Hey there! Planning a trip to a new city? Worried about staying safe?
My teen daughter and I recently returned from a trip to San Francisco, California. Before our trip, we heard some CRAZY rumors about San Francisco that made it sound like a post-apocalyptic war zone.
Turns out, San Francisco felt like a typical American city. We crossed paths with a few odd people, but no more than in Washington D.C., New York City, or our hometown of Salt Lake City. We used ordinary precautions, never felt unsafe, and had a great trip.
Our precautions are mostly common sense and may feel familiar. However, if you are feeling anxious about an upcoming trip, I hope that there is a safety tip here that will help you travel with confidence. These strategies have served us well in every city and country we have visited.
Here are my top travel safety tips for families.
Research your destination
Find out what you can about your destination before you leave home. Are there neighborhoods you want to avoid? Are there health concerns you should know about? Are there unexpected dangers you can prepare for?
- Search the internet. You can find a lot of information online, but it's not always accurate or up-to-date. Look for official sources. Check the local news.
- Ask friends. Know someone who has been there recently? They can probably give you good information about what to expect.
- Ask a local. Call or email the visitors bureau, the front desk of your hotel, your Airbnb host, or your tour operator with questions. They will probably be happy to answer all your questions and give you good advice about your destination.
Travel.state.gov is a good place to find safety information for international destinations.
As you gather information, you'll get a more complete picture of your destination. This will help you make decisions that will keep your family safe and make your vacation more fun.
Stick to the tourist zones
It's a good idea to stay in tourist zones when you are traveling to an unfamiliar city. These are generally the places where you'll find popular activities that you want to do anyway. Tourist zones are generally safe because they are usually in “nice” parts of town, crowded with visitors, and patrolled by police.
Pickpockets love tourist zones, but you probably won't need to worry too much about violent crime. Cities that rely heavily on tourist revenue do their best to keep tourist zones safe.
I often book a hotel or vacation rental in popular tourist zones, close to our activities. A comfortable hotel in a safe and convenient location is worth a splurge.
Related: Why you should SPLURGE on Your Hotel
Don't draw attention to yourself
You don't want to draw the attention of thieves when you travel. They are opportunists who prey on people who may be carrying valuables or who will be easy to scam.
But it can be hard for traveling families to blend in with the locals. When you all take the subway or walk down a city street together on a Tuesday morning, you're obviously tourists.
However, there are still things you can do to avoid drawing the attention of thieves. They include:
- Don't show cash or expensive items like jewelry, cameras, or electronics. These items make you a target for thieves.
- Plan in private. Discuss your routes and plans in your hotel room or other places where you can do it discreetly.
- Show confidence. Act like you know exactly what you are doing, even when you don't. If you need to ask questions, ask someone official.
Be suspicious of any stranger who approaches you. Don't accept rides, tours, tickets, or anything else from a stranger. Chances are good that they are trying to scam you, rob you, or misdirect you while their partner picks your pockets.
Make your stuff hard to steal
Thieves are opportunists. If your valuables aren't easy to steal, thieves will probably leave you alone.
Here are a few ways to keep your valuables safe:
- Keep your wallet and phone in a front pocket, or use a neck wallet or money belt. Use a purse or tote that is difficult for pickpockets to access.
- Don't carry more cash than you need. Use credit cards as often as you can.
- Leave unneeded credit cards, gift cards, and other items from your wallet or purse at home.
- Keep extra cash, jewelry, and other valuables in your hotel room safe.
- Always lock your car, hotel room, vacation rental, etc.
- Don't leave anything valuable in your car.
- Make copies of passports and other travel documents.
- Know how to cancel your credit cards if they are stolen.
- Buy travel insurance that covers the theft of personal items.
Related: Tips for Buying Travel Insurance
There are a lot of things that I feel safe doing at 10:00 AM that I would not do at 10:00 PM. There are usually fewer people out at night and darkness gives bad guys more places to hide.
It's also safer to drive in the daytime when visibility is better and wildlife is less active.
My family plans most of our activities during the day and we enjoy downtime at our hotel or vacation rental after dark. When our activities keep us out late, we take extra precautions to stay safe. These precautions include:
- Stay together. Pairs and groups are safer than single travelers after dark.
- Stay in crowded, well-lit areas. They are usually pretty safe, even at night.
- Take a taxi. We usually walk or use public transportation in the daytime, but prefer the door-to-door convenience of a taxi or Uber/Lyft after dark.
Pay attention to your surroundings. Read signs. Follow the rules and local laws. These are simple practices that will keep you and your family safe on vacation.
Accidents can happen anytime, but they are especially frustrating when they wreck a vacation. Many accidents can be avoided if you pay attention, drive the speed limit, don't feed wildlife, stay on the trail, swim where you are supposed to, wear a life jacket…
Be alert and observant. A safe neighborhood or situation can quickly become sketchy. Don't panic if you find yourself in a situation that suddenly feels unsafe, but do what you can to get out of it quickly. My family has experienced this in both cities and in rural areas.
Our last hotel in New York City was a Homewood Suites a few blocks from Times Square. It was a nice hotel, but there were a surprising number of sketchy-looking people on the street outside. We minded our own business and used the buddy system and had no problems.
We encountered a black bear on a short walk around our condo complex in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It was eating from an unsecured bag of trash just a few feet from our building. Once again, we minded our own business and gave the bear plenty of space and we had no problems.
Err on the safe side
When in doubt, choose the option that feels safest. This is usually not the cheapest option, but I enjoy my vacation a lot more when I feel safe. It's always worth a few extra dollars.
We took our last cruise to Mexico in Spring 2022, while many pandemic precautions were still in place. There were also safety concerns for American tourists in Mexico and Belize, with official warnings on the U.S. State Department travel website.
We usually plan our own cruise excursions. But under the circumstances, we decided to book official excursions through the cruise line. This plan basically kept us inside a “tour bubble” all the time. It wasn't ideal, but we felt safe, had a lot of fun, and made good family memories.
Related: Tips for Planning Cruise Excursions
It's smart to worry about safety when you plan a vacation. But there are a lot of things you can do to keep your family safe and travel with confidence.
In San Francisco, we researched our destination ahead of time. We booked a hotel and chose activities in the tourist zones. We packed light and had little to steal. And we stayed alert and were always ready to adjust our plans for safety.
I hope that our experience helps your family to plan a great trip! If you have a question or safety tip to share, please use the Comments below.