10 Essential Tips for Staying Safe While Travelling to the USA

guide to staying safe in the usa as a tourist

Travelling to the United States can be an exciting adventure, offering a vast range of experiences across its diverse states. However, like any international journey, it comes with its own set of challenges and risks. Here, we equip you with essential knowledge to ensure your trip is not just memorable, but also safe. We'll discuss key points ranging from understanding the local transportation network to managing emergencies, so you can confidently navigate your journey while prioritising your safety.

1. Research Your Destination!

Researching your destination before travelling to the United States is crucial due to the country's expansive and diverse nature, which leads to varying safety conditions across regions. Research can provide valuable information about safety conditions, including crime, health concerns or political instability. Utilising resources like the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program can provide a statistical overview, which can guide your choices on where to stay and visit.

staying safe in the usa as a tourist

In addition to official channels, the internet offers a plethora of unofficial yet valuable resources. Online communities and travel forums can provide real-time insights and first-hand accounts from other travellers, although these should be cross-referenced with more official information for accuracy. If you're planning to use public transport, familiarising yourself with the routes and stops can help you navigate more safely and efficiently. Knowing which areas to avoid, especially late at night, is particularly beneficial. Don't overlook the importance of understanding the cultural norms of the area you'll be visiting. This includes appropriate dress codes and behaviours, especially in conservative communities or places of worship. Tuning into local news outlets can also keep you abreast of current events that might affect your safety, from pickpocketing trends to scheduled public gatherings. Being well-informed enables you to make decisions that prioritise your safety during your trip.

2. Know Emergency Numbers!

Being prepared for emergencies is an essential aspect of ensuring a safe trip to the United States. The emergency number 911 is your first point of call for immediate assistance relating to police, fire or medical emergencies. While English is the primary language for emergency operators, knowing key phrases could be beneficial if English isn't your first language. Additionally, certain situations might not necessitate a 911 call, such as non-urgent police matters. For these, it's advisable to know the local non-emergency police number, which can differ from one location to another.

how to stay safe as a tourist in the usa

Aside from emergency services, it's crucial to have the contact details of your country’s embassy or nearest consulate. They can provide indispensable support in various circumstances, such as passport issues or legal complications. Don't forget to look up the nearest hospitals and their emergency room numbers, along with nearby pharmacies, especially if you have specific medical needs. If you're renting a car, the number for roadside assistance can also prove invaluable for minor to severe vehicle issues.

Don't solely rely on digital means for storing these important numbers. Make sure to have them written down as a physical backup in your wallet or printed itinerary. This is crucial in case your phone battery dies or the device is lost. There are also various apps that offer real-time updates on emergencies, from natural disasters to extreme weather conditions. Some GPS-enabled services even direct you to the nearest emergency facilities. Saving all this information in multiple formats ensures you're as prepared as possible for any situation that may arise.

3. Use Reputable Transport Options!

Navigating transportation in a foreign country like the United States can be challenging, but using reputable transport options is crucial for ensuring your safety. Licensed taxis and well-known ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are generally reliable options. However, always verify the credentials of your driver, whether they're a taxi driver or from a ride-sharing platform, by checking their official badge or identification. Public transportation systems like buses, trams and subways are generally safe but require vigilance, particularly during off-peak hours. If you're arriving at an airport, opt for recognised shuttle services or official taxi ranks, as they tend to be safer and more reliable.

how to stay safe in the usa

When it comes to payment, be cautious of drivers who insist on cash-only transactions or propose going off the metre, as these can be red flags indicating potential scams. Most reputable transport services offer multiple methods of payment, including credit card options and provide receipts upon request. If you're using ride-sharing services, they usually have features that allow you to share your trip details with someone you trust. Leveraging GPS apps can help you monitor your route and ensure you're heading in the right direction. Lastly, there's added safety in numbers. Whenever you can, travel with a companion or as part of a group, especially when it's dark or you're in unfamiliar areas. Many transport providers and public transport stations also have staff or security personnel available, which can offer an extra layer of safety. By taking these precautions, you can significantly reduce risks and make your travel experience both safe and enjoyable.

