Your Guide to Safe Travel, Travel Insurance, Solo Travel, and More

Your Guide to Safe Travel, Travel Insurance, Solo Travel, and More

Oh travel safety, why are you such a huge topic? I often get requests to write about how to stay safe while you’re traveling. I even released a survey that was based on what people wanted to learn about the most when it comes to traveling. The number one choice wasn’t learning methods on saving money, or how to pack smarter, it was how to stay safe while on the road, which totally caught me by surprise. But now when I think about it, travel safety makes perfect sense because travel is scary, it’s fun and adventurous, but it’s downright terrifying to think of the worst case scenarios and we cannot help but think of them. It’s human nature.

I decided (after all of that evidence, it was a pretty easy decision) that something needs to be done about this. So here you are, a massive article that debunks travel myths, walks you through travel insurance, discusses how to keep yourself out of harm with safe travel methods, protect your travel items, talks about traveling solo and provides you with tons of resources that you can use that range from solo female travel blogs to vaccinations. Most importantly, this is all actionable. Meaning you can implement these things on your next trip easily. There is a lot to this article, so feel free to bookmark it if you need to so you can come back to finish reading it. Also, to prevent crazy tab browsing, don’t worry about hitting the links while you’re reading this piece, i’ve included them all at the bottom in a neatly compiled list.

This is practically a small book.

Photo credit: Matthew Wiebe

Photo credit: Matthew Wiebe

An often overlooked part of travel, but something that I put just as much importance on as buying a plane ticket, is a little something called travel insurance. Hopefully it’s an expense that you make and never need to cash in on. Even if you don’t ever use it, what it will give you is piece of mind because you know that if anything happens to your health, you will be covered, you’ll have assistance, and your bags will be replaced if they are lost.

Insurance in general can be confusing, frankly, I hate dealing with it. It’s even boring to write about and I’m a self-proclaimed writer! The key word though is can be, thankfully there are wonderful websites such as World Nomads and STA Travel that you can get travel insurance from that make the process easy through their breakdowns and user-interface.

So what exactly do their insurance plans cover?

Disclaimer: I am by no means an insurance expert, I’m just a 20-year old guy who writes things about travel that you may or may not enjoy reading, so please do your own research on this and don’t just take my word for it.

Every plan that you get is different depending on how much you want to pay and for what you will need with each trip. Your travel insurance will probably be more expensive if you have three weeks of BASE jumping and mountain climbing planned compared to visiting Rome as a relaxing getaway for a month.

For what you get with travel insurance, the price isn’t that bad. I’ll use my upcoming 3-month move to Scotland as an example. I’ll be heading to Scotland in August and staying until late November, and the total price for a standard insurance package with World Nomads? I only have to pay $238 USD and if I want to upgrade my coverage to the The Explorer Package, it’s still only $338 USD.

You don’t need to get the Ferrari of travel insurance, just get something that covers basic necessities. Below are a few things that The Standard and The Explorer packages come with so you can see what a typical coverage plan for travel will look like.

The Standard Package

Coverered: Up To:
Emergency Accident & Sickness Medical Expense: $100,000 USD
Trip Cancellation: $2,500 USD
Baggage & Personal Effects: $1,000 USD
Accidental Death & Dismemberment (Clay: Yikes!): $5,000 USD
One Call Non-Medical Emergency Evacuation Services: $25,000 USD
One Call 24-Hour Assistance Services: Unlimited
Trip Delay: $500 USD

 

The Explorer Package

Covered: Up To:
Emergency Accident & Sickness Medical Expense: $100,000 USD
Trip Cancellation: $10,000 USD
Baggage & Personal Effects: $3,000 USD
Accidental Death & Dismemberment: $10,000 USD
One Call Non-Medical Emergency Evacuation Services: $25,000 USD
One Call 24-Hour Assistance Services: Unlimited
Trip Delay: $1,500 USD

 

Both packages are fantastic and relatively inexpensive for what they offer and having extra protection on trip cancellations and baggage issues is a huge bonus because having an issue with just one of those can easily cost you hundreds. Personally, I’m always worried about being dismembered while I’m traveling – Monty Python style. So as long as the noble Black Knight below has one of these plans, he’s covered:

So what about other insurance companies such as STA Travel?

