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Self Defense on Vacation: How To Stay Safe While Traveling

How do you stay safe when you're playing tourist? We've got tips and tricks to make your vacation a breeze.

Let’s go on vacation! Woo!

Everyone needs some time off to recharge, reset, and reboot. Vacations should be considered a necessity with loved ones to build memories, take some time off, and of course, explore the wonderful world we live in. 

5. The Woods Wow
There’s a beautiful world out there!

While doing so, it’s wise to be smart about the whole thing. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

But that’s why you have us! We’re going to talk a little bit about self-defense and safety on vacation. We’ll cover some challenges you might find yourself up against and then go over how to overcome them.

Family Emergency Plan
We’re big planners around these parts!

So, keep reading to learn how to stay safe on the vacay!

Table of Contents


Challenges You Face on Vacation

From a self-defense perspective, vacations offer numerous challenges to your safety and the safety of your family. 

So, let’s talk about the most common areas you might have to work around when out of town.

No Guns Allowed

One of the biggest issues for people like you and me is the potential loss of concealed carry capability.

Glock G43X Concealed Draw
Not every place allows CCW.

Bringing a firearm for self-defense into another country isn’t going to happen as an Everyday Joe. Just abandon that idea entirely. 

In fact, you might have to abandon the idea of a firearm for a vacation in the United States.

Lots of states don’t allow for concealed carry. My wife really wants to go to New York City for Christmas one year, see the sights, eat good Chinese food, see the Rockettes, the tree, the whole deal. 

framing new york harbor
New York harbor

Even as a citizen without a record and with a concealed carry permit, I can’t pack a pistol in the City That Never Sleeps. 

This Place Looks Unfamiliar

Another safety and self-defense concern is being unfamiliar with an area.

An unfamiliar environment makes you a fish out of water. Even in accidental situations, not knowing where the hospitals are, how to call the police, or how public transport works can create serious issues. 

Don’t think this is how it works…

New environments create new challenges. Some of those challenges could be cultural sensitivities and misunderstandings due to language barriers.

Depending on your location, you might accidentally insult a culture, religion, or custom important to the people of your host nation. 

These situations can become violent at the worst and very uncomfortable in the best-case scenario. 

You Look Like a Tourist

Finally, tourists stick out like a sore thumb.

I live in a high-traffic tourist zone, and you can always spot the tourist.

American Tourist
American tourist starter pack

Tourists can be taken advantage of and preyed on because they aren’t familiar with the area, customs, or people. They are ripe targets for pickpockets and scams. 

Don’t let this discourage you from traveling, though!

Instead, educate and equip yourself to mitigate these issues and enjoy your vacation and exploration. 

Read up on the places you’re headed to avoid awkward or even deadly encounters.

Prep Work: What to Do Before Vacation

Educate Yourself

If you only take one piece of advice from this column, take the advice of Greg Ellifritz. Ellifritz is a veteran police officer, firearms, and self-defense instructor and also travels a ton!

He travels so much that he wrote a book called Choose Adventure

The book covers a ton of topics that you might not even consider like banking issues overseas, as well as avoiding scams and even how to bribe corrupt police. 

POlice Sketch

Ellifritz has traveled to more than 50 different countries and explored all seven continents, so he knows his stuff. I can’t give a full review because I haven’t cut my way through the 498 pages of information yet.

However, from what I’ve read, this is an easy-to-understand, information-filled tome that is fantastic advice. So grab a copy if you love to travel!

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Research, Research, Research

Self-defense isn’t just about guns and fighting, it’s also about proper education. The best way to defend yourself on vacation is to avoid conflict and situations that could become violent.

Unless you can become an expert in hand-to-hand combat before a vacation or can secure an arsenal and a fire team, I suggest just avoiding trouble altogether.

To do that, put in the time to research where you want to go.

Learn On

Luckily the State Department has plenty of resources to help ensure a safe trip.

Prior to traveling to a foreign country, consult the Department of State’s mapping application to learn a bit more about the country you want to travel to including travel advisories and other information.

The map allows you to plan out consulates, embassies, etc.

This website can inform you of common crime issues, areas to avoid, and local scams to look out for. 

Being prepared and familiar with common scams and high crime areas allows us to avoid and ultimately mitigate a self-defense scenario. 

While you’re hanging out online, go ahead and sign up for STEP alerts.

STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This program will send you alerts and travel advisories for areas you plan to travel to.

It’s easy to enroll and valuable for up-to-date information. 

Grab Some Maps

Another invaluable piece of education is to acquire up-to-date maps of the location you plan to travel to.

Map and Compass
Map and Compass

Learn where the hospitals, police stations, train stations, and similar valuable accommodations are. Just knowing what street they are on can be valuable in case of emergency. 

Educate yourself on the emergency services in the area you plan to stay in.

Not every country uses 911 as an emergency line. You might need to write it down, as well as the local number for police and emergency services. 

Home Defense Phone 911
Some countries use a different emergency system.

How to Stay Safe on Vacation

Be Proactive

Education is one thing you can do prior to leaving home, but while on vacation, it’s wise to be a man or woman of action!

I don’t mean high flying stunts and kung fu fighting, but taking a few actions to avoid and deter self-defense situations. 

You don’t have to go this far…

First, when on vacation in a new, unfamiliar area, it might be wise to be humble.

Drop the expensive jewelry, ditch the expensive handbag, and wear common down-to-earth clothes that don’t scream that you’re ripe for the picking. 

Womens Concealed Purse Carry
You might want to tone down the expensive garb…

Don’t flash cash when you don’t need to, don’t brag, just be humble and chill. Become Jason Bourne!

I don’t mean fist fighting, driving, or gunfighting…I mean in the situational awareness he has.

