How to stay safe when traveling in Europe 

25 February 2023

Your friends suggest a summer trip to Spain and Portugal, amazing right? You’re already thinking about the tapas, the art, the cathedrals and glasses of great wine. It sounds like an incredible time and yet you can’t help but think – is it safe to travel to Europe? 

This could be your first big trip abroad, or perhaps you haven’t traveled since 2019 and a lot has changed in the world since then. You want to feel certain you are going somewhere safe so you don’t have to worry about the unknown.

For example, how do you avoid pickpockets and scams? Is it safer to take a taxi or Uber? How will you make calls or send texts? You want to be excited about your trip, but first you need to make sure you know how to enjoy your trip safely.

As owner of Mazepa Travel, I’ve not only traveled extensively through Europe but also lived in Spain and currently reside in Portugal. In addition to my first-hand experience, I’ve also sent hundreds of travelers, like yourself, to the Iberian Peninsula. I know what it’s like to safely navigate the narrow streets of the gothic quarter in Barcelona, break the language barrier with taxi drivers in Porto, and how to safely enjoy a night on the town in whatever amazing city I happen to be in that evening. 

Here is a little guide I have put together on how to stay safe when traveling in Europe.

Keep Track of Your Valuables

Although Spain and Portugal are incredibly safe countries, you still want to keep your head on your shoulders wherever you are. As tourists, we can sometimes stick out in crowds so keeping valuables close and hidden will ensure you will be less likely to lose or forget them or be a target for pickpockets. 

My recommendation: don’t carry all of your cash on you. Estimate what you need for the day, and lock the rest of it in the safe in your hotel room. 

And speaking of safes, always use them! Put all of your extra cash, passports, jewelry, and anything else important in the safe. Don’t forget to collect them before you check out either. 

In terms of jewelry, don’t bring your finest jewels, or things that you’d miss if they went missing (such as family heirlooms or expensive engagement rings) 

Use a handbag with zippers and coats with internal pockets so it’s not easy for pickpockets to target you. 

If someone approaches you on the street, they could be a swindler, so don’t worry about being polite. You don’t need to talk to them and if they seem overly friendly or offer a free service like a tour or drinks, remember it’s likely not actually free. It’s often the case that people are working in tandem to pickpocket, so don’t be distracted by someone who’s approached you, and instead, just walk away. 

There’s great nightlife in Spain and Portugal! Go out and have fun and be sure to stay in populated areas and avoid places where you’ll be walking home alone. Remember to charge your cell phones before you go out.

Get an International Phone Plan

Technology is your best friend when traveling. Contact your provider for an international data plan. You can then send texts, connect to your email, order an Uber and use Google maps. Use Google maps while you have an afternoon at leisure to wander around little streets and pop into small cafes. Pin your hotel so you can return at night. In the rare case of an emergency, dial 112 in Spain and Portugal, which is the equivalent of 911. Having an international data plan will make all the difference.

Safely Navigate Around Your Destination

Now that you have your data plan set up, you can easily navigate through both countries with ease. If it’s too far to walk, a taxi or Uber is recommended and it all comes down to your personal preferences. There’s long been a debate over which is safer and the truth is they are both safe options. 

Uber has tracking capabilities, the fare is published on the app in advance and it’s also relatively inexpensive in Spain and Portugal. You can also share your trip with a friend or family member so they can track you to your destination. However, in bad weather and busy times like when bars are closing, surge prices can greatly inflate the fare.  

Taxis have licensed drivers, and regulated meters and are often plentiful. If you need a taxi, you may need to go to a taxi stand at a hotel rather than hailing one on the street. Although the meters are regulated, there’s always a chance the driver will choose the long way to wherever you’re going or just not use GPS to navigate for the fastest and best route. 

Whether you choose an Uber or a taxi, always review your mental checklist that you have all of your valuables: wallet, phone, hotel key, and shopping bags before exiting the car. Always know the address of your hotel by taking a business card with you or by pining the location in Google maps to show the driver.

Public transportation is fun to experience but not the most efficient mode of travel if you’re in a city for just a few days. They are still safe modes of transport and if you need directions there are typically maps available and English speakers around who you can approach. If you’re on a bus or the tram, just remember to push the button for your stop!

Have a Plan in Case You Run Into Medical Issues While Abroad

In two of the safest countries in the world, you will also have access to great healthcare if an unexpected medical issue pops up. 

Make sure you have travel insurance, as most American health insurance plans do not cover medical bills abroad. You’ll also want to check if your credit cards offer any kind of insurance coverage, as they sometimes do. And of course, don’t forget to bring any prescription medication and keep those in your carry-on luggage for quick access along with the prescription in case a customs official asks for it upon arrival. 

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