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Safety Tips

The USA is not a dangerous place

Forget what you saw in the movies. You are safe in the USA. Learning a little about our cultural differences is the only "weapon" you'll need for trouble-free travel. Despite the news reports about tourist troubles on Florida highways and the availability of handguns, the United States is a relatively safe place. Remember: the "horror stories" make interesting news because they are unusual events.

The typical crime victim in the USA is not a sweet little grandmother or a European tourist. Most crime victims are single, unemployed, young men. Members of their own families usually kill murder victims. Our gun crimes scare people. Some people even avoid a trip to the USA for fear of a bullet. Don't worry, you will find little danger. All cities have "good" and "bad" areas. Talk to locals to get an idea of where the "bad" areas are located and avoid them especially at night. "Drive-by" shootings only occur in the neighborhoods full of gang conflicts. Most Americans have never seen a shooting except in the movies.

Police Cars © Art Today
Police officers who stop drivers for traffic violations will always be in a marked police car and will be in uniform.

Some precautions when driving in the US

You can take a few precautions. Remember that the USA is a car-dependent country. Public transportation outside of large cities is non-existent or unreliable. You should rent a cell telephone for your travels. Call 911 for the police and emergencies services anywhere in the USA. If you have no cell phone, carry a large sign that says, "Call Police-Send help" in case of a breakdown. Remember to lock your car doors, store valuables in the trunk, and do not stop for strangers. Police officers who stop drivers for traffic violations will always be in a marked police car and will be in uniform.

Carjacking and Bump and Rob attacks are rare

You should be careful about a "bump and rob" attack. Although it is rare, some criminals steal cars and valuables by bumping a target car. When the driver gets out to assess the damage and exchange information, the thief and his companions rob the victim. If you are bumped by another car, pull into a well-lit area with other people around before getting out. If you are uncomfortable with the situation, call 911 on your mobile phone.

For most sensible travelers, ensuring you are covered by a suitable travel insurance policy is the best bet. There are a number of USA & worldwide travel insurance policies to choose from with most online brokers including insureandaway.co.uk.

Carjacking tends to be a crime of opportunity. Don't give criminals a chance. Keep your car doors locked and don't drive in bad neighborhoods late at night. Check your maps before setting out. Carjackers look for cars which slow down or stop to ask directions. It is best to park in well-lit, heavily traveled areas. Always check with local residents to find out which parts of town are unsafe.

You won't find many tourist offices in the USA

You will not find many Tourist Information Offices to assist you. If you are a member of your own national Automobile Association, obtain information on the American Automobile Association before you leave home. Many foreign automobile clubs have reciprocal courtesy arrangement with the AAA. The "Triple A" can help you find lodging and car repair services.

The International Youth Hostel Association also has a few facilities across the United States. If you are an IYA member, get a guide to services in the USA before leaving home. Finding the right place to stay is the most important step that you can take to have a safe happy trip.

Try to plan your accommodations in advance!

Sleeping in train stations or bus stations is generally not accepted in the USA. In some train stations, the police will wake you. Safe travel through the United States requires planning --- getting off a bus or a train at night and seeking lodging may not be a good idea. Try to plan your accommodations in advance. You can usually find motel rooms along major interstate highways without a reservation. Do not sleep in your car at highway "rest areas."

Bed and Breakfasts in the European tradition do not exist in the United States. In the USA, Bed and Breakfast establishments are often expensive, exclusive places that can break your budget. However, you will find an array of hotels to suit every budget. Many chains run specials with double rooms costing as little as $29.95. Check with your travel agent, airline, or car rental company for more information.

No trespassing sign
Watch for No Trespassing signs and stay off private property.

Stay off private property!

Do not camp on private land and do not camp beside the highway. You can be arrested for camping on private property, even worse --- the property owner could shoot at you. Private property in the United States of America is very private indeed, public footpaths do not cross fields, and there isn't always a right of access available to reach lakeshores or other desirable places. Use only public beaches, marked trails and State or National Parks. Consult a guidebook for designated wilderness areas where free camping is permitted. In most areas, you will also find commercial camp grounds.

Some caution for single women travelers

Attitudes toward women in the USA are different from customs in some other countries. Women entering a bar or even a restaurant or café alone can be perceived as "looking for company." Women alone, or even in pairs, may wish to avoid places that have a mostly male crowd. If a place makes you uncomfortable - leave!

Written by: Diane Goldberg
Top Photo Credit: © Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo Description: Tucson Scenic Highway Panorama