I thought it was time to revisit the subject of travel safety since it often comes up with my clients. This past week I had a call from clients who are taking their first trip out of the US next month and our conversation has prompted me to share with you a few of the tips and guidelines that will help you enjoy the most from your travel plans.
Before You Go
1. Make sure you have your passport! This may sound silly to some but I have had someone wait until the last moment to apply for their passport and then had to move mountains to get it in time or have had someone call me a week before their trip and say they just realized their passport was not valid. If you are traveling outside the US you will need a valid passport and it is never too early to apply for one.
2. Make 2 copies of your travel documents. This includes: passport, itinerary, airline tickets and confirmations, hotel reservation confirmations, any other confirmations you have received regarding your trip. Place one copy in your carry on bag (if your luggage is lost or delayed, you still have your copy).
3. Give the second copy of your travel documents and a list of phone numbers to someone at home in case of emergency. This can be a friend or relative but it needs to be someone you can reach if you need them. This might seem like overkill but if you ever need help you need someone with your information readily available.
4. Leave your expensive jewelry at home! You do not want to mark yourself as affluent when you are traveling. Expensive watches, rings, bracelets even rings and earrings can temp the pickpocket or thief. It is much better to be under-dressed than to set yourself up as a potential target.
5. Register with STEP. This is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program provided by the Bureau of Consular Affairs with the US State Department. This basically registers you and your travel plans with them so that if you need them or someone needs to reach you because of an emergency at home in the US or if there is a disaster in the area in which you are traveling, the consulate knows where you are or are supposed to be. It is free to register and is something I not only recommend but do myself.
6. Use covered luggage tags. You know the ones I mean? The tags have a flap over them or have to be slid out of the packet to read the information. This is just so that your personal information such as address, etc. is not visible at first glance to anyone close to your bags.
7. Do NOT broadcast your upcoming trip on your Facebook, Google+ or Twitter pages. Sharing the fact that you will be in Costa Rica for two weeks is not something you want everyone on the web to know. I know how much you want to tell people but do it in a private email or over the phone, don’t broadcast it. It’s like saying “Hey, I’m gone for two weeks, come rob my house!” When you get home you will enjoy sharing the stories and photos much more anyway.
8. Get travelers checks! You do not want to travel with a large sum of cash. Sure, having cash you can convert to currency of the country you are in is very handy but carrying large sums of cash is just asking for trouble.
9. DO purchase travel insurance. It is best to pay the small extra fee to get the “cancel for any reason” insurance. You never know…
10. Do I really need to mention drugs? Ok, so I did. Do NOT try to carry illegal drugs with you on a trip and do NOT try to buy them at your destination. On another note, some drugs legal in the US are illegal in other countries. Remember when a famous actor got caught in Australia (I think it was) with Human Growth Hormone? You can check the with your travel agent or do a little research on you own. Just know before you go.
Now That You Have Arrived
Most of the following tips are the same whether you are traveling here within the US or to another country.
1. If you booked with a travel agent, you should have your transportation all lined out with a reputable company. If you didn’t and need to find transportation at the airport, look for a well marked cab or other service. I know the guy in the ugly green car said he was cheap but really… are you sure he’s a legitimate cab driver? The best way to go is to have your transportation lined up before you arrive. Most resorts offer transportation either by their own vans or by a reputable company.
2. Once you arrive at your hotel and check into your room, if you found yourself unable to leave your valuable or expensive looking jewelry (not always the same thing) at home, please leave it in the hotel safe. I promise you are only going to impress the wrong people by wearing it. In a tropical destination, why not purchase some of the cute shell or beaded jewelry and wear that instead? Ladies, we do not have to sacrifice our well being just to “look the part”.
3. When you venture outside your hotel or resort, DO stick to known safe areas where tourists go if you are not familiar with the area, other cultures or countries. As you would in any city in America, do NOT wander down alleys or dimly lit streets where there is not a lot of people.
4. Do not carry a large sum of cash. Remember the travelers checks? Only cash them as you need them. They are much safer than cash. Also, in many places you can access ATM machines if necessary. I remember needing one once in Mexico. My bank account looked much healthier in Pesos! If you do have a lot of cash on you, please don’t pull it out in front of people. You are potentially putting yourself in harms way. Keep your cash and credit cards in different pockets or better yet, divide cash between the two of you so if you should get hit by a pick pocket, you will not lose everything.
5. Men – Do NOT carry your wallet in your back pocket. I know you’ve heard this but it’s true! Back pockets are much easier to pick than front. Ladies – if you must carry a purse, try carrying one that has a strap that will go across your body. This is much harder to snag than a purse carried on a shoulder or over an arm.
6. Always act like you know where you are going and what you are doing. This is another one that may sound silly but if you look lost and look like you don’t know what you are doing, you appear to be a tourist and therefore a target. If you are lost, look for someone in authority or worst case a shop keeper. Just keep your head about you.
7. Beware of strangers who try to sell you things or offer to show you around. There are plenty of places to shop for great bargains and there are numerous reputable tour guides everywhere you could possibly want to go. Sure, saving 30 bucks would be great but not if you got robbed or taken advantage of. I’m not saying don’t talk to anyone. I love engaging with locals and other travelers. Meeting and getting to know people is one of the best parts of travel. I’m just telling you to be aware of the potential for scams.
8. Most of all, be aware of your surroundings. We sometimes get complacent with our surroundings especially when we are in a beautiful location where everything appears to be perfect. You cannot afford to become complacent. Watch things and people around you and pay attention to the little things. Ask yourself this, would I go here or do this if I were in NYC or Atlanta or Dallas or LA? If you would not, don’t do it where you are either.
I would love to hear any other suggestions for travel safety. Please drop us a line below and share.
I believe strongly that a well-informed traveler is a happy traveler. Be careful, be safe and