There are plenty of travel insurance companies that will cover everything under the sun for you. I just picked World Nomads as an example because that’s what has been recommended to me numerous times by other travelers and they are easy to follow. I’ll include plenty of links at the end of this article so you can make your own decisions for which company works best for you.

As for STA Travel, they are a company that helps students and teachers who are traveling. They are popular for their International Student Identification Card (ISIC), which I’m a proud owner of, and for their other discount cards as well as their insurance. STA Travel will cover lost bags and passports, trip cancellations, if you get sick abroad and need to use the hospital, and more.

Who should get travel insurance?

It doesn’t matter if you’re going abroad like me for 3-months or for a week on a family vacation, if your current insurance plan doesn’t cover you, you need to get it. Put your health and safety before anything else. If you’re not sure if your current plan will cover you abroad, give them a call and talk to someone who will be able to tell if you it does.

But I think you get the idea that travel insurance is important, moving on!

Is it really dangerous to travel alone? What if you’re a female?

Travel insurance

Photo credit: Ryan McGuire

While it may be safer to travel with a partner, it’s still perfectly safe to go by yourself. If an 18-year old high school graduate in Europe can travel around Europe by themselves, as is common in between their high school and university years, you can too!

If you’re still worried about going by yourself, you need to ask yourself: Has someone dumber than me done this before? The answer to that is a definite yes because I know you’re a smart cookie. So if they can do it, why can’t you? If you are a female who is still understandably scared after hearing all of the horror stories, there are plenty of solo female bloggers out there such as Candice Does The World, A Dangerous Business, Alex in Wanderland, Anna Everywhere and Adventurous Kate. See?! There’s five right there! You got this.

The media doesn’t help at all in this matter for making travel appear safe; in fact, they tend to make travel fears far worse. The media only reports on the bad things that happen in the world, because guess what?

That’s what sells.

What sells is rarely in the best interest of us, it’s just what we happen to be addicted to. People would much rather look at Kim Kardashian’s ass or something unfortunate that happened to a traveler. They don’t tune in to see good things happen like the locals who will give you a place to stay and a warm meal because those are human moments and human moments are much harder to capture.

Granted, there are a few more precautions that you should take when you’re traveling solo. You don’t have the luxury of having someone hold your bag when you go to the bathroom, you won’t have someone to have next to you as you’re going through a bustling city that you’re terrified of being lost in, but those are pretty small things, don’t you think?

You can gain a whole new set of experiences and skills traveling solo than you ever would with a partner. When you travel by yourself you’ll be able to strengthen your confidence. You’ll experience a level of independence that you never knew you had and you may even have an epiphany of what you want to do next in your life.

The road has changed many people’s lives such as Rolf Potts who was so inspired that he wrote one of my favorite books “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to Long Term World Travel” as well as Tim Ferriss who has spent time living and traveling all over the world. Travel plays big parts in all of his books, my favorite being “The 4-Hour Work Week.”

So don’t let the media scare you out of traveling by yourself. This is your adventure and the road will inspire and change your life in the best way possible.

I’d love to be able to discuss solo female travel with you, but alas, the last time I checked I was still a male. Therefore I do not feel qualified, but for specific advice for females from females, I suggest checking out the five blogs above.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m all for solo travel and that traveling with a partner isn’t a true traveling experience, traveling with a partner does have benefits. It’s great to have a familiar face with you as a companion that you can share moments with. Better yet, when you go home you have someone that you can always talk about that shared experience with.

Your partner will also help you split costs, extending your travels and they will help you make difficult decisions. If you’re traveling for a long time, they can also help curb the homesickness for some time.

