Traveling abroad is one of the most rewarding lifetime experiences, but it can be intimidating on many levels. Whether dealing with safety, money exchange, transportation or language barriers, it’s inevitable that you’ll need advice and guidance somewhere along the way. If you know who to trust and feel confident in your instincts, there’s no reason you can’t relax and enjoy the special moments that travel affords.
Law Enforcement Officials
Turning to police personnel and various officers of the law is a natural inclination, especially when you’re far from home and have few local contacts. Generally speaking, members of the police force are trustworthy individuals who have been through extreme vetting and training in public service. The best option is to seek assistance at an official police station where there are witnesses, accountability and security cameras. However, this is not always possible or practical, and you will most likely be dealing with individual officers of the law.
How to Approach Police Officers
The first thing to remember is that the job of police officers is to provide assistance to the public, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be courteous, direct and honest, as you would in your home country. Go out of your way to prove that you are not a threat, and try to communicate in the native language. If you carry a translation device or phone app to help with communication, inform the officer that you will be using it before reaching into your purse or pocket.
Though uncommon in European countries, it is possible that you will be approached by someone masquerading as a police officer. Never automatically trust someone who is not in uniform claiming to be an undercover cop. Even if the individual is wearing a uniform, follow your gut instincts if you feel that something is awry. Ask to meet the person at a local police station, or examine his badge and call the number in for verification.
If a person identifying himself as a member of law enforcement asks for your ID, state that you are more comfortable holding on to it while he examines it. Never hand over your passport. When obtaining money from an ATM machine, you may be approached by someone in or out of uniform supposedly investigating counterfeit currency. Do not hand over money, and always try to use ATM machines inside official banks.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting a city with a U.S. embassy, this is your best bet for reliability and trustworthiness. Even if you only have access to an embassy or consulate service by phone, you can generally rely on any referrals they provide for assistance in your needs. Always keep the official embassy and consulate phone numbers stored in your mobile devices for easy access.
Before arriving in a city or country, identify major banks that can offer financial assistance if needed. Keep receipts, and verify financial transactions with your home bank. The U.S. Department of State can also intervene in a financial crisis, such as lack of funds due to theft or other unexpected travel emergencies. The DOS can arrange money transfers and wires, or even provide a temporary loan in extreme cases. Remember that most credit cards allow cash advances, either through ATM machines or in-person bank transactions. Call your credit card institution before you travel to ensure you know the process, fees and approval criteria.
Hotel Staff and Drivers
When staying in a reputable hotel, particularly one that’s part of a chain or is a prominent business member of the community, this can be an excellent source of reliable information or assistance. Concierges are knowledgeable and trained to deal with traveler’s needs. If you choose to stay in a small hotel or home-share rental, there is still some level of accountability if you book the stay through a reliable online website. The same goes for taxis and rideshare drivers. Find out how to identify official licensed taxis in the city you are visiting, and follow all rideshare protocol such as matching the driver’s app photo to the person behind the wheel.
Regardless of where you travel, unexpected circumstances will arise – it’s part of the glorious travel experience. With level thinking and forethought, there’s no reason that your sense of adventure should be thwarted when exploring the big wide world. Knowing who to trust is the first step, but trusting your own informed instincts is invaluable.
When traveling abroad, Salus Security Services can be an invaluable aid, providing contacts, trusted advice and assistance when needs arise. Our trained safety experts leave you free to enjoy your journey in meaningful, life-changing ways.
Carlos J. Barron
Salus Security Services