Travel Safe: Everyday, Everywhere!

 

 Dear Friends,

US Passport

Whether traveling to Myrtle Beach or Thailand staying safe requires just a little planning and awareness.

Here are just a few of the millions of tips available and some of my personal experiences. 

Make sure someone knows your itinerary.

Whether it’s a friend, family, or business associate there are people in your life that should know or be aware of your itinerary for your time away. This also means being organized for even a weekend getaway with a printed itinerary of your flights or drive routes, hotels or friends your visiting,  names, addresses and phone numbers.

In the event of an emergency, like you don’t show up or are injured they should have some information as to where you are supposed to be and what you are doing. It’s important that at least one other person knows of where you are.

Phone APPS

Utilize the Find My Friends app on the iPhone or Google’s Trusted Contacts app on Android devices. This app gives access to certain people (who you select) to have your GPS location at all times, even if you’re thousands of miles away!

During a heavy travel schedule, I was injured in a third world country and the local hospital told the organizers of my trip it was best if I was airlifted back to the US. Luckily I wasn’t traveling totally on my own and my airlift was arranged. When they called my daughter she said “Where is she now?!”  If on my own the hospital would have had no information about me and I wouldn’t have been able to handle anything. No family or other persons knew where I was either. Not good.

Write emergency and itinerary info down in many spots.

In your backpack, wallet, purse and suitcase leave emergency information regarding your address, phone number, or emergency contact. This is crucial in case you are traveling and in the event of an emergency, you need the hospital, paramedics, police, or some other form of help.

Make copies…

Make copies of all important documents.

In the event that you lose your passport, usually, you can still enter and leave with a copy. There might be some minor setbacks, but having a copy of it at least verifies that your passport is real. 

In addition to this, some countries are not as exposed to medicine and medical technology as others. So when traveling, having a signed doctor’s note can be important for those who have to travel with special medications, devices, and other supplies. You don’t want to risk medical supplies being confiscated at the airport! If you are handicapped carry a copy of your parking plaque or some other identifying card.

Have an extra copy or two of your itinerary in your suitcase or perhaps two places with reservation confirmation numbers in case you lose your phone or any tickets. Plus if your doing a multi-destination trip “It’s Tuesday this must Belgium” a detailed itinerary keeps you on track.

Several times in Europe when traveling to multiple countries by train I’ve forgotten about time zone changes and missed a connection or meeting up with a friend.

Bank and credit card accounts.

Tell your bank and credit card companies where you are going.

If you don’t tell your bank where you are going, it’s possible they will catch your foreign transactions, assume you are a victim of theft and freeze those cards and accounts.

This can truly be your worst nightmare when traveling – when the funds run low and you need to use an ATM or start using charge cards and you can’t!

Let your bank and credit card companies know the dates you’ll be gone.

Download apps that promote travel safety.

 Did you know there are apps that will warn you of areas to avoid? Smart Traveler was created by the U.S. Department of State and features current travel warnings and alerts about foreign destinations as well as contact information for U.S. embassies and consulates.. Sitata Provides good information and users can post about real-time events around the globe as well as transportation tips. BSafe works like Find My Friends, however, it goes a step further and allows those connected to “follow” their contacts in real time.  

Stash extra cash.

Having extra cash available when you travel is crucial. In the event that you are locked out of debit or credit cards, you will be left with nothing. Handling currency situations while you’re away can be difficult, so be sure to stash extra cash in safe places and hidden compartments. 

A friend of mine who was career military and traveled the world kept $50 in his shoe. He was mugged coming out of a club in Rio and they took everything but the $50 in his shoe. There are all kinds of items you can buy to hide money in your socks or bra or around your waist.

The most important thing is don’t carry  a lot of money in one wad or one place. Flashing money or acting like a big spender like getting drunk is not a good idea anywhere.

Know common scams…

People love scamming us as we travel, it is crucial to know common scams so that you and your companion(s) stay safe. Nothing is free, you pay for photos with street characters .On the streets of New York City, mostly Times Square, they are really brazen. “take a picture with us!” Even if these photos are taken on your phone, they will demand money. We paid characters on Los Ramblas in Barcelona they deserved it and never had a problem.

