When I first started traveling on my own in the early 2000’s, I always had a guidebook on me. As I began to travel more — around the time I bought my first iPod touch (remember those?) — I started buying them less and less.
Apps and websites slowly replaced the guidebook for food, hotels, and directions. But recently I realized one essential piece of the guidebook never made it over in my digital transformation: basic travel safety information.
Fortunately, there’s an app for that too. Read on for a list of the best safety apps to “pack” on your phone next time you head out on a trip.
Smart Traveler: U.S. State Department Guide
The Smart Traveler app, free from the U.S. State Department, is more or less a mobile version of their website. However, it has one major, additional functionality: accessibility offline.
Just select the country you’re visiting to see if there are travel warnings, addresses and phone numbers for U.S. embassies and consulates, local laws, and visa requirements.
Are you Canadian? Don’t worry, Canada’s got its version as well: Travel Smart app.
Travel safety tip: Sign up for the State Department’s STEP program before you leave the country. That way, the local embassy will know to account for you in the case of an emergency (i.e. hurricane, terrorist attack, etc.).
Trip Whistle: Instant “911” Abroad
- Not available on Android
Do you know what the local version of 911 is in New Zealand? How about Bulgaria? No? Didn’t think so. That’s where the free app Trip Whistle comes in.
Download it so you’ll always know which emergency numbers to call — no matter where in the world you are.
It’s a simple and straightforward app, displaying only three key pieces of information:
- Your coordinates
- Your address
- The local emergency numbers for fire, police, and medical assistance
Travel safety tip: If you have a local, pay as you go phone plan, make sure you always have credit on your phone in case of an emergency. While you’ll always be able to call the local version of 911 without credit, that’s not the best number to call if you can’t find your hotel, need a taxi to pick you up in a remote spot, or your Airbnb host is a no-show.
Sitata: Customizable Safety Notifications & Guide
Sitata describes itself as a comprehensive safety app that helps travelers “avoid tourist scams, quickly find hospitals, and stay up to date with real-time travel alerts.”
While you can receive notifications and customize them based on where you’re going, I found the safety guides — which covered things like areas to avoid, tourist scams, etc. — to be the most helpful aspect of Sitata.
This app will also give you risk levels for risks like weather, transportation (how bad are the roads and drivers?), terrorism, and more.
The feed of recent safety alerts (also present in Safeture, keep reading) was also helpful for catching up on need to know information for my destination.
Word of warning: I had a really hard time creating an account. Signing up with email (not Facebook) seemed to be the most successful.
bSafe: Notify Friends When You Walk Home Safely
You may have heard of bSafe, a free app designed with women in mind that will “walk you home.” Before going home, you can notify a close friend or family member that you’re about to leave, then notify them again when you’re home and safe. If anything happens along the way, they will be notified.
The best part for international travelers: bSafe works without internet or wifi connection. You don’t even need a SIM card in your phone for the emergency signal to activate.
Travel safety tip: Always make sure a friend or family member knows where you are. When you change cities or countries, send a quick text to your mom or bestie. Let them know your plans and where you’re staying.
Safeture: Global Warning System
Safeture, a “global warning system” gives travelers up to date information on safety, weather, and other things to be aware of. In addition to browsing general information, you can turn on notifications to receive alerts if any safety threat — hurricanes, airport closures, terrorist threats, protests, etc. — occurs in a country of interest.
What I particularly like about Safeture is that they provide information other general apps, like the Smart Travel app, do not.
For example, they call out risks and annoyances for female travelers in their “safety and security” category, and provide a quick list of cultural do’s and don’ts.
Travel safety tip: Traveling to a tropical country during “rainy” season? Stay up to date on potential hurricane or typhoon threats. Create a game plan in case one hits.
RedZone: See Dangerous Neighborhoods Nearby
In theory, RedZone should be an essential free app for anyone in an unfamiliar city. It uses community updates and crime data to highlight potentially dangerous zones of the city. It’ll even map out the safest route to get home. Safety Map Worldwide serves a similar function — though it hasn’t been updated in awhile.
That said, I can’t confidently trust an app that doesn’t mark the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco as dangerous.
Though helpful, I would strongly suggest you not rely on RedZone data alone. Pair it with local insights and information from other trusted sources. Sitata, for example, does a good job of highlighting specific neighborhoods to avoid in their “guides”.
Travel safety tip: Ask a local which areas to avoid. If you ever feel uncomfortable, bite the bullet and spend money on a taxi or Uber (rather than walking) to get to a safer part of town.
Bonus: Local Text Alerts
If you’re spending any significant amount of time in a single city, sign up for their text alerts. For example, San Francisco’s Alert SF sends me texts to let me know if there’s an area I should temporarily avoid, then follows up when the coast is clear. In New York, there’s Notify NYC.
When you’re traveling, be safe — not scared. For most of us, the worst we’ll ever encounter is a pickpocket or overpriced taxi, but it still pays to be prepared for worse.
Even as a seasoned traveler, you should always look up the potential risks and dangers in a new city or country, have emergency contact information on hand, and know what to do (or where to look) in case something bad happens. These apps can help:
- Smart Traveler
- Trip Whistle
On my next trip, I’ll be traveling with Smart Traveler, Trip Whistle, and Safeture — hands down, these are the three apps I found the most useful of this set.