10 Travel Safety Tips

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:

  1. Blend in. Dress like a local. Find out the cultural norms and expectations and when its hotdress accordingly – even if that means long pants, covered shoulders or a headscarf.
  2. Maps. Keep your map tucked in your bag, not hanging out of your pocket. Step to the side to discreetly consult it.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Backpacks. Make sure all the zippers are closed. If it’s not on your back, put it between your feet.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.SimplyNatural.Honoka'a
  10. 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?


Before You Go

 Passportpeople don't take trips
If you are traveling internationally and do not have a passport, apply for it at least three to six months before your trip. The U.S.Department of State website (www.travel.state.gov) will walk you through all the steps to obtain a passport. If you DO have a passport, check the expiration date. Heads up: I was turned away from a flight to Kenya because my passport expired in three months and Kenya requires a minimum of 6 month validity.

 Other Travel Documents
The Department of State’s website is an encyclopedia of other important travel info like necessary visas, travel warnings, health services and alerts, transportation and more.

 Immunization
Make sure you have necessary vaccinations to travel abroad by going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov/travel. You will probably need to get those shots four-six weeks before your departure date.

 Carry Copies of Travel Documents with You
It is unlikely that your passport will be lost or stolen, but if it is, you’ll need new photos and copies of the missing passport. Make two photocopies of the first two pages of your passport. Leave one copy at home in a file folder, a book, under a cookie sheet, someplace accessible by a friend or neighbor who has access to your house but not out in the open. Take one copy on your trip, but do not carry it in the same bag or pouch as your actual passport. Take two passport-sized photos with you.

 Carry Copies of What’s in Your Wallet or Purse
Photocopy the credit cards and ATM card you are taking with you (take only one or two credit cards), your health insurance card, driver’s license (it’s advisable to have a second form of ID when you travel abroad), airline ticket, itinerary, emergency contact phone numbers at home. Store this info in your suitcase (however, not in the same place as the actual passport and cards).

 Notify Your Credit Card Company
Call the customer service number on the back of the credit card and alert them to your travel plans, especially if you are leaving the country. My Visa card suddenly became inactive in Florence and it took a couple of expensive long distance calls to reactive it. Good going Visa, I’m glad they were looking out for me.

 Cell Phone
Check your phone plan. Some plans and phones work internationally, some do not. If yours does, you can purchase a temporary plan with “roaming” charges and continue to check voice messages, text and emails. Accessibility and charges vary wildly, so it’s imperative you check with your provider before you leave home or you could end up paying as much for a phone call as a ticket to the Louvre. And remember, this applies to Mexico and Canada travel as well. You can also purchase a phone card once you reach your destination or insert an international SIM card in your smart phone. Coming soon: Staying Connected for more information on phones and internet.

Giraffs Medications, Glasses, Contacts
Take an extra pair of prescription glasses, extra contacts and ample contact solution. Make sure you have enough prescription medications for your trip. Many travel experts insist you should carry your prescription meds in their original bottle because the drugs could be confiscated by an overzealous customs/immigration official. I have never followed this rule because I like to put my vitamins and RX drugs in tiny plastic bags to save space. In three decades of globetrotting, nobody, nowhere, no-how has ever cared. Put together a Just-in-Case for unexpected medical issues that always seem to crop up in the middle of the night.

 Luggage
Buy bright baggage tags or tie a piece of neon ribbon to your suitcases. This will make it easier for you to find your bags on a carousel and makes it less likely someone will pick up your suitcase by mistake. Put a copy of your itinerary and your home contact information inside your suitcase. If the suitcase is lost or stolen, this will help the airlines forward or return your bag to you. (You notice I said “suitcase” singular. See Packing Tips.)

 Cash
Get a small supply of foreign currency (more if you’re arriving on the weekend) from your bank.

At Home
 Leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or relative.
 Leave detailed instructions for your house or pet sitter (coming soon For the Housesitter.)
 Notify your home security company the dates you’ll be gone.
 Advise a trusted neighbor that your house will be empty.
 Arrange to have your newspaper and mail stopped or picked up if no one is staying in your house.
 If your trash/recycle bins are full, ask a neighbor to put them out and retrieve them after pickup.
 Prepay bills or arrange for payment.
 Set a timer for outside and inside lights or arrange to have a neighbor turn them on and off.
 Put valuables in a safe deposit box.
 Back up your computer files.
 Confirm your flights 72 hours before departure.

The Day Before You GoGray Whale Barkley Sound Canada
 Clean out the fridge.
 Run the garbage disposal.
 Run and empty the dishwasher.
 Empty the trash.

Departure Day
 Set the thermostat.
 If your car is staying in the garage, remove the garage door opener, lock the car and hide the keys.
 Unplug appliances.
 Turn off the coffee pot.
 Double-check all window and door locks.
 Set the security system.