It's no fun to be the victim of a crime. At worst it can be a traumatic, life-changing event-or even deadly. At best, it can be frightening and inconvenient. All of these consequences are magnified if you're the victim of a crime in a foreign country.
The good news is that if you're targeted while traveling, the assault is more likely to be of the "give me all your money" variety.
Though most people take precautions every day to stay safe, they often let their guards down when they're on the road. Travelers tend to get caught up in dealing with stressful details and forget to pay attention to what's going on around them. Note who is around you and what they are doing, but thieves often appear without warning and it’s often not possible to escape without harm. Being in a group usually deters muggers when they are outnumbered.
Note: Thieves are often in the best, most affluent parts of a city. About to enter your fine hotel? Don’t let up your guard! When we were in Nairobi several years ago, a group of four men surrounded the two of us outside our hotel (the very fine New Stanley), wanting to shine our shoes. We said “no thanks” but one guy had already started shining my wife’s suede shoes. No option but to pay. Fortunately, it was a nonviolent holdup, but being in the best part of town was no deterrent.
A few basic steps can help reduce your chance of being targeted. And though these strategies may seem like common sense, many people don't follow them.
Here are some tips from the experts:
Before You Go
- Pack light. Clean out unnecessary items our purse, briefcase and wallet; take only essential credit cards, your driver’s license, (consider getting an international driver’s license at AAA), International Certificate of Vaccination (if traveling to areas with yellow fever), your health insurance policy (probably won’t help overseas; need to pay cash upfront in most hospitals outside Europe).
- Medevac membership card with air ambulance and hospital insurance highly recommended (International SOS, Medex, Travel Guard, or others). Make a copy of your passport and leave another copy at home with a friend or family member; this will expedite getting it replaced when you contact a U.S. consulate or embassy.
Get your doctor’s email and telephone number. Today, you can easily call the U.S. with a cell phone that has the necessary SIMM card of the country your in. You can also use SKYPE as well. There is no reason you can’t consult with your health care provider if you have a medical problem. Of course, you’ll use your phone to call locally or friends/family/business associates back home.
Keep your plans close to the vest. Let only those who really need to (your family or a friend, one co-worker) know where you are and how to reach you.
- Pack your valuables in your carry-on bag. Put only clothes and replaceable items in the luggage you'll be checking.
- Consider getting a Tile locator devise that you can attach to your luggage or smart phone in case they get lost.
- Take a rubber doorstop with you. Wedge it under the inside of the door when you're in your hotel room-it virtually guarantees no one can open the door, even with a key, without you knowing it.
- Secure your home before you leave and advise your home alarm company of the dates of your trip and how they can reach you or someone else, if there’s a break-in or other problem.
- Know the drill. Pickpockets and other thieves often work in pairs and use techniques like bumping into you or creating a distraction to get your attention off your bag or purse or wallet.
- Keep in physical contact with your luggage at all times. On the phone, put it between your legs; in the bathroom, put it on your lap. Don't use the hook in the stall or set your bag on the floor-in either place, it can be easily snatched before you can react.
- Especially at the airport, regardless of what happens around you, don't take your eyes off your purse, shoulder bag, or laptop; nothing can ruin a business trip faster than losing your laptop with all the information you need for the meeting on it."
At Your Destination
- Don't stay on the first floor, because it has more entry points. On the other hand, it’s safer if there’s a fire.
- Never put the "please make up room" sign on your door. It just advertises the fact that the room is unoccupied.
- Keep your hotel key with you all the time. Don't leave it with the front desk when you go out.
- Don't open the door to your hotel room without confirming that someone you know is on the other side. If the person claims to be staff and you weren't expecting him or her, call the front desk to verify.
- Don't invite anyone to your room, even a colleague, unless you are completely comfortable with that person.
All the Time
- Get in touch with your "natural warning system," and when it alerts you, listen to it. "Trust your instincts. If someone or something makes you uneasy, avoid the person or leave," advises the National Crime Prevention Counsel.
- Just carry enough money for the day’s expenses. That way, if you are robbed, you won't that much.
- Keep tip money in a front pocket or other easily accessible place so you won't have to take out your wallet frequently just to get a dollar or two.
- Use the buddy system. Whenever possible, walk with someone you know and trust. There is strength in numbers.
- If you carry a shoulder bag or purse, keep your wallet and money in an inside pocket where it's harder to remove. A money belt, such as the UnderCover Deluxe Money Belt.
- Have your keys out and ready to use as you approach your car or room door.
If You Are Confronted
There is no one right way to deal with a confrontation. Remain calm as possible and size up the situation (including where you are, whether the attacker has a weapon, what he wants, etc.) and your options.
- If an assailant wants your money or property, the safest response is to hand it over. But if it is a sexual assault, you're safer if you physically resist, including the basics-yelling and running.
- Before it happens, think through what you would do in a dangerous situation. Mental rehearsal can help you make decisions and react more quickly and safely. Practice in your mind how you want to handle a mugging or other unwanted encounter. It’s usually better to not resist a thief, but if you are attacked, you may want to yell. Your voice is an effective safety device, and it is always handy; Remember this: Never get into the perpetrator’s vehicle. It’s better to run away, even if he has a gun, and yell as strongly as possible. Shooting at a running person is usually inaccurate. If you’re not injured in the initial encounter, being abducted is probably your worst fear.
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