What I am saying, is that… 

Okay, so we’ve discussed why travel insurance is important and why traveling solo is cool, but how do we actually keep ourselves safe Clay?

Alright version of Clay that is impersonating an audience, here it is!

Travel insurance

Photo credit: K.H.Reichert

Even though the world is a pretty safe place, like your “own backyard” kind of safe, bad things can happen, so here are a few easy and actionable things that you can do to minimize the danger factor (possible name for 1980’s cop film?).

  • Use the night for sleeping, not partying: If you really don’t want to be caught up in something bad, avoid hitting up clubs and parties unless you’re with people you trust. You never know what can happen when you’re by yourself. Getting in the habit of being a morning person can be a serious endeavor for some, but if you adjust your schedule so that you do the bulk of your activities in the morning or afternoon and not at night you may minimize bad things from happening. Besides, starting your day off with a coffee at a little café in the morning and watching people head to work will automatically make your day perfect (at least it makes mine perfect!). If you can’t bring yourself to a morning person schedule (no one would blame you, its hard stuff) you can always just stay in at night and watch movies or you can even create a blog!
  • It’s best to go to bars during the evening or earlier in the day and when you do go, avoid offending locals. There are some people in the world who dislike Americans and when you see how some tourists act, you can’t blame them for thinking that way. Do not get overly drunk and act obnoxious when you’re in a public place. You should also avoid touchy topics such as politics and discussions of religion. You’re representing our country while you’re there, so put on a good face. Bottom line: be respectful of their country and culture.
  • Avoid sketchy areas at all costs.
  • You’ll run into plenty of warm and friendly locals and travelers like you when you’re on the road, but if they seem pushy for you to do something or are acting overly nice, keep an extra eye out. It’s okay to say “No” to someone. If they pressure you just walk away.
  • Before you go, check out Vaccines.gov to see what vaccinations you may need to get and if there are any bugs going around the country that you may not be used to.
  • If you’re in a city or a poor area, it’s common to run into beggars. Even though they may seem like innocent children or perfectly friendly people, it’s survival for them out there and if you give them money that puts a target on your back because they know that you have money. It could be a part of a larger scheme to scam tourists.
  • In lieu of the last one, avoid wearing flashy clothing. This will also put a target on your back for being mugged. You should do a bit of research before you go to find out about any local scams that are going on too. A quick google search along the lines of “Scams to watch out for in X Country” should do the trick.
  • Understand the local laws. You won’t be able to get off for doing something that is legal or over looked here in America just because you’re in a foreign country as a tourist. Spending your vacation in a prison in Bangladesh isn’t ideal. If anyone knows a good resource for this I would love for you to post it in the comments.
  • Stick to places that serve quality food. Being a savvy traveler is about finding great deals, which is all fine and dandy, but that doesn’t mean ordering noodles that were cooked with sewer water just because it was $0.50 USD! If something doesn’t seem right, go a little longer without eating, no matter how hungry you are, until you find something better. No one wants to be sick for days – if not weeks – on their trip. Travel sicknesses are no joke.
  • Always exercise some level of caution with everything you do. Yes this can be a little exhausting and yes this can be boring, but as a foreigner you’ll stick out. Even if you speak the same language and look the same. How you speak, how you walk, and even how you do small things that you may not notice will show others that you’re a tourist.

You obviously cannot guarantee that something bad won’t happen and sadly sometimes they do happen, but overall travel is safe and it’s highly unlikely that a bad event will happen to you. Just remember that most people are perfectly kind human beings and only want the best for you.

I think it’s funny that when it comes to traveling, I care far more about my own items and equipment I’m traveling with (MacBook, iPhone, money) than I do about my own personal health. This may just be a generational thing, but all I know is that I’m not the only person that I’ve met who feels this way.

Travel insurance

Photo credit: Razvan Nitoi

Regardless of whether you care more about your items than you do about your own health, it’s important to protect both and here is how you can do just that.

