Whether it's for business or pleasure, many people travel. Millions of travelers do it every year and if all goes well, they return home with good memories and great photographs. Unfortunately, not all travelers are so fortunate. Even in popular resort areas in countries that are generally considered to be safe destinations, travelers can fall prey to thieves and scam artists. The good news is that with a few simple precautions, you can dramatically increase the odds of an incident-free trip. Next time you head to an interesting and exotic location, be sure to pack these tips.
Think Before You Go
In many of the most beautiful parts of the world, corporate headquarters buildings and luxury vacation destinations exist in the midst of stark poverty. The simple fact that you can afford to travel to such destinations may mark you as a rich tourist in the eyes of the locals. Designer clothes, excessive jewelry, the map in your hand and that expensive camera hanging around your neck all work to make you stand out from the crowd.
Therefore, the first step that you can take toward ensuring a safer trip is to minimize the attention that you call to yourself, thus making yourself a less attractive target.
To keep your money safe, you need to take precautions. Carry as little cash as possible, relying instead on travelers' checks and credit cards. Travelers' checks are great because they can easily be replaced if lost or stolen, and customer service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When possible, get the checks in local currency, and carry multiple checks in small denominations. Sign them as soon as you get them, and put the receipt in a separate location. Credit cards are good too, because they can be canceled quickly should they be lost or stolen. (For related reading, see Identity Theft: How To Avoid It and Identity Theft: What To Do If It Happens.)
When you must carry cash, carry only the amount that you expect to need for the day. Don't flaunt large amounts of cash in public, and exercise caution when exchanging money for local currency. If you must use an ATM, use one that is located inside a store or hotel rather than out on a street corner, and put the cash away quickly.
Consider carrying two wallets. One should be a cheap wallet or money clip containing a handful of small bills and a few expired credit cards. If you do get robbed or held up, it won't be a problem to hand over this wallet to the crooks.
Also, remember to carry the majority of your money close to your skin. Put it in a money belt worn under your clothing, tuck it in your shoe, or sew an extra pocket inside your slacks or dress. When you need to access it, do so in private. Never carry a wallet in a back pocket, and never trust all of your valuables to a single location, including a purse.
Treat your passport, driver's license, credit cards and airlines tickets as if they were cash and protect them accordingly. Make copies of these documents prior to your departure, and keep the copies in a safe place away from your other valuables. If you get robbed, at least you will have the copies to help establish your identity with local authorities.
Other tips include,
- Dress conservatively, wearing only a minimum of jewelry. Ladies, consider leaving that diamond ring at home.
- Don't carry an expensive camera on a strap around your neck - you're only putting yourself and your camera at risk.
- When possible, avoid walking anywhere alone. There is safety in numbers.
- Avoid high-risk areas. Getting off of the beaten path may be a great way to see how the locals live, but it also increases your odds of running into trouble.
- Never get into an unmarked taxi. Whenever possible, call for a cab rather than hopping into the nearest vehicle. Always make note of the taxi's number and driver's identification, if available.
- Never leave money, cameras, computers or other valuables in a hotel room. If you must, don't leave these items out in plain sight. Tucking them into a closet or sticking them in a drawer is better than leaving them out in the open.
Check Before You Leave the Country
Traveling outside of the United States provides access to countless destinations offering a wide variety of interesting new experiences, but there are some places that you just shouldn't go. If you're planning on taking a trip, play it safe and check the U.S. Department of State website - it can give you an excellent overview of the risks that you may encounter when you visit other countries. Consular information sheets are available for every country in the world.
If You Get Robbed
Despite your best efforts, sometimes bad luck catches up with even the best-prepared travelers. If you have the misfortune of being accosted, do not resist. Hand over the requested items, and leave the scene as quickly as possible. It is better to lose a few dollars than to risk being injured. Report the incident to authorities, but don't expect the issue to be resolved. Petty crimes can be difficult to solve even when locals are victimized. When foreigners are robbed, the crooks and the cops both know that you will likely leave the country in just a few days. Unfortunately, once you are out of sight, you are also out of mind.
Making smart and safe decisions when you travel will not only give you peace of mind, but should help to keep you out of harm's way. Traveling can be a great way to relax and slow down, or to explore exciting new locales and sample unfamiliar foods, lifestyles and activities. Whatever destination you choose, be sure to temper your enthusiasm with caution and remember that while the unfamiliarity of the places you visit makes them exciting, your lack of knowledge is also what puts you at risk. So the next time you pack your bags, take caution and common sense along with you.
For related reading, see Cruise Ships: Reining In Vacation Spending.