8 Travel Safety Tips You Probably Ignore (But Shouldn’t)
CAROLINE MORSE TEEL
Be honest. How many times have you read a safety tip for travelers and thought: “Yep, that makes sense” … and then just totally ignored it next time you took a trip?
We’ve all been there. So let’s make a pact together to stop ignoring the good advice and start following these rules to stay safe while traveling.
Register with the State Department
No one expects to experience a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or other emergency while they’re abroad. But if you do, you’ll want to be prepared.Enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) before you leave, and the nearest U.S. Embassy will easily be able to find and help you if something bad happens (either abroad or back home, like a family emergency).
Leave an Itinerary
You should also leave an itinerary with a trusted friend or family member back home. That way, if you don’t return they’ll know exactly where to begin the search, instead of trying to piece together your steps through social media postings. This can also be helpful if you have a family member that worries when you travel—if they hear of something bad happening in the general region that you’re traveling, they can double-check that you’re not actually near there.
It seems like a hassle to make a copy of your passport, but if yours gets stolen or lost while abroad, you’ll be really glad that you took the extra 10 seconds to do it. If you don’t want to carry paper around, you can also scan your passport and e-mail it to yourself, so you’ll be able to access it anywhere.
Don’t Have Your Phone Out
I know I’m guilty of this—whenever I’m bored on the subway or bus, I usually turn to my phone for entertainment. Unfortunately, having your phone out makes you a target for petty thieves, especially on crowded public transit. It’s easy for criminals to snatch your phone out of your hand and jump off at the next stop if you’re not paying attention.
When in a foreign destination, you might be tempted to be a little more lax than at home when it comes to wearing your seatbelt or taking a scooter out for a spin. In fact, the most common cause of death for Americans abroad is traffic accidents. So be careful: Insist on a taxi that has seatbelts (even in the backseat), don’t drive yourself if you’re not comfortable with the roads (especially if you’re driving on a different side than at home), and always wear a helmet while on a scooter/moped/motorcycle/bike.
Learn the Local 911 Equivalent
We’ve been conditioned since we were kids to dial 911 in case of an emergency, but if you dial those three numbers while abroad, you’re not likely to get any help. Learn the local emergency numbers for police/fire/EMS (in some countries, these are all different numbers) and save them to your phone (if your phone will work at your destination). In a dangerous situation, every second counts.
It can be tempting to unbuckle when the seatbelt sign is off (or even when it’s on) just to get a little more comfortable in your tiny airplane seat. But if turbulence strikes, you could be seriously injured when you’re not securely strapped in, as these passengers learned.
Not Checking State Department Warnings or Advisories
Grandparents who ski or board play a major role introducing their grandchildren to the sport. This is one of several significant findings from the April reader survey.
It was the fifth SeniorsSkiing.com reader survey, and it produced the largest reader response to date.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents identified as grandparents. The introduced more than 68% of their grandchildren to the sport. Importantly, 94.5% of the kids continue to participate. Each responding grandparent or grandparent set has an average of 3.7 grandkids.
These “gateway grandparents” may instruct the kids, pay for lessons, or encourage their adult children to do the same. Even if the grandparents don’t live nearby, readers report that they purchase equipment and clothes as gifts, and often host family ski vacations.
The average survey respondent is 68 and skied or boarded an average of 15 days last season. More than one-third skied 23 days or more.
“As this survey shows, grandparents play a major role introducing younger people to skiing and boarding,” observes Mary Jo Tarallo, Executive Director of Learn To Ski and Snowboard, the national initiative dedicated to spreading the joy of skiing, snowboarding and winter sports.”At a time, when the ski industry is seeking ways to attract more participants, the SeniorsSkiing.com survey results shed light on grandparents as a reliable but overlooked source of new skiers and boarders.”
There are heaps of travel apps that sound great in theory, but are not so great in practice. When you’re in a full-out sprint between gates on a tight connection, loading a couple of airport apps to find the pretzel stand nearest to your gate is not going to happen.
The Best Airport Apps
Even if you’re not under time pressure, there’s enough to keep track of at your gate—carry-ons, kids, boarding passes, passports—that an airport app needs to be truly useful to warrant even a quick look.
The best airport apps earn their spot on your home screen by providing essential and timely information when you need it. The following 10 apps may not be the hottest, coolest, or most fun, but they’re apps you will actually use while barreling to and through the airport.