4. Maintain Digital Security!

In today's digital age, safeguarding your online presence is as crucial as ensuring physical safety, particularly when travelling. A strong, unique password serves as your first line of defence for your devices and accounts. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) provides an additional layer of security, requiring secondary verification methods like a text or authentication app. Despite the allure of free public Wi-Fi, remember that these networks are often not secure. If you must connect to a public network, ensure you're accessing HTTPS websites and consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your data. Keep your software up-to-date as updates often include vital security patches.

how to stay safe when traveling in the usa

Besides digital protections, never underestimate the importance of physically securing your devices. Utilise lock screens along with fingerprint or facial recognition features, and never leave your devices unattended in public areas. Regularly monitor your bank and email accounts for any suspicious activities, opting in for real-time alerts when available. Before travelling, back up all your essential data to ensure you don't lose important information should your device get lost or compromised. Last but not least, equip your devices with trusted antivirus software and ensure your firewall is enabled. Be highly sceptical of unsolicited communication asking for personal or financial details, always double-checking the source before divulging any information. By taking these precautions, you can fortify your digital security, making your travel experience in the United States or anywhere else both enjoyable and secure.

5. Be Aware of Local Laws and Customs!

Understanding local laws and customs is vital for avoiding trouble while travelling, especially in a country as diverse and federated as the United States. Each state has its own set of regulations governing various aspects such as traffic laws, the age of consent, and alcohol and tobacco consumption. It's essential to familiarise yourself with the specific laws of the state you're visiting, from the legalities surrounding jaywalking to public alcohol consumption. Moreover, while some states have relaxed drug laws, it's crucial to remember that federal laws still prohibit certain substances.

how to stay safe when travelling in the usa

Besides the obvious legal requirements, cultural norms also vary from state to state. These can encompass everything from greetings to appropriate attire in religious or community spaces. While these norms may not be legally enforced, adhering to them displays respect for the local culture and can enhance your travel experience. Traffic and road rules are another area where you should exercise caution, as practices like turning right on a red signal may be legal in some states but not in others. Resources like official state government websites and reputable travel guides are useful for understanding these state-specific laws. Some embassies even offer travel advice that includes vital legal guidelines. Always check local ordinances and consult reliable sources when in doubt, and if you're planning activities like hunting or driving, make sure you know the rules to avoid legal complications.

6. Secure Your Valuables!

When travelling in the United States, securing your valuables is paramount, especially in bustling tourist spots where incidents like pickpocketing or hotel thefts can occur. Most reputable hotels provide in-room safes for securing essential items such as passports and electronics; if these are not available or reliable, some hotels offer safes at reception. Additionally, consider utilising money belts and anti-theft backpacks to keep your cash and cards safe. Always keep these bags within your line of sight, especially in crowded places.

how to stay safe while traveling in the usa

It's wise to have copies of crucial documents like passports, visas and credit cards, stored separately from the originals either in your luggage or a secure online storage service. RFID-blocking wallets can protect against digital forms of theft, such as skimming. Also, while it may be tempting to flaunt your wealth, doing so could make you a target for theft. Therefore, it’s advisable to keep your more ostentatious items concealed, especially in unfamiliar settings. For extra layers of security, consider using TSA-approved locks on your luggage and Bluetooth trackers on essential belongings. Keeping an inventory list, complete with photos and identifying features of your valuables, can be immensely helpful. Not only does this help you keep track of your items, but in the unfortunate event of theft, it can expedite police reports and insurance claims.

7. Be Vigilant in Crowded Places!

While crowded tourist destinations offer exciting experiences, they also attract pickpockets and scam artists. To minimise risks, maintain situational awareness and keep your belongings within arm's reach. Opt for zipped bags and hold them in front of you, especially in exceptionally crowded areas. Stay alert to your surroundings, avoid distractions like phone usage, and be wary of individuals who seem unusually interested in you or your belongings. If anything feels orchestrated to divert your attention, like someone accidentally bumping into you or creating a scene, be extra vigilant.

how to stay safe in the usa as a tourist

It's important not to flaunt valuable items like expensive jewellery or electronics. Use these items discreetly and store them securely when not in use. Be cautious of offers from strangers that seem too good to be true and verify their legitimacy before handing over any money or personal information. If you must use cash, withdraw only what you need and store it in a secure pocket or money belt. Always have a predetermined meeting point and communication plan when travelling in groups, and keep your mobile phone charged for emergencies. Should you unfortunately become a victim of theft or a scam, immediate reporting to the local authorities can be crucial. Quick action enhances the likelihood of recovering stolen items and facilitates any subsequent insurance claims. Trust your instincts - if something doesn't feel right, take precautionary measures like heading towards populated areas or seeking out authorities. Keeping these guidelines in mind can help you enjoy your trip while staying vigilant in crowded places.

