The opening pages of The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida describes an American tourist checking into a hotel in Morocco. She lays her backpack at her feet, fills out the registration form and chats with the desk clerk for a moment, then she leans down to pick up her backpack. It’s gone.
Unfortunately, there are bad guys (and gals) the world over. The Eifel Tower a and Times Square are plagued with pickpockets. Street urchins in Mexico and San Diego act as foils to get your attention so their partner can snatch your purse. Pedicab drivers in the Philippines drive unsuspecting tourists down a deserted street and demand money.
Fortunately, incidents like this are not the norm in most countries. I’ve traveled for three decades in Asia, the Pacific, Europe, South America and Africa and have never been a victim. You don’t need to be paranoid, just vigilant, no matter where you are. Here are some pointers to keep you, your cash and your stuff safe:
- Blend in. Dress like a local. Find out the cultural norms and expectations and dress accordingly – even if that means long pants, covered shoulders or a headscarf.
- Maps. Keep your map tucked in your bag, not hanging out of your pocket. Step to the side to discreetly consult it.
- Cameras. If you take a camera, keep it close to your body at all times. Cell phone cameras are ubiquitous, so snapping pics will not necessarily brand you as a tourist anymore. Again, discretion rules.
- Phones. Do not lay your cell phone on the table at a restaurant (easy for a passer-by to snatch) or turn it over to someone else to take your photo. Selfie, anyone?
- Cash. Figure out the currency as soon as you start handling it so you understand what you’re being charged. And handle cash inconspicuously – don’t lay it all out on the table to sort it or examine the pretty pictures on the bills.
- Purses. Carry a small purse with a cross-body strap. Do not hang it on the back of your chair or put it on the floor.
- Backpacks. Make sure all the zippers are closed. If it’s not on your back, put it between your feet.
- Suitcases. Keep your suitcase in sight at all times. If your luggage goes into the trunk of a cab or the back of a van, watch it go in and jump out soon as the vehicle stops so you can retrieve your suitcase.
- Hotels. Know where the exits are. Use the peephole if someone knocks and don’t open the door if you’re unsure of the person on the other side. Call the front desk to confirm if the person says he is a repairman. Leave the TV or radio on when you are out of the room. Don’t use the doorknob hanger at all. “Do Not Disturb” says you’re sleeping and “Make Up The Room” says you’re out. A room thief can use either piece of information to their advantage.
- Small talk. Talking to people you meet on trains, boats and in restaurants can be delightful and a great way to get to know the country you’re visiting. Just use your head and don’t divulge too much personal information. Keep in mind if you’re in a public place, anybody could be eavesdropping.
Got any safety tips of your own to add?