Sunday, March 27, 2011

Safety in Numbers?

As a single traveler, I find the notion that there is only safety in numbers a bit misguided. While there is truth in the fact that the more people there are, the less likely you, as a single traveler, could be victimized, there is more to it than that. The reality is that scam artist, thieves and crooks are everywhere. Sometimes the sheer volume of people can actually benefit a thief, because they can blend in after they've fleeced your wallet or handbag.

I do a lot of things alone, so I tend to be highly sensitive to my surroundings, and I am not oblivious to anything; whether I am in my own city or in another country. Here is a list of precautions I take when I travel alone, and while I won't give up all my secrets (gotta keep the thieves on their toes), I will provide some that I think are extremely important when you are traveling alone:
  • Pack lightly - I can not repeat this enough. The more items you have, the easier it is to lose sight of some of them. Thieves love to see the oblivious traveler with multiple bags flying all over the place, because they recognize the opportunity that one of those bags can easily disappear without the owner knowing for some time.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings - That doesn't mean that you give everyone the evil fish eye, or that you are overly paranoid, but when you are in restaurants, museums, stores, etc, make sure to notice all entry and exit points, so if you have to get out of a place in a hurry, you already have an exit strategy.
  • Enjoy your drinks, but not too much - Some people like to party - myself included, but when I travel alone, I (typically) have a low maximum number (usually 2 or 3) of alcoholic beverages I will consume when I am alone. We all know that alcohol reduces your inhibitions, so this can be a prime opportunity for an unscrupulous person to take advantage of you while you are relaxing and enjoying your favorite beverage(s) of choice.
  • Plan transportation early - If you know you are fine to walk, tube it or take the metro to an event, but when the event is over it will be late at night; make sure to arrange your transportation in advance. A lot of travelers are on tight budgets and don't want to waste money on taxis or car services, but my response to that is, "How much is your safety worth?" I'd rather spend a few extra bucks to ensure my safe arrival back to my accommodations, than to just "hope for the best."
  • Do not keep all of your money in one place - I think this one is fairly self explanatory. When traveling try not to flash large denominations or thick money clips around. For example, if you are going out for the day, place varying amounts of money in different places on your person. Make it accessible to you, but not to a thief. If you know that lunch will be your first meal, and likely will just be a few dollars, place a small amount of cash to cover that, so you aren't pulling out wads of money at some street corner vendor. If you have to discretely go into a restroom to obtain some of your money, that's fine too, just put it in places that is difficult for others to get to. No back pockets, or bags that don't zip or close completely. Any bucket type of bags with no closures are attractive to thieves, because they can stick their hands in quickly and be gone before you know it.
  • Additional money issues - Also, make sure to have more than one debit or credit card with you when you travel, because SOMETIMES things can go horribly awry, and your card is sucked away into the abyss of a foreign ATM. Have at least two additional cards, so that if something happens to your main card, you will have backups for emergency situations.
  • Passports - There are conflicting viewpoints on this. Some believe you shouldn't walk around with it, and others believe you should. My advice is to keep it with you, but to also keep copies with in your luggage and in another safe place, as well as with someone else that is not on your trip, so if they need to email or fax a copy to you, they can. This does not mean it will be easy or inexpensive to replace your passport if it's lost or stolen; however, it can make the process of replacement a bit easier and possibly save you a little bit of time.
There are a host of other tips too, but I feel these are the most important. I think everyone should travel, but in these times, safety is a major concern, so take precautions so that your trips are not interrupted by an unexpected theft!


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