at the airport—especially because some types of local emergencies (such as health crises or problems affecting public transportation) could lead to limited staffing. Allow several extra hours to get through check-in and security lines.

Muster as Much Patience—and Perspective—as Possible

Big crowds, long lines, and high stress levels can lead to short tempers, but losing your cool or treating others unkindly will only make things worse for everyone. When you feel anxiety or anger rising, take a few deep breaths and try to keep the situation in perspective. In local emergencies there are likely a lot of people who are worse off than you are.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Elissa Leibowitz Poma and Leigh Smythe Merino contributed to this story.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Health & Wellness Security

Tip: Carry These Translated Emergency Phrases When You Travel

Whenever you travel to a destination where the primary language is not English, it’s a good idea to learn a few phrases and key words in the local language. This can not only help to locate the nearest baño, salle de bain, or badezimmer when nature calls, it can help save your life.

Whether you take a language class, study a phrasebook, use a language app, or don’t bother with any formal preparation, you should bring an index card listing translations of key phrases you might need for getting help in emergency situations. Keep the card handy in a pocket or bag separate from your wallet (in case your wallet is stolen) that you can easily access at all times. You can also capture this information as a screen shot on your phone, but keep in mind that if your phone runs out of batteries or is stolen, you’ll be out of luck. This is one of those cases in which low tech may be better than high tech.

Choosing which words and phrases to include will be specific to your destination, activities, and needs. But no matter where you’re going, there are some standard translated phrases that are important to have on your translation card:

  • Help
  • Stop
  • Leave me alone
  • Call the police
  • I need the police
  • I need a doctor
  • I need to go to the hospital
  • I had a [car, bike, moped, etc.] accident
  • I have been robbed
  • I need a taxi
  • I need someone who speaks English

Beyond these basic phrases, look at your specific situation and think about other words and sentences that could help you. For example, if you are going sailing on vacation, you might learn some emergency terms associated with boating. Obviously it helps if you practice saying the words in advance, but the card is a good backup for when you’re stressed and not thinking straight. You can also point to the phrase if you’re having trouble pronouncing the word or phrase in a way locals understand.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Health & Wellness Packing Security Travel Technology

9 Travel Products That Can Relieve Stress on Vacation and Every Day

Whether you’re traveling or staying home, there are many utilitarian items that can help you keep track of your stuff, monitor your home, and stay in-the-know when you’re focused on other things. Put stress at bay with these anxiety-reducing travel products that can help you relax both on a trip and at home, secure in the knowledge that everything’s just fine.

A Fitbit

(Photo: Amazon)

It’s easy to fall behind on healthy habits like exercising, but it’s just as easy to squeeze some walking or other healthy activities when you’re told to. If you’re looking to stay on top of your activity time or even track your sleep stats on a daily basis, a Fitbit and its accompanying app will help you do just that.

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Nest Home Monitoring

(Photo: Nest)

Forget assigning a friend to check on the house for you while you’re away, or ignoring an unexpected doorbell ring when you’re home. Whether you want to see who’s at the door on-demand or get notified only if something goes wrong while you’re gone, Nest home-monitoring accessories can be tailored to your needs. Install security cameras inside or out, opt for a smart thermostat, or upgrade your smoke alarms—all of which you can access on your phone through the Nest app.

Natural Anxiety Relief

If you’re unable to sleep from stress, whether on the plane or at home, consider a natural stress relief supplement like herbal remedies: Valerian root is my personal go-to for a natural release. But be sure to talk to your doctor about taking any supplements to ensure they won’t interact with other medicines you’re taking.

Luggage Locks

(Photo: Amazon)

You never know when a small luggage lock might come in handy—whether you’re leaving your bags at hotel reception or renting a locker in another public place. Depending on your needs, keep a durable combination lock at home in your luggage just in case (you don’t want to be worrying about losing a key). This small heart-shaped version is TSA-approved for flights and can double for a locker in a pinch, or go for a classic combination padlock if you depend on gym or storage lockers.

[st_related]9 Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful[/st_related]

Item Trackers

tile key finder

Don’t fret about where your phone is or whether or not you lost your keys ever again. Trackers like keychain-sized Tile have become an affordable accessory that allow you to see via your phone where your tracked items are at all times. Tile comes in both keychain and card-sized trackers that fit on your wallet and kets,

[st_related]Traveling with Anxiety: 13 Ways to Relax and Enjoy Your Trip[/st_related]

Travel Insurance

You probably forego travel insurance most of the time, but during uncertain times like a pandemic it’s worth purchasing it any time you book a trip in an effort to avoid missing out on a refund or rebooking. If you have to cancel your plans and the airline isn’t canceling flights, cancel for any reason insurance is your best bet. Shop through a provider that will help you find the right policy, like Allianz Global Assistance.

[st_related]Everything You Need to Know About Travel Insurance[/st_related]

Beach Safes

(Photo: Amazon)

Some beaches might have you worried about leaving your valuables on the sand unsupervised. Consider SAFEGO’s portable beach safe, or for something lighter and more discrete, this purse-sized alternative from Master Lock.

A Back-up Phone Charger

(Photo: PowerCord)

Stash a spare charging bank in your purse so you can plug in on the go if you need to. MyCharge PowerCord even fits on your keychain, so you’ll never have to worry about packing extra battery power.

[st_related]10 Best Travel Tech Gadgets for Your Phone[/st_related]

A Dual-Use Charger/Scale

(Photo: Amazon)

Winging it as to whether or not the airline will let your carry-on past the check-in scale without a hefty fee is now a thing of the past thanks to tiny luggage scales that can also be a back-up power bank day-to-day. Oaxis’ Air Scale doubles as a phone charger and weighs only 5.5 oz. When it’s not charging your device, use it to lift your bag and get an instant digital reading of the suitcase’s weight.

