Prep for Protection
I like to think of the lead-up time to a vacation as the “honeymoon phase”: dreamily perusing guidebooks and making lists of the must-sees I’ll be touring in some beautiful, foreign locale. This is before the “marriage phase” kicks in: the trip itself, which usually is a wonderful experience, but nonetheless includes some bumps and detours along the way.
The hard fact about any kind of travel is that — like marriage — it makes you vulnerable in particular ways. When you’re away from home, your residence may be more susceptible to theft. You’re more distracted by the new sights and events around you, which may make you an easier mark for thieves and scammers. You may be so caught up in your adventure that you miss bigger dangers. Take a bit of time and effort to employ these safe travel tips, and you’ll enjoy less stress as you embark on your journey.
Secure the Home Front
Whether it’s a weekend away or a month in Europe, you’ll enjoy any trip better if you don’t have to worry about returning to a ransacked home or apartment. The basic approach to deter would-be thieves has usually been to stop your mail service, put a few lights on a timer and ask a neighbor to keep an eye out. However, your social media activity may defeat all of this if you’re announcing to the world via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: “Hey guys, I’m halfway around the world right now!” Instead, take a breather from social (Hey, what’s a vacation for, anyway?) and post an album of your best pics — to the envy of friends and family — when you return home.
If the thought of burglars using social media doesn’t stop you from real-time travel twittering and you lack a traditional home security system, you may want to consider more inexpensive systems that will alert you if someone enters your place while you’re away.
Protect Your Travel Valuables
So you’ve arrived at your destination and are ready to hit the town. Hopefully, you’ve left your irreplaceable jewelry at home and picked up some inexpensive travel jewelry. Still, you may have valuables you don’t want to leave out in your room. Lock them up, but never in an electronic room safe, which can often be opened with a default code or a simple fist.
Instead, ask the concierge to leave valuables in the hotel safe. I always pack a sealable security envelope with a list of credit card provider contact numbers, a printed itinerary and a piece of paper with only the first half of the number from each credit card I’m carrying (the second half of the numbers goes on a piece of paper in my shoe or money belt). When I get to the hotel, I throw my passport and any other valuables into the envelope, seal it and secure it at the front desk.
Stay Smart on the Move
Everything is locked up and you’re ready to get going. Invest in a money belt or bra stash to store a photocopy of your passport, infrequently used credit cards and some cash. Keep the rest in a zippered pocket on your person, or your hand- or shoulderbag. Some women love anti-theft travel purses, but any zippered bag with a sturdy strap that rests snugly under your arm or across your body is a good choice.
Before you arrive at your destination, it’s also smart to research any popular tourist scams that you may encounter. For instance, are you familiar with the notorious Parisian String Scam? Or the Athens Bar Scam? Me neither, but knowing about them before I go means I’ll be less susceptible to falling for them.
Even if you’re staying away from social sharing, you may need to keep in touch via email while you’re away. The trick to safe browsing is to stay as independent as possible: Internet cafes can be cesspits of keylogging and adware that can gain access to your information while you unwittingly peruse your inbox, thieves can “sniff” valuable information from unsecured wireless networks at popular tourist cafes and seemingly “safe” hotel WiFi can also be vulnerable to hackers.
So what’s a connected girl to do? If you’re travelling inside the United States, consider picking up a pay-as-you-go mobile hotspot: It provides secure 3G or 4G WiFi depending upon your location, and you don’t need to commit to a multi-year contract. (It also comes in handy when visiting older family members with dial-up — or zero — Internet).
You also have options for when you travel overseas: Keep your email and Web surfing limited to international roaming on your mobile phone (the priciest option); ask your provider to unlock your phone — or purchase an unlocked GSM phone — to use with a local prepaid SIM card; or try a USB dongle with a local SIM to connect your laptop securely to the Internet.
Staying connected also means keeping other people in the loop. It’s always smart to leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member and update them as your travel plans change. If you’re traveling overseas, consider registering with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It only takes a few minutes, and you’ll receive notifications to your email address or phone if a travel alert is issued in your country. Think your destination is politically safe enough? STEP can also be used to locate you in the event of a natural disaster like an earthquake.