Safe Traveling Tips: Don’t Get Scammed, Robbed or Ripped Off

Scams, thefts, all that bad stuff – it’s not necessarily a ‘travel problem’ since you can be victimized in your hometown and it’s not a big problem either because most of us don’t run into trouble. Nevertheless, bad stuff can happen and in that spirit here are tips that may come in very handy.

7 Safe Travel Tips

You’ve done the smart thing, compared fares to find the cheapest flight. More smart things to do:

1. Leave your valuables at home.

No irreplaceable jewelry, non-essential electronic devices, too much cash or too many credit cards (two should do nicely). Why risk having something you love lost, stolen or broken?

2. Keep anything of value on your person or in a safe

  • Do place valuables in a carry-on or pocket: If you must bring those diamond studs, wear them. Carry the phone and tablet with you (or put the latter in the hotel safe). Wallets should be stowed in secure purses that are never allowed to dangle from the backs of chairs, while men’s wallets should be in a front pocket.
  • Don’t place valuables in checked-bags: Check your airline’s contract of carriage (sometimes referred to on websites as ‘legal’) and you’ll notice most airlines will not cover valuables in lost bags. By the way, the definition of ‘valuables’ is pretty loose, covering everything from sunglasses to medication. Must-haves and aything remotely valuable should be in a carry-on that you can keep your eye on.

3. Don’t flash cash or cards

When you need to pull out a card out or cash, behave as you would at an ATM – that is, don’t let others see precisely what you’re doing. If you’re getting money from a machine, shield your numbers, remember to pick up your card after the transaction and put your cash away immediately. Finally, you don’t need a big wad of cash.

4. Watch for pickpocket scams

Some classic ‘distraction’ dodges from around the world. You get distracted, they take your money.

  • Take my picture: You’re standing in front of an iconic monument or beautiful scenery as a friendly man or woman approaches saying, “Would you like me to take your picture?” You hand over your camera/phone and the photographer promptly takes off with it. If you want a picture and a selfie won’t do, consider asking a fellow tourist. [On a recent trip to Italy, a fellow in an Ohio State cap was inundated with requests to take photos and he happily obliged which just goes to show that if you can’t trust a guy from Ohio, who can you trust?]
  • ‘Excuse me’ collisions: Maybe it’s a woman carrying a baby or a man walking between tables at an outdoor café; the two of you collide, maybe a wine glass is knocked over, and everyone makes profuse apologies. It’s only after the clumsy stranger leaves that you realize your wallet is gone, too.
  • Bracelet weavers: Someone stops you in a popular tourist district and asks if you’d like a free bracelet which he or she then begins weaving around your wrist before you can reply. The bracelet weaver keeps up a steady patter of conversation to distract you while his/her confederates gather around to pick pockets and purses.  At the very least, the bracelet will turn out to not be free; just say ‘no thanks’ right from the start.
  • Phone grabs: Do not leave your cell phone/wallet/passport sitting beside you on a table as you dine or enjoy a drink. Bad guys have been known to make their way past tables (especially at sidewalk cafes), grab a phone or other valuables and take off before you even realize what’s happened.

5. Do a little research

This will only take a few minutes, and so worth it.

  • If you’re traveling in another country: The U.S. State Department has a travel section with country-by-country listings that include information on staying safe. Read it before you go. Many countries have similar advice (and warnings) on government and official tourism sites.
  • If in your own country: Search your destination by city name plus the words “visitor safety” and you’ll find lots of information; VirtualTourist is one such resource with guides to destinations around the world.

6. Use your common sense

Your secret weapon is common sense. Use normal precautions and stay alert to your surroundings just as you’d do at home. For example, if you’re walking along a busy tourist area at night and turn down a dark and deserted side street you’d feel uncomfortable in back home, turn back! If you’re at the airport waiting in a long line for a taxi and someone comes up to you offering a very cheap ride, say, no thanks. The dark street and the possibly illegal cab may be perfectly safe but maybe not; why take a chance?

7. Relax

Bad stuff can happen to even the savviest of travelers but it’s how you deal with it that can make or break a trip. If you do what you can to avoid problems and can roll with the minor annoyances, you will have a grand time.

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney has run into a scam or two.

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Updated: July 14, 2016