We associate travel with memorable and eye-opening experiences. But things can take a turn for the worse when your money, credit cards, important documents, and other belongings are stolen along the way.
Moreover, the fact that you’re miles away from home makes the incident all the more stressful. For some travelers, experiencing theft left them scarred, so much so that they decide never to visit the destination again.
But here’s the deal:
You will encounter good and bad people wherever you go.
The risk of theft is always looming no matter the destination. You can’t change that. What you can change, however, is how you approach travel safety so you don’t become a target. And that is what this post is all about.
Before You Go
Travel tales and memories that last a lifetime start with thorough preparation. Preparation will not only make your trip and vacation smoother, but it will also alert you to dangers you otherwise wouldn’t have known. Here’s how to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Research Your Destination
Looking up destinations online not only helps you find activities and attractions everyone will enjoy. But doing so also alerts you to potential risks which can ruin your vacation.
Use good ol’ Google to read online newspapers in your destination. The News section, in particular, can clue you in on safety and theft risks in the area.
Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree is another online resource to check out.
The Thorn Tree is a travel forum with millions of users from around the world that publish more than 100,000 posts per month. Members in the forum are highly responsive and generously share insider knowledge. You only have to ask!
If you plan to visit another country, see if Travel.State.gov issued a travel alert or warning. The website also provides crime and safety reports for every country, as well as contact numbers US citizens can reach out to in case of emergencies.
When Booking A Hotel Room…
See if you can get a room on the third floor or above.
Hotel rooms near the ground floor are a prime target for break-ins. Windows and doors that open to a parking lot or exterior hallway give would-be burglars and thieves easy access and escape. If you must stay in a room on the ground floor, always lock the door before the family leaves or goes to sleep.
You don’t want to stay at the eighth floor (or beyond) of a high-rise hotel either. Otherwise, evacuation during a fire or disaster will prove difficult.
Before booking, ask whether your hotel offers tight security. You will, of course, get positive answers if you ask straight up. So inquire instead about the following when you get someone on the phone:
- Presence of security cameras in the hallways
- Presence of security personnel
- Types of door and window locks
- Indoor and outdoor lighting
- Distance of the parking lot to the lobby
- Security inspections when cars and trucks enter
A hotel may be reluctant to discuss their security practices over the phone for security purposes. If such is your case, read online reviews or get a second opinion from someone who has stayed in the property.
Pack Smart And Secure Your Luggage
Rule number one when packing for a flight:
Must-have items and valuables must go into the carry-on bag, not the checked luggage. The list includes:
- Laptops, smartphones, and other gadgets
- Travel documents and identification
- Kid supplies and other essentials
- Money and jewelry
Anything that you can’t afford to lose should go into the carry-on. The risk of checked baggage theft is real. You may not hear about it in the news often. But don’t think for a minute that your diamond ring or Macbook Pro is safe in your checked bag.
The bags go into the belly of the airplane, where airport employees can freely rummage through the contents without the risk of getting caught. And when no one is around to set everything in order, we get reports like the following
- In 2012, the Daily Mail claimed that than 200 items are stolen every day from checked baggages at the JFK airport. Meanwhile, the airline reports most of these incidents as “lost luggage” instead of theft.
- In 2014, the LA Times reported about an investigation into a baggage theft operation in Los Angeles Airport, involving as many as 25 baggage handlers.
- And in 2015, an analysis by CNN on passenger property loss claims found that the received TSA 30,621 claims of missing valuables, most of which are in checked luggages.
You should also consider bringing a pack of TSA-approved luggage locks.
Security will not allow you to lock your luggage at the airport. But the locks come handy when you get to your hotel or destination. If you need to leave your bags in a room, just put all of your valuables in the bag, lock it, and you’re good to go.
You may want to invest in security luggage cables, too. With one, you can secure your belongings to an immovable piece of furniture in your room, like the bed or couch.
Keeping Your Belongings Secure At The Hotel
When you get to your hotel room, relaxing is the first thing you want to do. After all, you just spent the past few hours traveling and carrying your luggage. You deserve a break!
But while relaxation is encouraged, dropping down your guard isn’t.
Security experts like Phillip Farina of Enterprising Securities estimate that, at least, one crime may occur daily at a big-city hotel. Meanwhile, an investigation by USA Today found that more than half of the crimes committed at the detriment of hotel guests are theft, with 38% occurring in hotel rooms.
The statistics are especially disappointing as these places take pride in providing a safe haven for their guests. If you’re staying in a hotel, you will want to keep the following tips in mind.
Take A Closer Look Before Using The Safe
Hotel room safes are not always safe.
“Is the safe bolted down?” is the first question you want to ask. If not, someone can just pick it up and walk off with it – along with your valuables inside.
You should also check the unlocking mechanism of the safe. Does it use a key or a combination? If it uses the former, you can bet that someone in the building has the master key or a duplicate.