More from SmarterTravel:

SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Prices are subject to change.

Categories
Booking Strategy Cities Security Travel Trends

The 10 'Safest' Countries According to U.S. Travelers

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider travel abroad, and has banned arrivals from the entire continent of Europe. The below story is based on a 2019 survey of travelers and safety statistics from 2018.

Americans consider Australia to be the safest country for them to visit, according to travel insurance provider Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection’s annual survey findings. Data identifying the safest countries for U.S. travelers were developed out of the agency’s “State of Travel Insurance” survey of thousands of consumers last year as well as destinations’ local crime rates, terror threats, social welfare, and the State Department’s safety rating.

Seven of the top 10 “safest” destinations (in Americans’ eyes, at least) are in Europe, two are major Oceania nations, and one is an East Asian country. Two nations that made the list are destinations that many travelers should reconsider traveling to for now, according to the CDC, due to the COVID-19 epidemic impacting them both heavily: Italy and Japan. (See our sister site Airfarewatchdog’s breakdown of airlines’ waiver options during the epidemic.)

It’s also worth noting that, despite being a devastating event this winter, Australia’s wildfires have since been controlled, and are an event the country sees annually to some degree. “Any destination—even the safest place on Earth—can be struck by a natural disaster,” Berkshire Hathaway said in the report. “That’s why it pays to insure all your major trips.”

For each destination, the rankings often reference the Global Peace Index created by the Institute for Economics and Peace, which combines factors like crime, incarceration rates, militarization, and social welfare.

The ‘Safest’ Countries According to Surveyed Americans

Here are the safest countries for Americans according to the study as well as how they compare to U.S. State Department recommendations.

1. Australia

sydney opera house ferry

Australia rose from the number two spot it held last year thanks to very low rates of violent crime, political instability, and militarization—reflected in a good Global Peace Index rating. The State Department says it’s also at its safest level one rating, meaning that travelers should exercise normal precautions, with the exception of areas affected by bushfires and accompanying air quality issues being considered level two areas (exercise increased caution). After bushfire season, though, the best way to help Australia recover is to visit.

2. Sweden

Sweden enjoys a good position on the Global Peace Index based on low crime rates, high levels of political stability, and low levels of political violence. As with other northern European countries, the main warning for pricey Sweden is usually that you’ll need lots of money to visit. The State Department puts Sweden at a level one rating, which is the safest.

3. New Zealand

View from the Wynyard Quarter in Auckland, with people, residential and commercial buildings, Sky Tower and boats.

“Like Australia, New Zealand ranked highly with Millennials in the Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection survey. In fact, it was Millennials’ choice as the safest destination on the planet,” the study said. “It’s not just American travelers who think highly of New Zealand. It also scored well in the Global Peace Index, the UL Safety Index, and the Global Finance Index.”

4. Italy

burano italy

Italy’s Global Peace Index rating is based on low homicide rates and political terror, although petty crime in tourist areas is moderate in some areas. Note that the current lockdown the country is experiencing in the face of COVID-19 makes it largely unvisitable right now: The State Department puts Italy at level three, meaning reconsider travel, because of the outbreak.

5. The Netherlands

Amsterdam, the Netherlands crowded street.

The Netherlands scored high for all measures and was particularly well liked by older travelers. It’s a repeat contender, having tied for the number five slot last year alongside Belgium and Luxembourg. However, the State Department raised the Netherlands’ alert to a level two (exercise increased caution) in July 2019 due to increased terror-attack threat.

6. France

Eiffel tower, Paris. France

Another newcomer to the study, France is a favorite among younger travelers. “It’s very clear that Millennial American travelers love France,” the study said. “They put it third overall for safety … a significant improvement over last year’s rankings.” Participants noted that Paris’ Metro usually has an increased police presence compared to other cities. The U.S. State Department has rated France at level two due to “terrorism and civil unrest.”

7. Iceland

Laugavegar trail, iceland

Iceland enjoys a top Global Peace Index rating as a result of very high marks for safety, social support, and political stability. One of the main problems you’ll face in Iceland is overtourism—the result of the fact that so many people agree it’s a great place. The State Department says it’s at level one.

8. Ireland

Blarney castle near cork, ireland.

Ireland, last year’s winner, has been bumped down significantly. But it’s still low on terrorism, political violence, and militarization. “The country remains extremely popular with affluent Millennials and older travelers, and it scores very well in the Global Peace Index and the UL Safety Index,” Berkshire Hathaway stated. The State Department gives it a level one (the safest) advisory level.

9. Greece

donkeys in hydra greece.

A nation that hasn’t made many “safest places” lists since its economic downturn slowed tourism in the last decade, Greece earns its spot “thanks in part to affluent Millennials, who consider Greece one of their safest destinations,” said Berkshire Hathaway. The State Department gives it a level one (the safest) advisory level.

10. Japan

Kiyomizu-dera Temple kyoto japan.

Berkshire Hathaway’s study credits Japan’s ratings with broader improvements ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, as well as “good scores in the Global Peace Index and the UL Safety Index.” The State Department gives Japan a level two travel advisory level for increased caution pertaining to COVID-19.

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Stay safe and healthy this travel season with the following recommended travel gear:

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Categories
Airport Health & Wellness Security Senior Travel

Traveling with Medications: What You Need to Know

If you’re heading out on a long trip—or moving abroad—and you rely on prescriptions, it’s vital to your health to know the rules about traveling with medication. “Millions of Americans are dependent on medicines and with the globalization of travel, access to prescription medicine is even more crucial,” explains Dr. Robert Quigley, senior vice president and regional medical director at International SOS.

