It doesn’t matter whether you are traveling to a city in the U.S., a European destination or somewhere in the third world. The simple truth is you should always be a little cautious when in a new environment, regardless of whether you think you are safe or not. While this may seem obvious, I think we have all been guilty of a cavalier attitude in some travel situations.
With that in mind, here are a few common sense tips to keep in mind for your next trip.
#1: Don’t advertise that you are a tourist
Flashy jewelry, unconventional attire and your head in a street map are sure signs that you don’t belong. Instead leave the expensive jewelry at home and try to dress according to “local norms”, or at least in a way that makes you less likely to stand out in a crowd. And, if you can, try to get a sense of where you are going before you get in the car or hit the street. However, if you do need to check a map, make sure you do it discreetly.
Example: When I visited Paris a few years ago, I made my husband switch out his sneakers, shorts and baseball hat for jeans, smarter shoes and a collared T-shirt. The result? While all of the other tourists around us were being bombarded by peddlers, we were left alone.
#2: Be observant of your surroundings
Always be aware of those around you, as well as times when you may be the only one on the street. And, given that most crimes occur between 10 pm and 5 am, be particularly vigilant at night and try not to travel alone.
Example: Once, on a repeat visit to Costa Rica, I noticed some pamphlets about a car-jacking crime ring operating near to the San Jose airport. The advice the pamphlet gave was to keep driving at all costs until you reached a police station or gas station. And I’m glad I read it. Because, at the main roundabout taking us toward Manuel Antonio, a car pulled up next to us and a man leaned out of his window with a big knife and popped our tire. In broad daylight! Even though the car moved ahead of us, it seemed to be waiting for us to pull over to the side of the road. When we didn’t, it changed tack, pulling over itself and then following us immediately from behind instead. Needless to say we drove that rental on its rims until we reached a gas station where, luckily, there were several policemen on motorbikes who were able to help.
#3: Lock up!
By this I mean, lock your hotel room when you are inside. Lock your car, regardless of whether you are inside or not. And keep your valuables in the hotel safe – including your passport, a spare ATM card and a credit card.
Example: My in-laws once had a horrible European vacation because one night, as they were pulled over in their rental car, trying to figure out how to get to their next pit stop, a thief opened the back passenger door and ran off with my mother-in-laws handbag…which contained their passports, all of their money and their credit cards.
#4: Make use of the hotel concierge
Use your hotel to establish trustworthy contacts. But remember, you don’t have to be staying at a hotel to make use of their services. Most hotels, regardless of whether you are a guest, can help you arrange tours, taxis and guides with pre-established and vetted vendors.
Example: When I rented a home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, a couple of years ago, I used a nearby hotel to book some of my activities. And, as recently as this May, I stepped into an upscale hotel in San Antonio, Texas (where I wasn’t staying) to get a recommendation for a great place for dinner.
#5: Stay in touch
Make sure family and friends not only know where you are going and where you are staying, but that you also stay in touch with them throughout your trip. Even better, try to pre-arrange regular communications – that way they will know something is wrong if you don’t check-in. Also, if you are traveling abroad, make sure you inform the U.S. State Department of your travel plans via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
Example: Every time I travel I make sure to send my family my travel itinerary before I leave. However I also (particularly when moving around) try to send periodic email updates about my adventures. Most hotels offer internet access and/or a business center for a small fee. However, if this is not the case for you, you can always make your way to an internet cafe and use one of their computers. In my experience you can find internet cafes virtually anywhere in the world – including a small surfing villages in Costa Rica or South African towns like Victoria Falls.
#6: Be strategic
It is possible to minimize travel risk simply by making the right choices. Consider asking for a hotel room above ground floor to prevent street-level break-ins. But try to get a room below the sixth floor to make it easier to evacuate in case of fire or another emergency. And try not to advertise your presence with the complimentary “do not disturb” signs left in your room.
#7: Do your research in advance
Risks are often restricted to certain cities, towns or regions that can be easily avoided. Check the U.S. State Department’s website for travel warnings. And try to plan some of your trip in advance so that you know where you are going and what you want to see. This way you can do a little research about each place before you leave. You may discover that it is recommended that you use private car services, rather than public transportation, or that reputable guides are the safest way to explore the area.
Featured Image: Hotel Room Safe (Shutterstock.com)