  • Pick pockets are a serious threat for stealing your money or a valuable item such as a watch or a phone. They are far craftier than I will ever be and they can easily slide under your radar and pick an item off of you without you having the slightest clue. If you have a lazy night coming up or some time to kill, this documentary is a must: Pickpocket King Bob Arno. For a more in-depth article on stopping yourself from being pick pocketed, I wrote this post on it.
  • Separate all of your items. This is probably the most common tip I seem to find on the internet and it’s the most common for a reason. You don’t want to lose all of your stuff at one time. So invest in a bag with multiple pockets, bring zip-lock bags, and get crafty with where you put your things. This doesn’t go for just money either, this can go for documents, credit cards, and even chargers.
  • Invest in a Pacsafe Anti-Theft bag cover. If you’re staying at a hostel or need to leave your bag somewhere for whatever reason, you can put your travel pack inside of the Pacsafe bag and lock it down, then attach it to a nearby post. It’s similar to a bike lock.
  • If the hostel your staying at comes with lockers, make sure you bring your own combination lock (I don’t like key locks because then it’s another thing to worry about). This way you can feel safe leaving your stuff for a few hours and when you go to sleep.
  • If your health insurance doesn’t already do this, make sure you have insurance on all of your items. For your cell phone, you can generally get decent insurance for $8 USD per month with your provider. Laptops are going to be a little more expensive, I can recall once paying $200 USD for an uber turbo supreme coverage plan years ago, but my bet (and serious hope) is that you can find it for much cheaper – and you’re also not so gullible to Best Buy salesmen!
  • Scan all of your important documents – preferably multiple times. You can use an app for this such as DocuScan and/or bring extra copies. This should be done for your passport, tickets, and anything else that may get you out of a jam or customs. Just be sure to note the policies with each country and ticket to see if they will accept a copy on a phone. I bought an Amtrak ticket and with some research I found out that a scanned copy would do me no good if I lost my actual one.
  • Know what you’re carrying and keep your head on a swivel. It’s easy to leave something behind without knowing it until you get back to your hostel so every now and then feel your pockets. This can be considered a Part 2 to the tip on pick pockets above.
  • Bring more than one credit card to use. We all know that I have a slight addiction to credit cards, but there are good reasons for that. If one of your cards gets stolen you can call the company to get it cancelled and simply switch to another card so you’re not stranded in a foreign country with no money. An added note is to make sure you have a credit card, even if you primarily use your debit card, because it may not be accepted due to that country using a chip system in their cards whereas the ones in the States use a strip.
  • Invest in cases and durable equipment. For my Macbook I have a THULE protective case, and even though it’s a pain in the ass to get on, you can feel it’s durability just by holding it, so I feel much better about traveling with it. Otterboxes are also great for iPhones. If you want to take pictures, look into getting a camera that is not only easily portable, but won’t break if you accidentally drop it. Waterproof helps too. If you have other types of laptops, phones, or other gear, sadly I cannot recommend any products for them because I don’t know much about it, but a few gear blogs that may help are: Carryology, OneBag, Snarky Nomad, and The Wirecutter.

We’ve discussed A LOT of things in this article and if I’ve done my job right, hopefully you’re feeling at least a little bit more secure for the next time you travel, because frankly, travel is scary. Part of what makes it so scary is all of the myths that are out there about travel. Some of them are flat out wrong, while others are rooted in some truth but are not accurate. It’s kind of similar to what sells for the media topic above.

Myth #1: A big one that quite a few Americans seem to hold (and that completely makes me go from 0 to 60 on the pissed off scale) is that hostels are dangerous. It’s true that hostels can be dirty places and that there are a fair amount of drunken college students that stay in them, but this doesn’t make them dangerous. We’ve all been to dirty places with drunken college students before – like colleges.

You may end up in a bad hostel, and if you travel and stay at them often, it’s inevitable. But the chances of anything bad happening to you there is extremely small. I suggest checking out a website such as Hostel World before you book your hotel and you’ll be able to get a breakdown of what you can expect that includes cleanliness, safety, et cetera.