From how to get more than a 30-day supply of pills to what you’ll need from your stateside doctor to get a prescription abroad, here’s advice from international healthcare experts about traveling with medication.

Bring a Note from Your Doctor

doctor rx note

Dr. Christopher C. Hollingsworth, MD, a general and endovascular surgeon who has practiced in Europe and the United States, says it’s unlikely you’ll get stopped at customs or border control because you’re carrying more than a month’s supply of medicine. However, having an official prescription on hand is never a bad idea.

“In general, countries honor the rights of travelers to transport their prescribed medications with them,” Dr. Hollingsworth explains. As long as you have supporting documentation about your medical condition (ID cards or a letter from a physician), you are unlikely to have a problem.

Dr. Brendan Anzalone, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and the president and chief medical officer at AeroMD Air Ambulance, suggests going digital with these forms, as they can get lost or creased throughout your travels. This will ensure you won’t have to go digging if you’re questioned.

Keep Medicines in Their Original Bottles

Again, while it’s unlikely you will face any sort of issue when you’re flying with medication, Dr. Anzalone still recommends keeping your pills in the original bottle—complete with the sticker on the front with your name and doctor’s name—as an extra safety precaution. “Carrying your medication in [its] original prescription bottle with a label on it from the pharmacy is helpful if there are any questions in the security line,” he explains.

If you don’t have room in your luggage for the full-size bottles and must downsize, you can pack a small day-of-the-week pill organizer rather than several bulky bottles. Ensure you have documentation from your physician to avoid any potential issues. Paul Tanenbaum, R.Ph., a retired pharmacist, offers this tip if your original prescription bottle is too large: “Make friends with your pharmacist and see if he or she could make you a smaller travel-size bottle for you to fill up.”

Learn the Laws Around Traveling Internationally with Medications

The recommendations for domestic trips also apply to traveling with medication overseas. The U.S. Department of State recommends storing medications in their original labeled containers and bringing a copy of a doctor’s letter to show customs officers and other officials if necessary. The prescription should note the brand and generic name of the drug.

If you’re taking an unusual drug or one that contains narcotics such as sedatives, carry a note from your doctor explaining what the medication is and why you need it.

Note that some over-the-counter drugs legal in the U.S. may be illegal elsewhere. For example, painkillers containing codeine are prohibited in the United Arab Emirates. Always double-check before you fly.

Exercise Caution with Herbal Medicines

herbal supplement vitamins

Flying with herbal medicines or supplements to international destinations can be tricky since each country has its own laws about what’s allowed in. To find out what may be restricted in the countries you’ll be visiting or transiting through, refer to the embassy website or contact local consulates.

Make sure herbal remedies and Ayurvedic medicines are in clearly labeled, well-sealed containers, preferably in original bottles. Although the TSA doesn’t require it, it may be helpful to bring a doctor’s note explaining your remedies’ intended use. Keep up to date with any changes in TSA rules by downloading its free MyTSA app (iOS | Android).

Always Pack Medicine in Your Carry-On

Now that you have the prescriptions you need and the note from your doc to prove your case, it’s time to pack. Depending on how much medicine you need each day, you may be tempted to shove your pill pack into your checked bag, but Dr. Anzalone warns against it: “It is best to keep medications in your carry-on baggage. If your checked baggage gets lost, you will still have your prescription medications with you. Remember some aircraft cargo holds are not temperature controlled, which may affect temperature-sensitive medications.”

If you’re worried about bringing medication that must be refrigerated (like insulin, for example) on a plane, Dr. Hollingsworth offers the TSA regulations on cool packs that are allowed through the gates. “Domestically, gel-cooling packs are allowed if frozen at time of presentation to security,” he notes.

Liquid medications (prescription or over-the-counter, like saline solution or eye drops) aren’t subject to the TSA’s three-ounce limits. However, you are required to declare anything over that amount to security officers and present it for inspection.

You may also travel with accompanying items, such as IV bags, pumps, and syringes, as long as they’re declared before you begin the screening process. All of these items will be X-rayed unless you request a manual inspection.

Bring Extra Medication

Dr. Hollingsworth’s rule of thumb is to bring twice the amount of medicine you need and to separate the bottles between your carry-on and your personal item. Why? Two words: flight troubles. “Changes or delays can have a butterfly effect that can have repercussions for the rest of your trip. Plan for the unexpected and pack extra medication you might need for an unplanned longer stay,” he says.

Exercise Caution When Flying with Narcotics

oxycontin pills bottle

If you’re traveling with any type of prescribed narcotic used to relieve pain, such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, or codeine, you might want to bring your prescription documentation, as well as a doctor’s note. Though this is not required by the TSA, it may prove helpful when getting through security. Since these types of drugs are widely abused, security screeners may be suspicious if they are unaccompanied by the proper paperwork. Having the original prescription will prove the pills’ necessity, and avoid any further delays or additional questioning.

The trouble of traveling with only a doctor’s note is that unless it was written in the previous month, it may lose validity. Prescriptions are clearly dated and include the signature of your doctor. Simply make a photocopy of each prescription before you have it filled. The photocopied version will be null and void, but this does not alter it as a valid document.

To take extra precaution, you may also want to travel with phone numbers for your pharmacy and prescribing doctor. This may seem like an unnecessary hassle, but it could prevent delays and problems at the airport.

Be Strategic About Your Meds

If your carry-on is just too heavy to meet those puddle-jumper restrictions, Dr. Hollingsworth challenges you to be strategic. While you might want to take your mini-sized bottle of Advil, those sorts of medications are available everywhere.

