Preparation and common sense can hinder thievesWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Travel often enough and chances are good that at least once in your life you’ll be scammed, robbed, mugged or otherwise interfered with.
It’s sad but true, and it has nothing to do with age, sex, travel destination or whatever. Petty crime is an equal-opportunity event, and no one is immune.
It happens to experienced world travelers like our Aussie friends whose pickpocketing event in St. Petersburg, Russia we reported last week. It happened to a burly British policeman we knew — one of the Queen’s guards — who was knocked down and robbed in a Paris metro station. And it happened to a tour leader whose backpack was snatched on a Madrid street in broad daylight.
It’s even happened to us. A new and rather expensive camera disappeared off the seat on a tourist train running from Nice to Digne. That was 22 years ago. And we’re still mad.
Bottom line is that Fagin and his international band of artful dodgers (and dodgerettes) are at this very moment sitting in some upper garret, flexing their slippery fingers and figuring out new ways of relieving us of our property. All we can do is recognize the potential dangers, make their job as difficult as possible … and if they do succeed, ensure that their haul is as small as possible.
It all starts, of course, with pre-trip preparation.
- Photocopy all your documents, like passports, airplane tickets and credit cards (front and back). And then keep the copies in a separate place from the originals.
- Call credit card and ATM companies and tell them where you’ll be … and when. Also note the emergency numbers to call at home and abroad.
- Carry more than one credit and ATM card. Couples should have cards that are on separate accounts — one MasterCard and one Visa, for example. If one is stolen, the other still works.
- Take nothing of value. No expensive watches. No gold jewelry. No heirlooms.
- Select a wardrobe that allows you to blend in with the local population. Dress down, not up. And please, if traveling overseas, leave your patriotic or U.S.-branded gear at home.
- Travel ultralight. You should be able to carry all of your own luggage, which means a 22-inch carry-on-sized bag and a small daypack per person. Then you’ll have a free hand for warding off evildoers.
- Clear your wallet and purse of all unnecessary credit and shopping cards.
Once on the ground:
- The No. 1 rule is never take travel documents onto the street unless absolutely necessary. Passports, airline tickets, vouchers and the like should be left in the hotel safe, a room safe, if available, or, at the very least, in your suitcase at the back of a closet. Anything is safer than the street. In all our years of travel and leading groups, we’ve never had anything stolen from a hotel room and neither have any of our clients. Out on the street, we’ve got lots of stories to tell.
- Don’t carry wallets in a back pants pocket or a side pocket unless zipped up. Women should avoid shoulder bags. Instead, use a money belt or waist pack worn under clothes. Carry as little money as possible.
- Be consistent when handling documents in public. Always keep them in the same zipped pockets or bag. And never allow yourself to be rushed because that’s when costly mistakes are made.
- Look for an ATM machine that’s inside a bank or foyer. And if at all possible, have someone at your back.
- Keep cameras hidden from view. And if filming extensively, have someone watch out for you.
- Be vigilant at all times, everywhere, especially when jet-lagged, in major tourist areas or in moments of stress.
- Watch out for those ubiquitous begging mothers with babies, any strangers who might approach with questions and gangs of roaming teens, who often carry some kind of cardboard with which to divert you.
- Finally, if you are robbed:
- File a police report; you’ll need it for insurance purposes. The front desk staff at your hotel can often assist with this.
- Call your credit card companies immediately. Ditto your embassy/consulate if passports are involved and airline companies if you lose your tickets.
Follow these steps and your holiday can be worry-free.
Best of all, if you do fall victim to Fagin and Co., they’ll come up empty-handed. And you can relax and have a good time.
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