Myth #2: People in other countries hate Americans and you’ll be treated badly. Okay, if you act like an asshole, yeah you’ll be treated badly. You’ll be treated the same here in the States too, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like Americans. If you run into someone who doesn’t like Americans, take it on as your job to prove them wrong. Use the wonderful bubbly personality that I know you have to show them differently.

Myth #3: Travel is expensive. Exploring the world doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s easy to believe it’s expensive because we are brought up believing it’s expensive. Between travel magazines and hearing things from friends and family about how they want  to travel, but they just haven’t because they can’t afford it, you’ll start believing it too. If you still believe this, just check out any of my posts below and let me blow your mind:

7 Ways To Save Money On Your Cross Country Road Trip
16 Awesome Travel Tips I Love
8 Awesome Travel Discount Cards (That Can Save You A LOT Of Money)
How to Make the Biggest Impact on your Travel Expenses
7 Smart Ways To Avoid Overspending While Traveling

Myth #4: People will spot that you’re a tourist and take advantage of you. There are a few bad eggs, but no more than you see here at home. How many people do you know here who are trying to exploit foreigners? My guess is probably zero outside of a weird cousin or something. It’s going to be the same overseas. Sure, there are more common petty crimes like pick pocketing in other countries such as Italy, but most people will want to help you on your journey. People take pride in their home countries and want to leave you with a good image of it so make sure to have fun and enjoy yourself.

Traveling is all about having fun!

This article has been by far the longest piece I’ve ever put on the blog, topping out at over 4,000 words, 17 pages, and 20 hours of work, so if you’ve made it this far thanks for being so wonderful :). For more beastly articles like this one on other topics in the future, be sure to subscribe to the newsletter to get them sent straight to your inbox and there’s even a free gift in it for you *winky face.*


Resources:

A Few Travel Insurance Companies:

Worldnomads.com
STATravel.com
Allianztravelinsurance.com
Travelguard.com
Insuremytrip.com
Travelsafeinsurance.com

More Thorough Breakdown on Picking the Right Coverage:

Rick Steves: Do I Need Travel Insurance

Discount Cards:

List of STA Travel discount cards for students/teachers

Female Solo Travel Bloggers:

Candice Does The World
A Dangerous Business
Alex in Wanderland
Anna Everywhere
Adventurous Kate

World Travelers Inspired by the Road and their Books:

Rolf Potts  Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to Long Term World Travel
Tim Ferriss – The 4-Hour Work Week

Website for Vaccination Information:

Vaccines.gov

Info on Pickpockets:

Documentary: Pickpocket King Bob Arno
6 Ways to Avoid Pickpockets While Traveling

Equipment/Document Protection:

Pacsafe Anti-Theft bag cover
For MacBook: THULE protective case
For iPhone: Otterbox
DocuScan

Gear blogs:

Carryology
OneBag
Snarky Nomad
The Wirecutter.

Great Website for Finding Hostels:

Hostelworld.com

Toolkit for Travelers:

BootsnAll Toolkit

Budget Travel Articles I’ve Written:

7 Ways To Save Money On Your Cross Country Road Trip
16 Awesome Travel Tips I Love
8 Awesome Travel Discount Cards (That Can Save You A LOT Of Money)
How to Make the Biggest Impact on your Travel Expenses
7 Smart Ways To Avoid Overspending While Traveling

4 Comments

  1. Wow, man! Totally awesome guide, so detailed! Now I feel ashamed for publishing only few lines on Dutch insurance 😛 :)

    Reply
    • Thanks Agness! Those few lines are pretty killer though. :)

      Reply
  2. I am with Agness. This comprehensive post blows all others out of the water including mine. Nice work Clay!

    Reply
    • Thanks Ted, it’s my first attempt at this style. This means a lot to a new blogger. :)

      Reply

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