Combinations, while a tad more secure than keys, have their share of vulnerabilities, too. Some safes will have a default combination (ex: 12345 or 00000) so the staff can open it in case you forget your passcode. Give those passcodes a try. If any of them works, don’t leave your stuff in the safe!
Pay attention to the keypad, too. If the pad has a layer of wax or grease, someone is probably trying to identify the combination using the smudge left by your fingers.
Going Out? Leave The Lights And TV On
We want to do our bit in conserving energy.
But when you’re staying in a hotel, leaving some appliances on is one of the simplest and most practical ways to prevent theft. And besides, you’ve already paid for your room!
Burglars and thieves are opportunists. They want easy pickings. They want to take what they can take, while staying under the radar. By keeping the lights on, you’re signaling that you’re in the room. That alone can be enough to convince the crooks to skip your room and look for another target.
You should also close the blinds and windows – not just for privacy but for safety reasons, too. You don’t want outsiders to pick up on your routine during your stay, like going out by 10AM and getting back before 6PM.
And for good measure:
Switch on the TV and turn up the volume before you go.
Don’t blast the television, though. Doing so will annoy neighboring vacationers, especially in hotels with inadequate soundproofing. However, you want to turn the volume loud enough so people in front of your door can hear it.
Prevent Loot And Scoots With The Do Not Disturb Sign
Hanging the “Make This Room” sign makes you a target for “loot and scoot.”
The “loot and scoot” is a tactic where a brazen hotel thief pretends to be a guest while the hotel staff is giving your room a makeover. The culprit then goes into your room and pretend to have forgotten the key or something important, prompting the housekeeper to exit.
From here, your bag of belongings turns to a thief’s flea market!
Note, too, that the cleaning crew may still clean your room even if you don’t hang the “Make This Room” sign.
So if the entire family is heading off into town:
Hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign instead.
The sign not only prevents housekeeping from exposing you to theft risks. Would-be crooks will also avoid your room altogether as they’ll think someone is inside. However, do note that cleaning crews may still proceed despite the “Do Not Disturb” sign. So call the front desk and ask them to not clean your room for good measure.
Avoiding Pickpockets On The Road
Did you know?
More than 400,000 incidents of pickpocketing happen every day, with Barcelona, Madrid, Prague, Paris, and Rome topping the list of cities with the highest occurrences of pickpocketing. Worse, however, only one out of 100 reported incidents is solved.
If you’re a victim of pickpocketing, your chances of getting back what was stolen and bringing the crooks to justice are very slim.
So don’t become a victim! Here’s how.
Know The Rampant Modus Operandi In Your Destination
The creativity of pickpockets knows no bounds. From stripteasing shoplifters, thrown babies, street magic, to dropped wallets, these guys will do anything to distract you so they can lift your wallet.
On the other hand, pickpockets are not the only people after your credit cards and cash. You will also have to be wary of:
- The expensive taxi driver who will purposely take longer routes and streets with heavy traffic. Others even use an altered meter to increase the fare at a faster-than-normal rate.
- The cashier who serves you while on the phone. Nothing wrong in that unless you’re the store owner – until you realize that the cashier is actually taking a photo of your credit card so they may replicate it later.
- The fake policemen who will approach you and try to inspect your wallet for fake or drug money. You hand over your wallet like any law-abiding tourist would, only to discover that you’ve lost some bills.
And the list goes on and on!
Keep Your Cards, Wallet, And Cash In Front Of You
When you keep your valuables in front of you, you will have an easier time keeping an eye on them.
The fanny pack used to be an effective solution until pickpockets figured out that they can take off the strap without breaking a sweat. Not to mention wearing one signals that you’re a tourist. See the movie clip below for a quick demonstration.
Today, thieves call the fanny pack “one-stop shopping.”
Instead of a fanny pack, you want something that’s impossible to take away from you and maintains a low profile.
Look at getting pickpocket-proof clothing with secret pockets. A company called Clever Travel Companion makes leggings, crew necks, hoodies, dress t-shirts, tank tops, and scarfs, and they also have shirts for the kids… all with multiple hidden pockets.
You may need more space than what the concealed pockets can provide; but with these, you can at least rest assured that your credit cards, cash, ID, and other small but high-value items stay with you at all times.
Be Extra Cautious And Alert In Crowds
So a fight is breaking out? Maybe a fine-looking lady stumbled on the road?
Whatever the commotion, be extra cautious if a crowd starts gathering.
Even if the commotion isn’t manufactured by a team of pickpockets, your spidey senses should start tingling anyway. Crowds give the bad guys a lot of opportunities and escape routes. So step back from the scene of action and make sure your belongings are still with you.
Public transport, in particular, is a hunting ground for pickpockets so stay alert and keep those eyes open.
Traveling by train with a group? Then take turns watching the luggage. Remember not to lose your claim ticket or locker key. If a thief gets their hands on either of those, he or she will know just what to do with it.
You may also want to think twice about boarding buses that cover tourist attractions, such as Rome’s bus #64. A simple internet search will turn up dozens of forum threads started by victims who lost money, jewelries, and credit cards to thieves while on the bus.