Safety While Traveling Abroad

Millions of Americans travel abroad each year. Safety should be a prime consideration for anyone traveling outside the United States. There are certain precautions that travelers can take to improve their safety while abroad.

Motor vehicle safety while traveling

Injuries from motor vehicle crashes pose the greatest risk of injury to international travelers, according to the CDC. The risk of death from motor vehicle crashes is many times higher in other countries than in the U.S. Inadequate roadway design, hazardous conditions, lack of appropriate vehicles and vehicle maintenance, unskilled or inexperienced drivers, inattention to pedestrians and cyclists, and impairment due to alcohol and drugs all contribute to the increased risk of being involved in a vehicle-related crash while visiting other countries.

Important safety measures you can take include the following:

  • Request a vehicle with safety belts and use them.

  • Inspect cars and trucks to make sure that tires, windshield wipers, brakes, and headlights are in good condition.

  • Request a vehicle equipped with air bags, where available.

  • Avoid nonessential night driving, alcohol, and riding with people under the influence of alcohol.

  • Sit in the back seat, whenever possible, to reduce the risk of death if an accident should happen.

  • Bring a car safety seat when traveling with young children.

  • Use a safety helmet when riding a bicycle or motorcycle.

Avoiding animal- or insect-associated hazards

In areas where rabies is endemic (constantly present), domestic dogs, cats, or other animals should not be petted. Wild animals, especially monkeys, rodents, and bats, should always be avoided.

Bites and stings from insects can cause unpleasant reactions. Medical attention should be sought immediately for any bite or sting that causes redness, swelling, bruising, or persistent pain. Take extra precautions when camping or staying in rustic or primitive areas. Use insect repellents, protective clothing, and mosquito netting.

Poisonous snakes are another hazard in certain parts of the world, although deaths from snake bites are rare. Never attempt to handle, harass, or kill a snake because bites often happen as a snake's defensive reaction.

Avoiding swimming hazards

For infectious disease prevention, only swimming pools that contain chlorinated water are considered safe for swimming. Swimming in contaminated water can result in skin, eye, ear, and certain intestinal infections. In certain areas, a fatal form of encephalitis has happened after swimming in warm, dirty water. Other infectious diseases can develop from swimming in freshwater streams, canals, and lakes. To avoid drowning accidents, don't swim alone or in unfamiliar waters. 

Avoiding violence-related hazards

Travel in high-poverty areas or regions of civil unrest may place travelers at risk for violence. Other risks include using alcohol or drugs, and traveling in unfamiliar environments at night. The CDC recommends that travelers should not travel alone, vary routine travel habits, limit travel at night, and avoid wearing expensive clothing or jewelry. Victims of a crime overseas should contact the nearest U.S. Embassy, Consulate, or consular agency for assistance. The U.S. Department of State website provides international travel alerts and warnings by country. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service provided by the U.S. government to its citizens and nationals who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. Enrollment allows the Department of State to better assist travelers in an emergency while abroad. 

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