David Abolafia

Safe Travels: A Combination of Smarts and Strategy

David Abolafia

Backpakers in the city checking map

When you’re about to depart for a vacation, you can expect at least one friend or loved one to remark, “Have a safe trip.” And while this sentiment is meant to convey a wish that no misfortune should befall you on your way, there’s a lot more to being a safe traveler than just luck. You can do a lot to protect yourself – both physically and financially – when traveling in an unfamiliar city, both domestically and internationally. It starts by realizing that the first step to saying safe is being smart.

Tourists tend to be easy targets. So no matter where you are, don’t make it obvious that you aren’t from there. It’s one thing if you’re at a major attraction, but if you’re out in the city:

  • Don’t stand around taking pictures of everything – especially when you use your cell phone. Not only does this attract attention, but when you hold it out in front of you to get that perfect shot, it’s easier for a thief to grab.
  • If you need to look at a map, step inside a coffee shop or bookstore, rather than doing it on the street. By appearing lost, you become prey for unscrupulous types who offer “help” – either for a fee, or which directs you to a more remote area where you become vulnerable.
  • Don’t carry purses. Not only do they suggest a big score for thieves, but the straps tend to be designed for style, not security, and will likely snap if grabbed. It’s a lot safer to use backpacks (secured with straps over both shoulders), fanny packs or money belts (worn under your clothing). If you use a wallet or billfold, keep it in your front pocket.
  • When you get up after eating a meal (especially at an outdoor café), take an extra look around for your belongings. When you travel, you tend to carry more items with you – things you may not remember until it’s too late.
  • If you’re out sightseeing, there is no need to wear flashy or expensive jewelry.

Another strategy is to carry a “dummy” wallet, with a small amount of cash and an expired credit card or two. This way, if you do happen to get mugged, you have something to give the thief to end the confrontation quickly and minimize your loss.

Traveling internationally adds another layer of unfamiliarity to your surroundings, and therefore requires additional diligence on your part. Beyond the basic travel do’s and don’ts – don’t hitchhike, don’t carry your passport or travel documents with you, do frequent heavily populated areas – there are other ways to stay safe:

  • Make a copy of your passport and travel documents and keep them in a safe place, in case the originals get stolen.
  • If you have luggage, grab it off the baggage claim carousel immediately. If you wait for the crowd to disperse, you may find that someone has taken your bags. Even if someone grabs yours by mistake, it can be a while before the mix-up is discovered.
  • Avoid changing money at the airport, where you may be targeted by thieves. Get your currency before you leave, or better yet, use traveler’s cheques or credit cards.
  • Learn some key phrases in the local language. Nothing screams “tourist” like an insistence on speaking in English (or another tongue that’s foreign in that country). In addition, the locals are likely to be more accommodating when you make the effort.
  • In other countries, Americans tend to be perceived as wealthy, so avoid publicizing your country of origin. Dress according to local fashion and observe local customs.

One of the best strategies is to become friendly with hotel managers/concierges. These knowledgeable individuals can be extraordinary resources on what to do and what to avoid. For instance, because the tactics used by thieves and con artists vary from place to place, a hotel manager can advise you on what local scams to be on the lookout for. You should also ask about public transportation. Knowing what official taxicabs look like means you won’t get into a thief’s car by mistake. And because hotel employees tend to be local, they can steer you away from seedier parts of the city.

Ultimately, what’s most important to remember is that the world isn’t unsafe or dangerous. There are desperate and unscrupulous people everywhere, including your hometown. And when you’re traveling within your hometown, you instinctively protect yourself against those people and avoid the places they’re known to populate. Those habits will serve you well when you step outside your geographic comfort zone; just educate yourself, before, during and even after your trip, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable time as you set out to see the world.

For questions or to book your next trip with Coast to Coast Grand Getaways, give us a call at (888) 269-0182.

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