“Give priority to any medications that are vital to your functioning or survival. Asthma inhalers, diabetic medications, anti-seizure medications, and blood pressure medications come to mind. Make sure to bring medications that have rebound or withdrawal symptoms if you run out,” he says. “A trip is not a good time to see how you function without your arthritis or anti-anxiety medications.”

Consider Travel Insurance

Many factors influence whether you should purchase travel insurance. How long will you be traveling? Where are you going? Will you be lounging by a beach for a week or undertaking adventure activities in a rainforest? Do you have ongoing medical conditions that might need care?

If you’ll need health insurance for your trip, Dr. Quigley recommends exploring your options before heading overseas to determine what policy and plan are best for you. You can also work with assistance companies—like International SOS—to help you if you’re struggling with a health situation overseas.

Make a Date with Your Doctors

doctor patient exam discussing results

If you’re leaving the U.S. for an extended time, in addition to getting foreign currency and shedding tears at your farewell party, you should schedule pre-departure appointments with your doctors. During these visits, get a full physical and begin a discussion about your wellness needs while traveling. Work with your physician to plan for the medications you’ll need. Medical professionals can help you secure more than a 30-day supply of any medicines along with the necessary paperwork. They can also offer advice about what you need to bring to keep your health top-notch.

Find the Loopholes for Refilling Prescriptions Overseas

Dr. Quigley explains that prescriptions cannot be filled abroad, nor can your primary care doctor call in a prescription for you. But there is a way around it: Know the generic forms and other names of the same medicine. Depending on the country, you may be able to get the medicine without a prescription.

As an example, Dr. Hollingsworth was able to walk into a pharmacy in Paris and receive antibiotics for a pal with a serious ear infection—no note required. Even so, packing a few “just in case” prescriptions before you leave will help ease your worries. Your primary care doctor or a travel clinic can help you navigate the options.

Tanenbaum recommends caution: “If you must obtain your meds from somewhere other than your U.S. pharmacy, beware that there is a major problem of counterfeit drugs out there.” He also notes that brand and generic drug names may differ from one country to another: “The same name may be for a totally different medication; if you have to get some while overseas, it may not be what you usually take so that it does not treat your medical condition, and may actually be dangerous for you to take.” Make sure you’re visiting a reputable pharmacist (ask for a recommendation from your hotel or the local tourist board) and that you double-check whether the drug you’re requesting actually treats your condition.

Most Importantly, Plan Ahead

Plan ahead, especially if you are switching time zones and have to take medicine at a certain time of day. “Have a medical itinerary run parallel to your day-to-day travel itinerary. Plan out the nearest towns [to] where you’re going to be and identify the best providers for you based on your specific medical needs. Don’t let it be a fire drill when you get there,” recommends Dr. Hollingsworth. “If you know in 30 days [that] you need to have a prescription refilled, and you know where you will be within that time frame, then research which medical professional will be best for you. Do your homework.” It just may save your trip—or even your life.

Need Help With Packing?

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

From a compact dopp kit for neatly stowing your pills to a classic med collection good to go on any trip, don’t leave these basic essentials at home.

Tips to Stay Healthy While Traveling

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Lindsay Tigar is a travel and lifestyle writer with a constant thirst for adventure and exploring new lands. You can find Lindsay globetrotting when the mood strikes, making sure to find time to explore both the wine and fitness scene in countries across the globe. Her work has appeared across dozens of outlets; learn more at LindsayTigar.com.

 Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Molly Feltner, Jessica Labrencis, Patricia Magaña, and Michele Sponagle contributed to this story. A previous version of this story had an incorrect spelling of Paul Tanenbaum’s name. It has been corrected.

Categories
Booking Strategy Group Travel Security Solo Travel

Single Travel: Essential Tips for Planning a Solo Trip

People who have never traveled alone often describe their first solo trip as an almost religious experience. To take in new surroundings unfiltered by the prejudices, tastes, or preferences of a traveling companion can be heady stuff. Solo travel gives you the chance to indulge yourself fully.

Of course, traveling alone has its perils too—such as safety concerns, loneliness, and the dreaded single supplement. But a little preparation and common sense can save you money and get you through the rough spots.

Why Travel Alone?

Solo travel can be the ultimate in self-indulgence; you can rest when you want and pour it on when you’re feeling ambitious. Another benefit is that your mistakes are your own, and your triumphs all the more exciting. There’s no worrying that your insistence on trekking all the way across town to a museum that was closed ruined your partner’s day; it’s your own day to salvage or chalk up to a learning experience.

Also, you can do exactly what you want to do—all the time. Always wanted to try surfing? Sign up for a class and go for it; there’s no one sitting on the beach feeling bored while you have the time of your life. Have no desire to see Niagara Falls? Just drive right by. For more benefits of solo travel, see 11 Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone at Least Once.

How to Travel Alone Safely

A young traveler with a map stands by the railing and looks at the historic city.

It’s perhaps the foremost question of the solo or single traveler: “Is solo travel safe?” Without a companion to watch your back, you are more vulnerable to criminals and scam artists, as well as simple health worries. But the saying “safety in numbers” isn’t always true—a solo traveler can blend in more easily than a group, and not drawing attention to yourself as a tourist is one way to stay secure.

Here are a few safety tips for traveling alone:

Do your homework before you arrive. Know how long it takes and how much it costs to get from the airport to your hotel or to the city center. Solo travelers are more likely to be “taken for a ride,” so ask the taxi driver for an estimated fare before you leave. If it’s considerably different from what you know to be true, take a different cab (or opt for a rideshare instead).

