Vacationing is fun, but you can’t expect crime to cease to exist just because you’re having a good time. It’s still out there and many destinations are full of thieves that are playing Spot the Tourists and then quickly planning how to rob you blind. I hate to think of this side of travel, but it’s real and something to always be aware of. You don’t want your getaway spoiled by having your passport, credit cards or cash stolen or have even worse things happen to you. That’s a sure way to end up spending the rest of your time there trying to figure out how to get back home. So. Not. Fun. Here are some tips on how not to be a crime victim. While they seem fairly logical, I see people doing these things every time I travel, and sometimes even when I’m walking around Portland.
Research crime at your destination. You can never know too much about where you’re going. I know the best part about vacationing is discovery, but you don’t want to “discover” that muggers are ten times more likely to attack people walking around after dark when it is happening to you. One of the things I wish I had learned in Ecuador was that criminals look for cars parked on the street at night to break into and steal everything inside. Luckily, they only got away with a hat (I still don’t understand that) and my husband’s cell phone, which was easily turned off, but had no one been walking by at that moment, they would have had time to steal the computer board in the car’s dash and we would have been out way more money than what it cost to replace the broken window. Make sure you have the option of parking in a lot or garage that has 24-hour security. We learned the hard way, but it could have been much worse than a whole day of vacation wasted talking to the police and getting our window repaired.
Put away your map. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk with your nose in a map crease is just screaming to the world that you are a clueless tourist. Thieves are watching you and maybe trying to think of a way to give you a hand...by stealing all your valuables. Unless you want to be using that map as a blanket when you're forced to sleep on the park bench when all your money is gone, try to minimize using a map as a means to get around while you're on the street. Plan out your route and write down some directions either on a small piece of paper or on your phone. Nobody notices people who glance down at their phones every once in a while.
Pay attention to your surroundings (quit texting and walking). Yes, I know I just told you to use your phone as a notebook, but don't be a wandering texter. Pay attention to where you are and who's around you. Being and looking aware is a deterrent to criminals. They want to attack and/or rob someone who is totally oblivious to what's going on, and that means those that are talking on the phone while walking down dark or empty streets (and subways) and those texting continuously instead of looking where they (and others) are going.
Travel with a friend. I don't often travel alone, because I have a husband who loves to explore new places, but those that aren't so lucky may benefit from traveling with a companion. Lone travelers are more susceptible to being mugged, but if you make sure you’re aware of what’s around you and where you’re going, you’ll be a lot better off. If you can find a friend that you are comfortable traveling with and you both want to go, then not only will you have someone to share expenses with, but you’ll also be less likely a target. It never hurts if that travel companion is big and looks like they could beat up anyone who bothers you either. Just sayin’.
Stay sober. Yes, I am a killjoy, but when you drink, your judgment becomes cloudy and you may make decisions that are not great, like trusting someone you just met. And yes, I know there are a lot of good people out there, but that doesn’t mean you want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, especially in a different country full of strangers. If you need a reminder why this is on the list, rent Hostel. Yes, it’s extreme, but that doesn’t mean it has never happened.
Don’t trust everyone you meet. This goes along with staying sober. At home you don’t expect that everyone is your friend and telling you the truth, so don’t assume that on vacation either. I’m wary of everyone and remember the term I learned in driver’s ed: leave yourself an out. Make sure you are aware of exits, other people in the area, how you got where you are and any weapons. Sure, that might be a little zombie apocalyptic in thinking, but I have yet to be attacked on a vacation and I plan to keep it that way. I can apply the same rules to escaping from a sudden fire inside a building! If you need some movies to reference as to why this is on the list, you can Netflix Brokedown Palace with Claire Danes who ends up in a Thai prison or Turistas with Josh Duhamel. Just stay with the bus…oh, and don’t get drunk so strangers steal your things.
Keep your money hidden. Don't be one of those dummies that stands on the street counting your change you just got back in the store or the cash you just got out of the ATM. If you don't get robbed at that point, you should be surprised. Watch as the clerk counts back your money and put the small bills where they are easily accessible (because likely you will need those more than any big bills while traveling around) and put the larger ones in an inside pocket where you will notice if thieves try to get to it. If you think about it, you see that guy sitting at the outside café take out a big wad of bills to pay for his check and you wonder what the heck he's thinking. Apparently, he has money to spare, but since you don't, keep your money out of sight whenever possible.
If you are a victim of robbery or other crime, then be prepared. Have numbers to important people stashed in your bag or, better yet, your memory and have back-up copies of all your documents and cards. I’ll give you tips on the best way to do this in the next blog post.
Have you learned a safety lesson the hard way?