Travel and Safety Information

General information

Many countries offer a travel safety service. If you are going to be traveling, you can register your trip with your country’s embassy to receive travel safety alerts while you are international and to be sure they know your whereabouts in the event of a tragedy or emergency.

For the United States, the website used to register is https://step.state.gov/step/.

Some places will take credit or debit card, but you may need cash for souvenirs, tips, and extra food. Note that many transactions overseas require a pin, even on your credit card. This is usually easy to add on your bank’s website or by phone.
Be aware that the exchange rate is always better if you are changing large amounts of cash.
If you have an ATM card that does not charge international fees, the best option for getting cash in country is to get it at an ATM once you arrive.

Safety tips

  • Make sure that you check the exchange rate and the standard fees for changing cash to ensure you are not being swindled.
  • DO NOT pull out all your money and sort through it or count it. Assume you are being watched. You don’t want to flaunt large amounts of cash.
  • Don’t keep all your money together. Keep only a small amount with your passport in your wallet.
  • Be really careful with your pin number if you are buying things with card or using an ATM. Look around to see who is watching you and where there are cameras. Cover up your card number and the keypad as you use the machines. Never say your number out loud. If you are traveling with someone, ask him/her to help you block the line of vision around the machine.
  • Be aware that in some countries pickpockets have started using card scanning machines that allow them to lift the magnetic signature of your card while standing next to you. You can make or purchase protective pouches to prevent this.
  • Notify your credit and debit card companies that you will be traveling internationally.

Your passport, boarding pass/plane tickets, and Visitor Card (once you arrive) are vital to your ability to get where you are going and move around safely. Your immunization record, while not required, can be very helpful in the event of a medical situation. You need to plan ahead in order to protect these documents.

  • Passport: Have a copy of the ID page of your passport and the Russian visa page separate from where you are carrying your actual passport. Leave a copy of each of these pages with a contact at home along with information on how to call the embassy on your behalf.
  • Immunization Record: Keep a copy in your carry-on. There is no reason to bring the originals.
  • Boarding Pass/Plane ticket: Keep accessible.
  • Have a small bag you can keep on your person and close securely. A small pouch with a zipper and a strap that allows it to be worn across the body is ideal.
  • NOTE: DO NOT keep anything in your pockets. Men, this may be especially difficult for you, but your passport, tickets, and money should NEVER be in your clothing pockets (The only exception is, perhaps, a zipping or tightly buttoning shirt pocket). Not only does keeping important items in your pockets this make them easy to lose, but it also makes you a target for pickpocketing.

As is always the case when you are in the city or around large crowds of people, there are certain things you can do when traveling internationally to ensure that you do not become a target.

  • Stay alert and purposeful. Look like you know where you are going and be aware of your surroundings. Be observant of the patterns and moods of the people around you.
  • Choose your rest stops purposefully. If you need to look at a map or figure out where you are going, find a place where you can put your back against a wall and observe your surroundings carefully while you are trying to figure things out.
  • Don’t attract attention. Do your best to blend in by not talking loudly, by not wearing clothing that advertises that you are from a different place, and by imitating the general manner of the people around you (i.e. do people make eye contact or smile or not).
  • Trust your instincts. If a situation or place is making you feel unsafe, leave.
  • Be cautious about overly friendly strangers. They may be trying to distract you so they or a partner can pickpocket you.
  • Don’t pet animals.

Many countries offer a travel safety service. If you are going to be traveling, you can register your trip with your country’s embassy to receive travel safety alerts while you are international and to be sure they know your whereabouts in the event of a tragedy or emergency.
For the United States, the website used to register is https://step.state.gov/step/.

Checked bags

  • Put an identifying marker (sticker, colorful wrap around the handle, unique tag) on your bag to make it easier to find and harder for someone else to confuse for theirs at baggage claim.
  • Do not bring an expensive-looking or loudly colored bag as they attract too much attention and may make you or your bag a potential target.
  • Lock your checked bag, but only with TSA approved locks.
  • Make sure your address and the address of your destination are clearly marked inside your checked luggage and your large carry-on (you may be asked to check it airside).

Smaller bags

  • Secure your bags. NEVER set your bag on the floor or hang it from the back of your chair. Instead, keep it in your lap or wrap the strap around your leg and keep it between your feet.
  • If you are wearing a backpack in a crowded area (bus, crowd, shuttle), turn it around so that you are wearing it on the front to prevent someone opening it from behind.

Timing

  • Always double check your gate number after you get through security and make sure you can find it and know how long it will take you to get there before you shop and eat.
  • Make sure you arrive at the airport with plenty of time for your checked bags to get through their security checks and onto your plane. Two hours is the generally recommended time for international flights.

Jetlag

  • In order combat jetlag, begin sleeping, staying awake, and eating as closely as possible to destination time while you travel.
  • Your body produces the hormone Melatonin when the sun goes down to cue time for sleep. When overcoming jetlag, you can take Melatonin just before going to bed to help your body adjust to the different time zone. You can buy Melatonin in the pharmacy section of any supermarket. Please check with your doctor before taking any kind of medicine or supplement.

Traveling in Russia

  • Police can ask for your passport at any time. Have it with you.
  • Do your best not to attract attention.
  • Be aware of and sensitive to international relations between Russia and your country.
  • Try not to give away your nationality by your appearance or behavior.
  • Don’t talk about politics, even if asked. Never say anything negative or positive about your government, political figures, or history or Russian government, political figures, or history.
  • Be aware of and sensitive to the fact that the historical and political situation between greater Russia and the people of the Caucasus is complicated and fraught with violence.
  • Many people you will meet are not ethnically Russian and would be offended to be considered so.
  • Be aware that, due to political tensions and proximity to the southern border of Russia, any professional looking photography equipment will raise additional questions.
  • English will not be widely spoken, but for your safety, you should always assume that someone around you understands what you are saying and use care with what you say.
  • Almost all signage will be in Cyrillic. Familiarizing yourself with this alphabet will help you feel more confident from the beginning.
  • Many of the people you meet will not speak Russian as a first language, but Russian is a lingua franca in the linguistically diverse Caucasus.
  • Russian outlets take round 2-pin Euro plugs. Current is 220V.
  • Crosswalks are only respected sometimes. Be careful crossing streets.