Choose the right accommodations. Book a hotel with a 24-hour front desk if you’ll be arriving late, so you don’t end up sleeping in your car or worse.

Trust yourself. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Carry good identification—in more than one place. If you choose to wear a money belt, use it for storage and not as a purse. Constantly reaching under your shirt for money draws attention to it and defeats the purpose. Instead, keep your passport, extra stores of money, and other important documents tucked away, and use a theft-resistant bag or purse for carrying daily spending money.

Stick to open and public places, especially at night.

Exude confidence. Whether you’re on a street at home or 7,000 miles away, walking confidently and with direction is an effective technique for deterring unwanted attention, since appearing lost or confused can make you vulnerable. If you are lost, walk into a shop or restaurant and ask for directions there.

Avoid appearing like a tourist. Ditch the Disney T-shirt and don’t walk around with your face in a guidebook. (See 10 Things Not to Wear Abroad for more thoughts on this one.)

Leave valuables at home. Don’t draw attention to yourself by wearing flashy clothes or jewelry.

Lie a little. When asking for directions, don’t let on that you are alone: “Can you direct me to the museum? I have to meet a friend.”

Check your maps and transportation schedules before leaving your hotel/train/rental car/tourist office. A solo traveler who’s too absorbed in her phone can be a mark for unsavory types.

Leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member at home, and stay in touch regularly via phone, text, video chat, or email.

Register with the State Department. For U.S. citizens traveling internationally, consider signing up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which could help the State Department assist you in case of emergency. If you’re from outside the States, see if your home country has a similar program.

Arrive during the day. Areas around bus and train stations can be scary and/or deserted, and small towns tend to shut down early. Veteran solo traveler Mara Rothman of San Francisco notes that plenty of beautiful towns can appear eerie at night, and locals who are genuinely trying to help you can appear unnecessarily threatening. Arriving during the day means you’ll be able to find a place to stay and get your bearings before dark.

Trust everyone and no one. One of the best reasons to travel alone is to meet new people, but this also makes you more vulnerable. It’s okay to hang out, travel, and share with new friends, but you might not want to ask them to hold your money. Scam artists can often be the most charming companions you’ll find; you want to be open-minded, but keep your guard up enough to ensure your safety.

Top Travel Safety Products for Solo Travelers

How to Travel Alone as a Woman

portrait of young stylish hipster woman walking on the street, wearing trendy outfit, straw hat, travel with backpack

Though some tips apply to just about every solo traveler, women traveling alone have their own set of safety concerns that most men don’t have to face. Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself.

Exercise hotel safety. At check-in, consider asking for a room near the elevator so you won’t need to walk down long, potentially ill-lit hallways to reach your room. When filling out guest registration forms, consider using your first initial instead of your name, and skip the “Mrs./Miss/Mr.” check box. Additionally, make sure the clerk writes down your room number instead of saying it out loud. This will prevent anyone in the vicinity from knowing where to find you later. Consider packing a door stop to wedge under the door in case the lock is unreliable.

Dress to blend in. To avoid attracting unwanted attention, dress as conservatively as the women you see around you. This doesn’t necessarily mean donning the traditional dress, but a good rule of thumb is to dress modestly. Think knee-length or longer skirts. Bare arms, shoulders, and legs are considered risqué in some countries, so do the research before you go and once you’re there. Note which body parts the local women cover and do the same.

Know when to buddy up. Seeking out company can help you have a safer and more enjoyable experience. Smaller hotels and hostels are great places to find like-minded travelers to explore new places with. And even when you can’t find someone to buddy up with, there are often ways to associate yourself with others so you’ll be less likely to be bothered. In some countries, there are women-only sections in trains and women’s waiting rooms at train stations. Sticking close to families on public transportation and in unfamiliar public markets is another technique some women use.

Combat harassment. Having a repertoire of harassment deterrents can be as important to women travelers as a sturdy pair of shoes and a passport. Not engaging with people who are bothering you can make you a less interesting target. If you want to avoid being approached during lulls in activity, such as while waiting for a train, carry a novel or keep your eyes on your phone to make yourself look busy and involved.

If a situation of harassment escalates, making a scene can sometimes be effective. Many societies place a high premium on respecting social norms, so drawing attention to harassment in a loud and clear manner may solve the problem. The sentence for “leave me alone” is a handy one to learn in the language of your destination.

Avoiding the Single Supplement

Emerald Single Cabin on Emerald Star

Frequent solo travelers are all too familiar with the single supplement, which tour operators and cruise lines often tack onto your bill to make up for the fact that they’re not making money off a second occupant. The supplement can range anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of the trip cost, meaning that you could end up paying twice as much as someone traveling with a partner.

There are several ways to get around the single supplement. You can avoid it altogether by booking with a tour operator that doesn’t charge single supplements on most trips, such as Overseas Adventure Travel.

Many other tour operators, including G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, Exodus Travels, REI Adventures, Adventure Women, and Road Scholar, offer roommate matching. By finding you a roommate, the company maximizes its own profit off each room and saves you the single supplement. The catch is, of course, that you’ll have to share a room with a stranger. If you’re concerned, contact the tour operator and see what kind of procedures it uses to match roommates. Some pair people off at random, while others will try to put travelers of similar ages together.

Several cruise lines offer single staterooms on select ships, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Cunard, and P&O Cruises.

You can sometimes save money by booking at the last minute. Tour operators eager to sell out their last few places may be willing to reduce their usual single supplement. Insight Vacations and Road Scholar are two companies that regularly discount or waive single supplements.

