Keeping Your Valuables Safe While Traveling
I’ve been fortunate to have traveled much of the world for business and leisure, and some of that has been as a solo woman traveler. I like to think that most people are good in this world, but unfortunately, there are some people out there who are looking for an opportunity to rip you off.
As a traveler with a disability, it’s easy to think that you could be a target when you are on the road, too. I attribute the fact that I’ve traveled without incident to many factors, including luck. However, I do believe that there are some things that you can do to make yourself less of a target and protect yourself from unwanted attention from those who wish to do harm. Here are a few of those tips to help you in your travels.
- Act Like a Local – Even if you have no clue where you are going, don’t whip out a map in the middle of the street to try and figure out where you want to go. Do that in the hotel. Chart your course before you leave your hotel room, noting street names, bus lines, metro stops, etc. Write notes that you can look at discreetly, or put them into your phone, so that you can get to them. Using GPS is great, but also be discreet when using it. If you need assistance, find a person in a uniform, such as a police officer, train official, etc.
- Dress for Success -- Research what the locals wear and try to emulate that. Many guide books and internet sites can tell you that. You will have a better chance of blending in and not drawing additional attention to yourself.
- Speak the Language – Get a good, practical phrase book (I love Rick Steve’s books), or travel app and learn a few key phrases. I will often look up phrases just before I am about to use them. For example, I will look up phrases for the train or bus at the hotel, look up restaurant phrases while I am riding a bus, etc. It helps break the ice, even if you don’t speak well, and doesn’t make you stand out in a crowd. Also, consider your tone. I remember being in a store in Spain, and a bunch of Americans came in speaking loudly, drawing attention to themselves from everyone in the shop. Not only were they not looked at favorably, but anyone who may be interested in doing harm now had some great targets.
- Be Aware – It’s so easy to be distracted by beautiful art, surroundings, and buildings in a new place. Don’t gawk, and look up in wonder. If you want to spend some time looking at something in particular, find places to stop, like a café or park area. You can spend time taking in your surroundings without looking as conspicuous. I know that you love your iPod or cell phone, but lose the electronics when you are walking down the street. Save them for times when you know you don’t have to be aware, like in your hotel room.
- Mind your Money – I rarely carry cash, and when I do, I wear a money belt. I also put a copy of my passport and a couple credit cards in it. I carry a small daypack with essentials, and when I’m I really crowded places, I wear it on my chest, instead of my back. If I need local cash, I use my ATM, which typically gets better exchange rates, and utilize ATMs in a bank or store. I try to avoid ATMs on public streets. Be sure to leave a list of what credit cards you took, company contact numbers, and card numbers at home so that a trusted friend of family member can retrieve them should there be a loss or theft. Keep a photocopy of your passport in your luggage, on your person, and at home.
- Avoid Large Groups – Who doesn’t love street performers? People who want to hang on to their money. Yes, I sound paranoid, but I’ve seen people get pinched as they were watching the cool juggler. If you really want to watch, keep a close eye on your valuables too.
- Just Keep Walking/Rolling – I’ve been approached many times by people, including small children, who want to talk to me by putting a note in front of my face as I walked down the street, or approached me while I was shopping in local markets. These are scams. Ignore them, keep walking, tell them to leave you alone, preferably in the local language. I always learn “Go Away” in local languages.
- Keep Your Valuables Away from the Street – If you have a shopping bag, purse, daypack, or any other valuable that you are carrying, do not carry it in the arm closest to the street. I’ve seen people in Vespa-type scooters rip bags right out of the hands of unsuspecting pedestrians.
- Use the Safe – If you have a safe in your room, which I would highly recommend making sure you do, put your cash, valuables, credit cards, and passport in it. Take only what you need for the day’s excursions.
- Lose the Flash – While it may be difficult to leave your beautiful engagement ring or favorite diamond earrings at home, I highly recommend it. Don’t wear a lot of jewelry or any other items that will draw attention to you.
Most of this is common sense, but it’s easy to forget when you are in the midst of a wonderful trip to a new destination that captivates you. Just remember to keep your head and be conservatively cautious so that you spend your travels enjoying the sights instead of the inside of a police station.