In the first film, he goes on this whole diatribe about his situational awareness and recognizing the exit, that his waitress is left-handed, and the guy at the counter weighs 215 and can handle himself. 

Situational awareness is just knowing what’s going on around you. Paying attention to the world around you can help you detect and avoid trouble.

It’s a skill everyone should have. Pausing for just a moment to take in the sights, sounds, and smells ensures you are paying attention to the world around you.

We used to call it SLLS in the Marine Corps. 

Travis M240B Machine Gun Military

SLLS stands for Stop, Look, Listen, and Smell. It’s a simple means to refresh your situational awareness and take in the world around you.

Get out of your cell phone, avoid getting distracted, and just pay attention. 

Carjacking Distracted on Phone
Stay off the phone!

Staying in Hotels

Consider where you rest your head at night. Most likely, you’ll be in a hotel.

When choosing a hotel, become inquisitive about the security situation at the hotel. 

Does the hotel limit access to non-guests? Have security on sight? If you’re not sure, email or call and ask about any on-site security and procedures. 

Choosing your hotel room is important as well. I like the third floor.

The third floor can be accessed by fire ladders, isn’t too far to take the stairs, and typically offers two floors worth of buffering from events that start on the ground floor. If possible, choose a room closer to the stairs than the elevator. 

Elevators shut down at the slightest inconvenience, and even if they aren’t, people will crowd them. Pick a room near the stairs for a quick exit or easy retreat to your room when the elevators are down.

If you are carrying a firearm with you, securing in while in a hotel is a must! For tips on that, check out the Brownells Daily Defense video below! 

Gadgets and Gizmos For Travel

I can’t leave a self-defense and security article without suggesting a few gadgets, gizmos, and weapons for you to utilize. 

Our Favorite Tested Stun Guns
Our favorite stun guns.

Let’s start with weaponry. In a foreign country or restrictive state, having a self-defense tool can be a legal nightmare.

So first and foremost, research the laws regarding what weapons you can and cannot carry. 

Certain states may have concealed carry reciprocity with your state’s concealed carry license. That makes it easy to pack your firearm on vacation.

If a specific state doesn’t share reciprocity with your state or you live in a constitutional carry state, you should consider obtaining a non-resident permit to carry. 

Iowa Resident Non-Professional permit to carry (PTC)
Iowa Resident Non-Professional permit to carry (PTC)

In states with restrictive gun laws or foreign countries, a knife might be an option. This is a last-ditch option, and I mean truly last-ditch.

You don’t want to be in a knife fight unless you are backed into a corner. 

Ka-Bar All

For that role, I’m a fan of the Ka-Bar TDI Investigator. It’s a fixed blade that makes use of natural slashes and punches that don’t require much training.

But keep in mind that each state has their own laws regarding even knives…so do your research!

Also, consider taking a class from Shivworks.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

In lieu of a knife, you could turn to pepper spray or a stun gun, or better yet, combine the two.

I might be repeating myself here but…again, research local laws first. When it comes to pepper spray or a chemical weapon in general, a small can of Sabre pepper spray works well. 

Sabre 3-in-1 and Inert Training Spray
Sabre 3-in-1 and Inert Training Spray

For inside a hotel room, or even concealed carry, Sabre makes the Aim and Fire a pepper spray gun that can deliver multiple bursts out to 15 feet. 

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Most stun guns are crap, and for civilian concealed carry, the Taser Pulse provides a lot of punch and a small package for easy carry.

The Pulse fires two barbs much like police tasers. These barbs deliver a debilitating shock with the press of the weapon’s trigger. 

Most Electrifying Non-Lethal EDC
at The Home Security Superstore

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Finally, if all weapons are barred, which is highly likely, a tactical light can be your answer.

No one bans a flashlight, but an all-aluminum light with a crenelated edge can be a tough impact weapon. Flashlights are always handy to have, so you might as well have one you can fight with. 

5 Best Tactical Flashlights
Tactical flashlights

The Surefire E2D Defender would be my choice — 1,000 lumens of white light followed by a blow to the face can deter most bad guys or at least buy you time to escape.

Also, a flashlight can be an emergency signal and handy if the power goes out while on vacation. 

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

To help keep your money and valuables safe, you should also look into a traveler’s belt.

These belts go around your waist and hold your pants up like a normal belt but pack a hidden compartment.

The Zero Grid travel belt is a TSA-approved option to stash your goods securely without raising a stink.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Stash your cash and credit cards safely, as well as some small goodies like jewelry. It makes you pickpocket-proof and costs less than $20, so why the heck not? 

To help keep your passports, documents, cash, and electronics safe, you could also consider a LifePod safe.

LifePod 2.0, Two Guns
LifePod 2.0, Two Guns

These mini safes come tether-ready and are small and convenient enough to carry in a backpack. They are floatable, air, dust, and waterproof, and use an electronic lock and combination to keep them secure. 

at Vaultek

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Finally, look into obtaining some door wedges.

These can help secure your hotel room door against intruders, be they lock pickers or door kickers. They’re simple, cheap, offer plenty of security potential, and cost a few bucks.

Some even have alarms built into them. 

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Final Thoughts

The world has its risks, but really it’s a beautiful place full of good people. That doesn’t mean we don’t prepare to deal with the worst people.

waterfall, vacation, trip
Don’t miss out on the cool sites of the world!

With that in mind, a vacation presents some unique self-defense and security concerns. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vacation. Just be smart about it. 

What advice do you have for your fellow travelers? Share your thoughts below. Need to hop on a plane but not sure how to stow your guns? Check out our guide to Flying with Firearms.

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1 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Jim Hovater

    The American Southeast is THE ONLY place we vacation due it being 'gun friendly'.

    May 10, 2022 5:06 pm
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