It’s not for everyone, but you may also want to consider staying in a hostel, which charges per bed rather than per room. Hostelling International properties tend to be reliably clean and secure, and they’re open to travelers of all ages. You can find more hostels and read reviews at HostelWorld.com.

Tips for Solo Dining

People are sitting at the outside terrace of a small cafe in the historic centre of Faro

Eating alone isn’t so bad. Many solo travelers (and frequent business travelers) hate dining by themselves, worried that they appear like some worn-out Willy Loman of the road. There’s even a name for it: solomangarephobia. (Occasionally the fear is justified—see Terror at the Table for One.) The following tips can help you overcome what for many travelers is the most unpleasant aspect of going it alone.

Chat with the service people. Waiters and waitresses are some of the best local color you’ll find.

Choose the right eatery. Cafe or outdoor dining is often attractive to single travelers; sitting alone with a book in a cafe isn’t as unusual as a table for one at a fancy restaurant. You can also opt for a counter seat or a seat at the bar. A restaurant booth can also provide some privacy.

Bring reading material. If you start to feel uneasy sitting alone and staring down at your food, you can crack open a book, whip out your phone, or read a magazine.

Eat in. If you don’t want to endure yet another public meal alone, use room service or order carry-out from a restaurant nearby.

Eat well. Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time for sit-down meals, a leisurely cup of coffee, or a decadent dessert.

When You’ve Had Enough of Single Travel

The constant sensory input and vigilance of traveling alone can wear you down. If you feel your attention or your body flagging, don’t be afraid to back off your ambitious itinerary, slow the pace, and kick back for a bit.

When traveling abroad, seek out an expat bar—locals will often know where these are—where you can hang out and speak your native tongue with some fellow expatriates and travelers. When traveling in more familiar locales, a hot shower and a night in front of the tube in a nice hotel room can often give you enough of a reprieve to send you out eagerly the next morning.

The Best Solo Travel Websites

Best Single Travel offers vacations, cruises, and weekend getaways for solo travelers of all ages.

Flash Pack leads small-group trips of single travelers in their 30s and 40s.

GAFFL, which stands for “Get a Friend for Life,” lets you find travel buddies to meet up with in your destination.

Intrepid Travel has dedicated solo trips as well as a roommate-matching program on the rest of its offerings, so you never have to pay a solo supplement if you don’t want to.

One Traveller is a U.K.-based company leading trips for the “mature single traveller” (aged 50+) to destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Singles Travel International offers trips for solo travelers with an average age of 48 through 65. If the company can’t find you a roommate by the time you make your final payment, you can have a room to yourself for free.

Solos is a U.K.-based company offering a wide variety of solo-only trips around the globe.

Solo Traveler offers tips, resources, and destination guides for solo travelers.

Women on the Road offers tips and advice for women traveling alone.

Women Traveling Together is for women travelers age 50+, most of them unaccompanied, who prefer to be with a group of like-minded women. The company offers tours, retreats, and other getaways, complete with roommate matching.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter and Christine Sarkis contributed to this story.

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Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Passenger Rights Security Travel Technology

One Year Later, Grounded Boeing 737-MAX Planes Have New Problems

Nearly a year has passed since the Boeing 737-MAX last flew in early 2019. The fate of the beleaguered aircraft remains very much in doubt, with no true sense of when the airline might return to the skies.

For now, the airline appears grounded through at least late summer. American, United, and Southwest have all pulled the MAX from their schedules until mid-August or early September, an indication that they do not expect the plane to return to service before then. Airlines have made similar moves several times since the MAX was grounded, usually cancelling flights or shifting aircraft onto different routes to account for the lost capacity.

In January, Boeing said it doesn’t expect regulators to approve the MAX until June or July, though that target is far from certain. The company halted production on the plane around the same time.

Just this past week, however, a new problem appeared: Debris in the fuel tanks of as many as 35 completed aircraft, reportedly “tools and rags,” which can (obviously) cause major problems with an aircraft in flight. In a statement, the airline said it is “taking steps to make sure we eliminate FOD (foreign object debris) from any and all aircraft. This is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated on any Boeing aircraft when it’s delivered to the customer.”

Boeing’s CEO told NBC in Seattle: “It’s basic discipline. It’s nothing more, nothing less than production discipline. It’s every employee, every associate looking after their work, their area every moment in time, to make sure the FOD never arises again.”

Boeing said the discovery would not impact that summer timeframe for returning the MAX to service. But this isn’t the first time fresh problems have been found in the long-grounded planes: In February 2020 software issues were yet again reported, and cracks in the aircraft wings were found prior, in addition to other previous issues.

Will Passengers Trust the MAX?

The underlying question for Boeing, following an extended (and very rocky) emergency grounding, is whether or not customers feel comfortable boarding the MAX again. No matter how thoroughly the airplane is tested prior to approval, there’s a real risk that travelers simply won’t trust the aircraft, fairly or not. And there’s little reason to believe that airlines or insurance companies would permit fear of flying on one as a legitimate reason for a refund.

In addition to the crashes that led to the grounding, the perception of Boeing and the MAX specifically is colored by quality control issues (see the above fuel tank debris and prior manufacturing problems) and questions about the Boeing’s commitment to safety, as well as the current FAA’s. If anything, the tragedy of those crashes seems to have pulled back the curtain at Boeing, revealing a culture that, at times, prioritized costs and profits over safety.

These issues strike at the heart of the single most important question about the MAX: When Boeing and the FAA says they’re ready to fly, will travelers take their word for it?