Living Statues Los Ramblas in Barcelona

Other common scams include the broken taxi meter scam, bracelets, ring scam, milk scam, and simple distractions. If someone is distracting you for directions or help, make sure you know where your valuables are and that they are in your sight, not behind you and not off to the side of your body. While one person is distracting you, they will try to grab your wallet, money, or anything of value.

The milk scam, common in Southeast Asia, features a mother holding a baby out on the street. The mother appears to be poor and homeless and she just asks for help buying baby formula for the baby. You go into the store, pay a large amount for a can of baby formula, and leave. She goes into the store and sells the formula back and keeps part of the profit. 

During high tourist season in many popular european cities the Romas use their small children to surround you and steal anything they can grab, they will come to your table in outdoor cafes dirty, tiny children begging for money or food off your table.

On the Riviera young boys 14-16 work the beaches and other tourist areas approaching single women usually middle-age or older offering to help carry luggage, find your way or have sex. Nothing they do is free and you are in danger no matter how sweet and cute they are. 

Be mindful of pickpockets.

Pickpockets are a part of everywhere. Be aware of your belongings at all times. The most notorious pickpockets sit and wait around areas of major interests or famous sights to see.

Do not get distracted while taking a photograph or anything else. Anyplace you may be changing money     ( not so common now with the euro). Be extra careful at ATM’s and banks. A RFID money belt  card in your wallet will stop skimmers.

My friends were riding a crowded city bus in Mexico City and several scary looking young men surrounded the wife and then got off at the next stop. They had slashed the bottom of her purse and taken the contents. The couple was so frightened and didn’t speak Spanish so they said nothing.

Use your lock.

Purchase at least one lock for your next trip. If you can, purchase a second to have on hand or keep in your carry-on. Lock your backpack, your luggage, your purse, whatever you have. 

Now I believe in this lock policy but have never used one in millions of miles of travel. I never have anything of value and to be honest mistrust TSA in the U.S. and similar officials in every country more than a common thief.  I also have well worn common luggage and backpacks, nothing that shouts “Big Money”. My most used piece is a bright yellow hardcase carry-on size covered with stupid stickers and now I have added a purple backpack. Not easy pieces for someone to slip away with plus it’s easy to find me if we get separated.

Try not to act like a tourist and stick out.

Before you go.

Before you go research the countries and cities your visiting, how they dress and try to blend in. Watch French or Italian movies on NetFlix. Wear black, black, black. Warm scarves for both men and women when it’s cold in any country. Do not wear those thong shoes, do wear sharp looking boots from ankle to over the knee, tennis shoes are ok now. No flashy or real jewelry.

Carrying a Weapon.

Now we aren’t talking guns which are  totally illegal in most places but a taser, pepper spray, kubotan, piercing whistle or other devices you can purchase. DO NOT think any of these items will help unless you practice and become familiar with how to use them. Plus can you hold a taser on the body of an attacker long enough for it to knock him to the ground? Or shoot one accurately from any distance? Any one of these items can be turned around and used against you if you don’t act fast and appropriately.

Be aware that purse thieves and muggers will attack from bicycles, motor bikes and cars. Never, even at home, have your purse on the front passenger seat of your car or anything exposed like luggage in a rental car. Of course we always remember to lock our vehicles, right?

Now again I have encountered many of these situations that never lead to an actual incident. Use your head, when I was in a European city lost in a rather rough area at night and saw no cabs or busses nothing. Then a rather drunken group of men started following me and shouting things I didn’t understand except I knew this was not good. I kept to the main street and when I saw a light at a closed bakery I went and banged on the door until someone came and let me in admonishing me (I understood that!) for being in that area at night. They called a cab.

Final words.

Personal safety for men and women isn’t just for when you’re traveling but every day and night of your life. Just read the papers. The best thing you can do is use common sense, be aware of your surroundings, stay in a group when possible, and stay in control and sober.

Happy Trails,

Mary Gallagher

This article appeared in the Press and Standard newspaper 7/2019

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