How to keep from being fleeced on a trip
When Susan Gates decided to leave Cincinnati last month to escape the cold weather, she booked a long weekend in Florida. Her plan was to soak up some sun.
She got soaked all right. But not from the sun.
While lying on the beach, someone palmed her room key off her towel and then helped themselves to her computer, credit cards and all her cash. Susan's break from the cold left her hot under the collar and clearly not relaxed.
Susan's not the only one to lose it while on vacation. When Lynn Johnston was shopping in Italy, she found herself short of cash and headed for the nearest ATM. Apparently, some nearby crook was also short of cash, but not for long. He had jammed the machine before Lynn arrived. When she swiped her card, the machine failed. While Lynn went into the bank to clear-up the problem, the crook cleared her of all her cash.
According to travel agent Judy Barr, it's easy for people on vacation to relax their guard and thieves take advantage of it. But there are ways to protect yourself. Here are a few ideas to keep you safe and insure you don't become the meal ticket for some hungry thief:
• Check with the State Department beforehand. Before you go on an international trip, find out if there are any travel warnings for your destination. Also, visit https://step.state.gov/step and register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It's free and you'll receive safety information from the U.S. Embassy, as well as make it easier for the government and your family to find you in case of an emergency.
• Try to blend in. T-shirts with college logos scream exchange student. And loud-heavy jewelry and big purses scream money. Dress like the locals and you become less of a target.
• Pay attention to your surroundings. Standing on a street corner with a poster-size map opened may get you more than directions. If you are lost, seek out a policeman or another person in a uniform. And stay on main roads.
• Spread the wealth around. Divide your cash into different pockets and different places in your suitcase. If you do get robbed, you won't lose everything.
• Keep a record. Put all your important information on a portable zip drive and wear it on a chain around your neck. Include passport numbers, credit card numbers, bank information, medical prescriptions, itineraries, and the address and phone number of a contact at home. Leave a copy with that contact at home. And take a picture of your passport with your smartphone. If you do lose your passport, it makes it easier.
• Ask questions. Before going touring, check with the concierge about safe places to walk. Ask about any events that might be happening.
Don't be taken in by the quaint and picturesque village, because there are thieves looking for easy targets there, too. You need to watch for the wolf in sheep's clothing before you get fleeced.
Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org