TripIt and TripCase
TripIt (iOS | Android) and TripCase (iOS | Android) are travel itinerary apps that contain almost all details of a trip, including flight, car rental, lodging, and other details. The air travel information includes flight times, flight and booking numbers, seat assignments, terminal and gate information, and more.
I have found it incredibly helpful to have all of this info in one place during the 36 hours before any trip. Set up notifications on your phone, and 24 hours before your flight, the app will prompt you to check in online, and from there just keeps updating as new information becomes available.
You may notice that flight status updates on the app can sometimes lag those found on airport displays by several minutes, but if you are not inside the terminal, the notices can still save your hide; learning while in a security line that your gate has changed or your flight is delayed can be the difference between a comfortable walk to your gate and a full cross-terminal sprint.
GateGuru (iOS | Android), one of the best-known airport apps, helps specifically with getting through the terminal efficiently and (fairly) well fed. On a recent trip I learned through GateGuru that my airport’s terminals weren’t connected but required walking outside, which saved me from a trudge through the snow to meet my pickup.
GateGuru has relationships with airports all over the place, so it tends to be pretty up to date. That said, I have long wished that the Map feature was integrated with the Amenities list so that you could look at the map, see what was available where you are in the airport, and make a decision on where to eat or find an item you need to purchase.
Once you put your itinerary into GateGuru, it gives you a lot of information about your trip, including security wait times. Note, however, that these wait times are crowdsourced, so they depend on app users inputting information in real time; read them with a grain of salt.
GateGuru is owned by SmarterTravel’s parent company, TripAdvisor.
Google Maps (iOS | Android) has started mapping the interiors of airports, and to some extent does solve GateGuru’s problem of not showing amenities right on the map. Unfortunately, many establishments only show up after you zoom in pretty far—so, again, there is too much clicking and zooming to help make fast and reliable decisions.
Despite these complaints, it’s worth checking both Google Maps and GateGuru before your trip to the airport; that will give you a good idea of the cleanest (and most flavorful) line from the departure curb to your seat on the plane.
MyTSA (iOS | Android) also relies on crowdsourced checkpoint wait times, which is a shame. Very few travelers have the time or inclination to input this information once they’ve cleared security, and you’d think that the TSA itself might have some useful data on this point—but apparently not. That said, this app has one helpful feature for TSA PreCheck members: It shows which airports and terminals have TSA PreCheck lanes and where to find them, which is a major bonus when arriving at an unfamiliar airport.
While Google Translate (iOS | Android) isn’t strictly an airport app, it can come in handy during those disorienting first few minutes at an international airport. You can type in foreign text or even snap a photo of an airport sign, and the app will give you an instant translation.
I have not had an opportunity to use Mobile Passport (iOS | Android) myself, but several travelers I know swear by this airport app, and I have seen enough people breezing through Customs while using it that I am sure they are onto something. The official app of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the app lets you skip the regular lines when you are re-entering the United States after traveling abroad.
Not everyone cares much about an airline lounge—if you need an airline lounge, by definition you are stuck in an airport, which all of us try to avoid—but a long layover is a very different experience in a lounge versus a gate area or food court.
LoungeBuddy (iOS only) can tell you if you qualify for lounge access by virtue of your miles (although if you have that many miles piled up, you probably already know you qualify). It is in the pay-per-visit category that LoungeBuddy can help non-elite travelers. If you have a long-ish layover, spending it in a lounge can salvage your trip; as one reviewer of the app wrote, “I never lounged before LoungeBuddy … and now I’m hooked.”
Again, HotelTonight (iOS | Android) is not strictly an airport app, but imagine this: Your flight is canceled for the day, there is no way to avoid an overnight, the airline is not providing hotel rooms, and you need somewhere to sleep on short notice. HotelTonight’s shortcut to nearby hotels with available rooms (and its boast that it can book a room for you in under 10 seconds) can give you a head start on everyone around you thinking the same thing.
Airline apps are maddeningly inconsistent, but they can sometimes offer information and speed that will best third-party apps, as they are tied in to the airline system (or at least they should be). Most apps include a scannable boarding pass and will let you change and upgrade seats, see incoming flight information, find out connection info, and more; some also tie into the in-flight entertainment systems.
Did I miss any airport apps you use between leaving your house and arriving at your destination? Let us know in the comments.