By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
Traveling to Dream Destinations is our life and we hope it becomes your life. We love helping you go on vacation. In most cases your travel will be safe, fun and uneventful. However, there is always a chance that something could go wrong. The purpose of this blog is to give you tips you can use to protect yourself and your valuables and help avoid problems. So, here goes!
In traveling most of my life around the world, I have learned a lot about how to make travel easier and safer. In the last 30 years traveling with Anne, I have learned even more. We have written tips to help you travel better and to provide the skills to make travel a more rewarding—you can visit our website to learn more at the ABOUT tab (www.dreamdestination.com). While this is a good start, it just does not address all the possible threats the modern traveler faces. To help better prepare you, this blog with address money safety, essential document protection, possible luggage problems, identity theft and tips to avoid theft. And, if the worse happens what to do to help resolve the situation.
On our website, I have written a very good PDF PowerPoint about money that addresses many concerns travelers might have about money. It is titled Smart Money Management. Here is the link http://dreamdestinations.com/images/agentimages/drd_admin/TravelTips/Smart%20Ways%20to%20Manage%20Your%20Travel%20Money.pdf
Essential Document Protection
My Money Belt
While traveling, you probably will have some or all of the following items: passport, plane ticket, rail pass, cruise tickets, hotel reservations, tour reservations, driver’s license, credit cards, debit cards, and cash. Losing any of these items could really mess up a great trip. These belong in your money belt or secured carry-on, or zippered pocket—never out of your sight unless in a hotel safe (the most secure is the hotel safe at the front desk). We usually keep larger amounts of cash, IDs and the credit cards in the money belts as most of the important other items just do not fit in a money belt. While dividing up cash and carrying separate credit cards is a great idea, somethings can’t be divided up—just keep them secure as possible. We check all the time so we do not misplace key documents.
While you could still travel if you still had you’re your essential documents and the clothes you are wearing, it just wouldn’t be much fun. I recently read about a young lady who traveled for 28 days with only a big purse and a green dress—nothing more. Sure, it was ultra-light travel, but not what I think you and I want to do—at the end of the trip she threw the green dress away—enough said. So, I think we can agree, you would like to bring some clothes to wear on your trip. Here are some tips to help you safeguard your luggage:
Anne’s Carry-On Luggage–compact, mobile and secured with locks
Carry-on bag advice. In your carry-on bag pack all medications, eyeglasses, sunglasses, valuables (jewelry), a change of clothes and anything necessary to make your flight more comfortable. Carry an ample supply of any medications. IDs, credit cards, money, passports (your essential documents) need to be with you at all times until you are in the ship or you land and are out of the airport or have a hotel safe to store these documents. We always make 3 copies of our cards (front & back of the cards) and the front page of our passport—Anne keeps one, I keep one and we leave one home with a relative. We now have secured our important info into a cloud-based storage accessible to us with password by secured internet connection. Keep track of your valuables carefully—it is easy to lose track of them if you are not careful. Do not take any extra credit cards that you will not need or use. Ladies consider carefully what jewelry you take. We always take a picture of valuables we take on a trip prior to leaving. Just remember—any checked suitcase could be lost.
Suitcases. While I’m a huge advocate of taking minimal clothes and trying to stay with only one suitcase per person, the older I get, I just realize that is not always possible. We always lock our luggage and count bags when loading on planes, trains, taxis, or cruise boats. Having a packing list of what is in each suitcase is a good idea—if lost in transit, it helps you remember exactly what is missing. Though not very likely, on trains, we watch our luggage at stops where a thief could jump off with our bags, or most likely pick up the wrong bag by mistake—we have used a long lock and wire to help minimize this possibility.
In this day and age, you should be concerned about protecting your identity and protecting the way you use the internet while traveling. Here are some good ideas:
- Notify your bank and credit card companies of your travel plans.
- Clean out your wallet before leaving—only take what you will need for the trip.
- Limit your use of public Wi-Fi as much as possible and assume your info could be stolen. Do not access banks or credit card accounts or make online purchases on an unsecured Wi-Fi system.
- Use cash or credit cards over debit cards. Debit cards should only be used for getting local currency at an ATM—be sure to protect your pin and use safe places like a bank or open ATM in a visible area. As I wrote in the Smart Money Management PDF PowerPoint, check with your bank to insure your pin number will work in Europe. Europe uses remote credit card devices that almost always require chip cards to work properly, so make sure your credit cards you take have chip technology.
- Make sure you properly dispose all trip confirmation emails and boarding passes when you return home. Do not throw airline luggage tags in the garbage—bring them home and shred or cut up—these codes store a lot of information that could be used to harm you.
Great Overall Safety Precaution—Register with STEP program for International Travel
The US State Department has a Safe Traveler Enrollment Program. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. It allows US citizens to sign up to receive alerts from the US State Department, allows the US Embassy a way to contact you if needed and provides a way family or friends can contact you in an emergency. Here is the link to their website to register https://step.state.gov/step/
A Common Problem—Becoming lost or disoriented in an Unfamiliar Place
It is easy to go off track—sometimes it is the best thing you can do—just wander to really see how folks live in a different country. We always use some big landmark near where we are to get back on track—it is amazing how many times we have ask where a landmark is and just having a non-English speaker point in a direction will get you back on track. Another tip—always get a card with your hotel address on it—can always hand to a taxi driver or show someone to get you back going in the right direction.
Tips on Avoiding Theft
You certainly will visit areas that invite thieves to look for a good prospect to steal valuables—let’s not make it your items. Confusing areas, large crowds in tight places, and major tourist areas are places where disaster could strike. Perhaps the best advice is to assume there will be pickpockets and prepare accordingly. Anne always carries her money belt and has her purse zipped. I mostly place my key items in zippered pockets and check often to see all is secure. I always carry my wallet in my front pants pocket and in crowded situation like a subway or open plaza, often keep my hand on my wallet, if it is not zipped up or in a money belt. Our best tip—situational awareness. If the chance something bad could happen, up your guard. This doesn’t mean become paranoid, just be more aware. Strangers who try to distract you or offer items, or suddenly bump into should raise a red flag—it often is a scam or attempt to get your valuables. Sometimes you might feel you are being rude, but beware and just keep saying no—they will leave soon, especially if you are not a good prospect.
Europe’s 112 Emergency System
Europe has a great emergency system many folks do not know about—call 112. It works just like our 911 system in the US. This alert system will connect to an English speaking operator to access police, ambulance, and fire first responders.
What to Do if the Worst Happens—Something is Lost or Stolen
The first item is not to panic—figure out what was lost. If you lose a credit card, or ATM card, report the loss immediately to the 24 hour global customer assistance centers. Here is where preparation is key—if you follow our advice and have a paper copy of all your cards, this process is much easier. Consider programing any emergency numbers in your phone. Definitely report your loss to the police—in a foolish incident, I dropped all items from my money belt on a major street in Paris—cash, credit cards, IDs—I forgot to zip up the money belt. We cancelled the cards immediately and when we went to the police to report the loss, someone had turned it all in—not one item was lost. I was just plain lucky and thank the great soul who did the right thing and returned my items.
The Bottom Line
Travel is awesome but can present obstacles if something bad happens. Just using these tips will help…We hope all your travels are safe, fun and uneventful—being prepared will help take some of the stress out of traveling. We are here to help you think about all aspects of your travel and we hope this will inspire you to give us a call (Hank 713-397-0188) or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can help you make travel plans, travel safely and help you: Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!