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Booking Strategy Cities Security

Is Cabo San Lucas Safe? Crime, Swimming Dangers, Drinking Water, and More

Cabo San Lucas is one of the world’s prime vacation spots for good reason. Accommodations range from ultra-luxury retreats to down-to-earth glamping getaways, with levels of hospitality to match. There’s a rich, uplifting culture to enjoy; adventures galore, whether organized or not; that unbeatable Cabo San Lucas weather; and, of course, the main attraction: the vast, inviting sea, alongside the region’s other iconic natural wonders.

Still, if you’re planning a trip here, you might wonder: Is Cabo San Lucas safe? That’s a valid thing to ask, especially considering that in recent years, the Baja Peninsula has suffered from a higher per capita homicide rate than any other region in the world.

Tthe U.S. government recommends “increased caution” when traveling to the state of Baja California Sur, where Cabo San Lucas is located, because of “criminal activity and violence.” It should be noted, however, that most forms of violence in Baja California—homicides, kidnappings, extortions, and so on—are related to the drug war, so travelers have mostly been spared.

While that’s reassuring to know, it’ll behoove you, before landing in Cabo, Mexico, to be informed about what not to do in Cabo, whether you can drink the water in Cabo San Lucas, what you need to know about swimming in Cabo, plus key information about wildlife like snakes and scorpions in Cabo San Lucas.

Tips for Safety in Cabo San Lucas

  • When making your way around Cabo San Lucas, limit your explorations to daytime hours, beware of pickpockets and other thieves, don’t hail taxis off the street, and if you get into an Uber, share your ride’s progress with a friend or loved one.
  • Drinking water in Cabo San Lucas should be restricted only to bottled water and glasses of water poured at reputable hotels, resorts, and restaurants where your server has reassured you that what they’re serving is agua purificada—purified water. And skip the ice.
  • In Cabo San Lucas, swimming in the ocean can be a risky proposition. The riptides are fierce, the jellyfish are plenty, and the lifeguards are all but nonexistent. Stick to swimming only at your hotel’s swimming pool, or at a beach that’s known to be safe, most of which are on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. Never enter a closed beach, and heed all posted signs and flags.
  • Some of Cabo’s wildlife species are forces to be reckoned with. Snakes and scorpions in Cabo San Lucas can cause serious injuries and medical emergencies—especially rattlesnakes, yellow-bellied sea snakes, and the bark scorpion. Know how to identify and avoid these species, but if you get bitten, seek immediate medical attention. Worried about bug bites in Cabo San Lucas? The key ones to avoid include the Baja brown recluse and mosquitoes, so wear DEET and pack antihistamines.

How to Get Around Safely in Cabo San Lucas

Yes, there are larger security issues going on throughout Baja California, as well as in adjacent parts of Mexico. But in Cabo San Lucas, crimes that affect tourists are mostly relegated to pickpocketing and other petty forms of theft—so hide your valuables, lock your doors, and use common sense when it comes to exploring anywhere off the beaten path or going out after dark. If you get mugged or forced to access an ATM, don’t resist—your physical safety is always more important than your money.

In terms of what to avoid in Cabo San Lucas, the U.S. Department of State recommends that travelers not hail taxis directly off the street anywhere in Mexico. Instead, use hotel transportation services or taxis that have been officially dispatched; unlicensed cab drivers have been known to rob travelers. Taxis are not metered in Cabo San Lucas, so always negotiate the price before getting in, and don’t pay until you arrive at your destination. Taking public transportation in Cabo San Lucas is not recommended either, since buses have been hijacked and theft is commonplace.

Uber runs in Cabo as well, though tensions between taxi and Uber drivers have sparked protests at times. If you decide to use a ridesharing app in Cabo San Lucas, take all the usual precautions: Share the progress of your ride with a friend or family member so that someone always knows where you are. When waiting for your ride, choose a busy, well-lit area. And when your driver arrives, confirm that his or her face and license plate match what comes up on your phone. Then sit in the back seat—never the front.

The American government also recommends that travelers in Mexico “avoid driving alone or at night” and to use toll roads when possible. If you must drive, keep your gas tank as full as possible, carry a spare tire, and charge your phone.

Topping the list of what should you not do in Cabo San Lucas: drugs. Not only do they incapacitate you, making you more likely to be targeted as a victim, but if you’re caught using drugs in Cabo San Lucas, the punishment will be severe—Americans charged with drug possession can be kept in a Mexican prison for months before their cases finally go to court.

How dangerous is Cabo San Lucas in terms of natural disasters? The region is prone to hurricanes from roughly July through September; if one should hit while you’re there, take cover and follow authorities’ instructions. Baja California Sur is also subject to earthquakes and volcano eruptions, so read up on what to do in case either of those happens while you’re visiting, follow official advice, and pay attention to any and all warnings.

Drinking Water in Cabo San Lucas

Can you drink the tap water in Cabo San Lucas? The short answer: It’s not recommended. The pipes here can contaminate the Cabo San Lucas water, which often causes digestive issues for anyone not used to drinking water in Cabo right out of the faucet.

Instead, stick to bottled water, or ask your restaurant server for purified water—agua purificada—with no ice. (Speaking of drinking in Los Cabos, never leave your beverage—or your meal—unattended, since spikings are not unheard of here.)

Other hygienic factors to keep in mind while traveling in Los Cabos: Wash your hands often, don’t buy street food (it’s often not prepared in sanitary fashion), and avoid raw vegetables.

Swimming in Cabo San Lucas

The expansive sea, of course, is the main draw in this part (and many other parts) of Mexico. But is swimming in Cabo San Lucas safe? Not always. There’s much to know before submerging yourself in the Cabo ocean. The fiercest danger is riptides, which make many Cabo beaches unswimmable. Along with rogue waves, they regularly drown strong swimmers, tragically sweeping them out to sea. They can even knock over adults who are standing in water that’s only ankle-deep.

