Travelwise

How to protect yourself on the road

 

Special to The Miami Herald

In Paris, employees at the Louvre museum walked off the job earlier this month because so many pickpockets were preying on visitors and staff.

In Rio de Janeiro, two foreign visitors riding in a public van were brutalized. One of them, an American woman, was gang-raped.

On the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, 55 tourists on a shore excursion from a cruise ship were robbed.

And in Boston, visitors to the city were among more than 100 people who were injured in the terrorist attack two weeks ago at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

All these incidents happened in the last six weeks.

No tourist could have foreseen the bombings in Boston, but there are ways tourists can minimize the chances of being a victim of pickpocketing, theft, assault or other crimes, whether in the United States or abroad.

Travel experts say tourists should always be on the alert, always know what is going on around them. “Awareness is the key,” says Peter Greenberg, CBS News travel editor (www.petergreenberg.com).

“Be observant. Be aware how people are looking at you, treating you. And trust your instincts,” advises travel expert Marybeth Bond of www.gutsytraveler.com and author of 11 National Geographic books.

Looking like you know your way around is another factor that can put off those who prey on tourists.

“We can communicate we’re self-assured by walking confidently with our heads up,” Bond advises on her website. “You’ll be less of a target for hustlers who prey on disoriented or timid tourists.”

Bruce McIndoe, CEO of iJet (www.iJet.com), a travel security company, seconds that advice. “Don’t be an easy target, like looking lost or distracted,” he says.

As for incidents like the Boston bombings, McIndoe says the probability of being hurt or killed by terrorists is very remote. “But be alert. Move away from gatherings like protests abroad.”

Among places to be especially watchful, says Greenberg, are Eastern Europe and Rome, where bands of thieves are known to prey on tourists. “Two or three of them will distract you while another picks your pocket,” he related.

I can testify to that. On a visit to the Roman Forum, a group of cute children started to gather around me, laughing and chattering, while an adult accompanying them circled behind me. Luckily, I was onto that particular ploy and shooed them away with threatening gestures.

Any site where tourists gather is fertile ground for hustlers.

In certain locales, it is especially important to be watchful — places like airports, train stations, subways and other gathering spots. That making it harder for thieves to rob you.

“In airports, when you put your bag down, put it between your legs,” advises Greenberg. Good advice: My brother-in-law lost his computer in an airport when he set it down beside his chair in the terminal.

Be especially watchful on subways. One ploy pickpockets use is to block a passenger from getting off at a station while an accomplice behind picks his pocket. Then both thieves leap off the train at the last instant, leaving the passenger inside as the doors close. By the time the passenger gets to the next station, the thieves and the passenger’s wallet are long gone.

This happened to me in the London Underground, but fortunately I had just read about this maneuver, so I foiled the plan by elbowing the man ahead of me and pushing my way off the train before my pocket was picked.

Women, especially those traveling alone, can be targets for pickpockets and other criminals.

Bond advises exercising good judgment when accepting food or drink from others. While most who offer women food or drink are just being kind, unsavory types may slip a date-rape drug in your drink at a bar or during a party. “Don’t think this won’t happen to you. Some women don’t even know they have been raped until it’s too late,” Bond says.

Valuables should not be in a purse, which can be easily compromised, but in a pouch under your clothes, she says. She also advises wearing a wedding ring if traveling alone. “Even if you don’t already wear a ring, it will deter unwanted attention. And always carry enough cash on your body so you can get a cab to get from a bad situation.”

Travel safety begins at home, says Chris McGoey, president of McGoey Security Consulting. “It all comes down to planning,” he says. “You should have a plan based on your circumstance and where you’re going.

“When my wife and I travel,” McGoey says, ’’I give a large manila envelope to a trusted family member or neighbor. In it are copies of passports, airline tickets, identification, credit cards, travel itinerary —everything you would need to get replacements [if you are robbed]. It also has contact information, prescriptions for medicines and eyeglasses, and authorization for a family member or neighbor to act on your behalf in case of an emergency at home, such as flooding.”

Another valuable procedure is to check with the U.S. State Department (www.travel.state.gov), which lists many pages of excellent tips on traveling abroad.

Some examples:

• Don’t dress in a way that marks you as an affluent tourist.

• Don’t bring anything you would hate to lose, including valuable jewelry or unnecessary credit cards.

• When abroad, avoid areas where you may be more easily victimized, such as crowded subways, train stations, elevators, festivals and crime-ridden neighborhoods. Be especially wary at tourist sites.

• Handbags, fanny packs and outside pockets are easy targets for thieves. A pouch or moeny belt worn under your clothing is safer. At your hotel, store your valuables in a hotel safe.

The State Department also advises signing up for its Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (https://travelregistration.state.gov), a free online service on which you register your travel plans, so you can be contacted if there is a family emergency in the United States or a crisis where you are traveling.

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