8. Keep Informed and Stay Connected!

Staying informed and connected during travel is a crucial aspect of your overall safety strategy. Before embarking on your journey, subscribe to news alerts about your destination and use governmental resources that offer travel advisories, local laws and health tips. Some governments also provide registration services that can help you in emergencies. Share your itinerary with a trustworthy person and establish regular check-in times with family or friends, thereby creating an additional safety net. It's advisable to use apps designed for traveller safety that offer features such as real-time location sharing and emergency service directories.

staying safe as a tourist in the usa

Your mobile phone serves as a vital tool for information and communication while travelling. Therefore, ensure it is well-charged, and consider carrying a portable charger for extended trips. Upon arrival at your destination, you might benefit from purchasing a local SIM card to stay connected or identify secure Wi-Fi spots for internet access. However, exercise caution when using public Wi-Fi, particularly for sensitive transactions or data exchange. It's also prudent to have a list of emergency contact numbers, such as local police, healthcare services, and your embassy, stored in your phone and on a written copy. While social media can be a fun way to document your travel experiences, exercise caution when sharing information online. Public posts about your location and plans can make you an easy target for scams or theft. To protect yourself, adjust your social media privacy settings and be selective about what you share and with whom. This approach ensures that you can enjoy your travel while minimising risks and staying connected and informed.

9. Take Local Weather Seriously!

The diverse climates and weather conditions in the United States can significantly impact your travel plans and personal safety. Before and during your trip, it's important to consult reliable weather forecasts and apps to guide your planning and activities. Being aware of the seasonal weather patterns for your destination is equally important; for instance, the southeastern states are prone to hurricanes from June to November, while the northern states experience winter storms from late autumn to early spring. Preparing an emergency kit tailored to your destination's weather risks can be invaluable, including essentials like bottled water, non-perishable snacks, and first-aid supplies.

staying safe when traveling in the usa

Your choice of clothing can serve as your first line of defence against adverse weather. In cold climates, layering is essential, while breathable fabrics and sun protection are key in warmer areas. Paying attention to local authorities' guidelines and advisories ensures you're aligned with recommended safety measures, such as road closures or evacuations. Many weather apps provide real-time alerts, offering you extra time to seek shelter or modify your plans accordingly. Local experts like hotel staff and tour guides can offer valuable insights into area-specific weather patterns, helping you prepare for conditions like afternoon rain showers or flash floods in desert regions. Extreme weather events like hurricanes or severe snowstorms should be a signal to stay indoors, making use of this time for rest or planning the next leg of your journey. Finally, always familiarise yourself with the emergency exits and evacuation routes of your accommodation, as this knowledge could be crucial in sudden extreme weather events.

10. Have a Plan for Medical Emergencies!

Preparation for medical emergencies is essential when travelling to the United States, given the country's notoriously expensive healthcare system. Securing a comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers health care is paramount; it should include provisions for emergency medical treatment, hospital stays, and even medical evacuations. Equally important is identifying the nearest hospitals and emergency care facilities upon arriving at your destination, with their addresses and contact information stored in both digital and physical formats. If heading into remote areas, know the location of the nearest clinic or medical facility.

staying safe when travelling in the usa

A well-stocked first-aid kit is indispensable, equipped with adhesive bandages, antiseptic wipes, over-the-counter pain relievers, and any necessary prescription medications. In addition, document any existing allergies or medical conditions in an easily accessible location, which may include medical alert bracelets. It's prudent to include rehydration salts, allergy medication and insect repellent depending on your destination. Keep prescriptions in their original packaging with labels intact, and check vaccination recommendations for your travel regions via resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Emergency contacts should be readily available both in your phone and in a physical form stored in your wallet or travel documents. For non-native English speakers, having basic emergency phrases written down or saved on a phone can be beneficial for expedited communication during critical moments. Lastly, while 911 is the standard emergency number for medical services in the United States, it's also advisable to keep direct contact numbers of local hospitals for more accurate location sharing in case of emergencies.

Wrap Up: 10 Essential Tips for Staying Safe When Travelling to the USA

While preparation and vigilance can significantly reduce risks, accidents and medical emergencies can still happen unexpectedly. If you find yourself in a situation that necessitates a claim for an accident while in the United States, consulting a personal injury solicitor is strongly advised. A solicitor can provide invaluable guidance on navigating the complex US legal system, ensuring that you understand your rights and options. They can assist you in compiling the necessary evidence, dealing with insurance companies, and advocating for you in any legal proceedings. As healthcare and legal matters can be particularly costly in the US, professional advice can be instrumental in securing a fair outcome.

What about you, how do you stay safe in the USA? Feel free to share any tips & advice below!

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We overland. We eat plants and fungi. We live outside as much as possible. We are all connected. A female travel blogger overlanding and writing about ecotourism, ethical and sustainable travel, socially conscious travel and housesitting. An online travel magazine since 2015.


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