Travel Safety 101
Adventure is calling, but you don't know the first thing about traveling abroad and are fearful that it may be unsafe. Don't worry, if you follow these tips you'll dramatically lower your risk and be prepared for the majority of circumstances you might encounter. If these tips seem easy, it's because they are, and the world isn't actually as scary as your mind, and news outlets, make it out to be.
Use common sense
Don't take candy (or anything "free" such as a gift, tour, or transportation) from a stranger; don't get drunk; don't go to areas of town that are unfriendly, or even worse, alone at night; be aware of travel scams. You (hopefully) use common sense everyday at home, don't turn it off or become disoriented because you're in a foreign place. Normal values and standards still apply around the world.
Don't wear a large, flashing neon sign that says "I'm a tourist! I'm not from here!"
Okay, no one actually wears a sign, but we do carry large, very expensive cameras around our necks, or stop in precarious places and bury our noses in guidebooks or maps and therefore cease paying attention to our immediate surroundings. For some reason, we also dress drastically different than we do at home. When traveling, it suddenly becomes acceptable to us to wear breathable exercise clothes and running shoes everywhere, with large brand names making you look like a walking billboard. If you don't realize that all of the locals are noticing you, well, they are. And the ones with bad intentions see you as an easy mark.
Be aware of your surroundings
You're in a foreign place, for goodness sake, take in what is around you! Put away your smartphone, stop listening to music all of the time, and simply be aware. This could be grouped together with the above discussion on common sense, but I see it too often so it is worth mentioning.
Tell your mom you're leaving (or someone you're close with back home)
Give a copy of your itinerary to a couple significant people in your life. If something happens to you, or someone you care about back home, these people will have an idea of where you are and how to contact you. This itinerary should of course include addresses of where you are staying, and if there is a phone number where they can reach you, such as the front desk of a hotel, make sure to include that as well.
Backup important documents
Before you leave, make a photocopy of your passport and any other important documents and keep them in a separate place from the originals. In the unlikely event that you lose something, these copies will be essential in getting a replacement expedited. Also, write down the international customer service numbers for any credit or debit cards you bring with you. In the unusual case that you lose a card, you can call that number and get assistance in cancelling it immediately.
Read about your destination, the current events there and local news, as well as any online forums where recent travelers have posted about their experiences. Review official government information, such as the US Department of State's website, for any travel warnings or advice. Gather all of the information you can find, and run it through your own common sense filter. Most news articles and even (especially) government websites notoriously exaggerate their warnings and negative messages, but there is certainly truth in their messages that can help you refine your research further.
Finally, have a good trip! If you can't relax and enjoy your adventure then you either haven't learned anything and need to reread this article, or you probably shouldn't have booked that trip to North Korea. Either way, you aren't using common sense!