If you do find yourself getting pulled out by a riptide, try to stay calm and swim parallel to the beach into the breaking waves. Should you need saving, try to float, raise one arm up in the air, wave, and call for help.

Most beaches in Cabo San Lucas don’t have lifeguards, unfortunately, but officials often put out colored flags to let beach-goers know where and when swimming in the Cabo San Lucas ocean is safe—and where and when it’s not. It’s critical to obey all posted signs, never enter a closed beach, and know that this isn’t the place to rent or play around in water vehicles, since many aren’t maintained to standard. Instead, swim at your resort’s swimming pool or at a beach that’s well-known to be safe. Many are on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula; the beach at Melia’s Paradisus resort is also known to be swimmable.

One other danger to be alert for if you’re planning on swimming in Cabo San Lucas: jellyfish. You can wear a Lycra skin for protection, or just consider this just one more reason why you shouldn’t swim in Cabo seas.

Snakes, Scorpions, and Insects: Wildlife Dangers in Cabo San Lucas

Besides jellyfish, there are other animals to be wary of in Baja California. There are 35 species of snakes in Cabo San Lucas, about half of which are venomous. Most people never encounter one, but it’s still good to know what the poisonous snakes in Cabo San Lucas look like: The yellow-bellied sea snake looks like a floating stick in the water, while the area’s 18 species of rattlesnake are identifiable by their signature noisemakers.

Cabo’s snakes tend to hide in rock piles, brush, or trash piles, so avoid those. It helps to wear closed-toe shoes, stay on the beaten path, and carry a travel first-aid kit. If you get bitten, keep the wound below your heart and don’t cut open the wound or try to suck the venom out. Most importantly, get to a doctor or hospital as soon as possible.

Bugs in Cabo San Lucas are also worth knowing about. The Baja brown recluse spider, in particular, can cause extremely damaging bites. Identify it by its tan to brown color; long, fuzzy legs; and the “violin” pattern on its back.

Cabo has plenty of mosquitoes, too, so wear DEET repellent and pack antihistamines. There haven’t been many cases of Zika in Mexico recently, but the CDC reminds travelers that a risk of the mosquito-borne illness may still remain.

Mexico has upwards of 200 scorpion species, though only eight of those are dangerous to humans. The scorpions in Baja, Mexico, that travelers need to know about include the venomous bark scorpion, which is yellow and about three inches long. You definitely don’t want it to sting you, especially if you’re older or a child. If you do get stung, apply ice and seek medical help immediately.

Scorpions are more active in summer and at night. To keep your life free of them, tap and shake out your shoes before putting them on, shut your bags tightly so they can’t crawl in, and leave them alone if you see them. You can also carry a scorpion toxin antidote, available at some Mexican pharmacies.

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—original reporting by Avital Andrews

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Oddities Security

Does the Hotel Maid Look Through Your Stuff?


Sometimes people do inappropriate things when no one is looking. Sometimes those people are hotel housekeepers, as was indicated in a hidden-camera video that went viral a few years ago. A clip filmed at a “well-known American hotel brand” revealed a hotel maid messing with a guest’s belongings. The housekeeper picked up the man’s tablet and attempted to use his computer a few times. Nothing was stolen. The video is below.

Although no crime was committed, the idea of a stranger examining one’s personal possessions is unsettling. The video leads me to wonder if my suitcase was ever inspected, my toiletry bag peeked at, or my tablet tampered with. Ideally, no one should rifle through a guest’s belongings. But maybe it happens. And if it does, should we really be worried? Is snooping a legitimate concern for travelers?

I asked Jacob Tomsky, author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, if nosy housekeepers are a thing. Tomsky told me, “Well, in any business it’s possible to unwittingly hire criminal-minded employees. So that can happen anywhere at any job. However, in my 10 years of experience, I’ve found housekeepers to be family-oriented and dedicated to the job. And part of that job is respecting guests’ belongings.”

Even though housekeepers are likely to be alone in a room with your stuff, Tomsky suggested we shouldn’t be so quick to point fingers. He said, “The housekeepers I know are proud to have a decent paying job with health care and wouldn’t risk losing that for petty thievery. Plus they know they are first in line for accusations. That’s why, when things go missing in a hotel, I always look outside of housekeeping. A lot of employees have keys to your room.”

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The blame game is pointless. And there’s nothing you can do to prevent a housekeeper from opening the closet door and snickering at your poor taste in outerwear. But there are proactive steps you can take to protect your privacy and keep your stuff safe. First, operate under the assumption that your hotel room is not as private as you would like it to be. You are not at home. In any hotel, vacation rental, B&B, or what have you, there is always a chance that theft could take place.

According to Tomsky, “I can’t recommend utilizing the in-room safe enough, obviously. If you put in a lock code and forget that code, it’s none other than a manager of security who has the ability to reset the lock. So anything in there is touched by you alone. Use it.”

Tomsky also recommended keeping your belongings well organized during your stay: “Cut down on the clutter. To make a room look clean, housekeepers have to move some items around, especially if your items are splayed out everywhere. And I’d say a great deal of suspected ‘theft’ is actually just loss. You leave important items all over the place and it’s absolutely possible those items will get bunched up with the linens and tossed down the chute into the laundry. I’ve been in the pit, looking for lost items. Only once did I find what we were looking for. Use the safe. And keep it neat.”

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If you really want to calm your paranoid worries, leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door for the duration of your stay; this way, your room won’t get cleaned and you can feel confident that no one touched your unmentionables or flipped through your dream journal.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.