Falling victim to unscrupulous criminals really spoil a holiday. A rotten experience such as being assaulted, scammed or robbed, casts a pall over the most idyllic of vacations, leaving the victim deflated – or worse – and tainting memories of what should have been an unforgettably uplifting experience.
Follow these five easy steps to reduce your vulnerability and maximize the likelihood of a trouble-free visit to your next destination:
1. Into the light. Familiarise yourself with known dangers at your intended destination. Scammers often target tourists unfamiliar with the locale and less likely to detect and respond to anti-social behaviour. A first port of call should be your country’s government-sanctioned travel advisory. This is a good resource (if sometimes a bit doctrinaire) to get an overview of what embassies and consulates have identified as potential risks to their nationals visiting particular areas.
Value-add to this information by referring to some excellent travel websites with dynamic member pages and forums that feature the most recently detected hot spot areas to avoid. Virtual Tourist has Travel Guides that cover every continent. Drill down into the country or destination you want to visit and read up on tips provided by posters on ‘tourist traps’ or ‘warnings and dangers’. Another good resource is Trip Advisor, particularly the forum, where members will respond to any security-related inquiries.
2. Baby makes her blue jeans talk. Okay, I don’t mean a sensual strut along the Champs Elysees to drive the boys wild! A confident body posture and obvious alertness is very effective in discouraging criminal intent. Scammers or assailants are far more likely to pick on insecure and irresolute travellers than those who project an assertive and attentive persona. Psychologists coined it: downcast demeanour, referring to a common attribute of mugging victims to ‘look down’ rather than being aware of their surroundings.
Danger-inducing behaviour that may attract unwanted attention include being distracted, slouching, brooding, staring at the footpath, searching through a bag, reading a map, spacing out while talking on a smart phone, or listening to music on headphones.
In contrast, holding your head high and projecting a proud and vigilant appearance suggests to an attacker someone with high energy levels, good coordination and capable of rebuffing unwelcome – and illegal – advances.
3. Diamonds on the soles of her shoes. Be selective with what you wear or carry while travelling. Glittering jewellery, big-brand digital cameras, fancy smart phones and bulging wallets all attract unwanted attention, potentially pegging you as rich pickings for opportunist thieves. Most crime prevention strategists encourage travellers to leave their bling at home.
Admitted, there are certain items, such as cameras or smart phones, you simply cannot do without. Canny photographers use gaffer tape to cover brand names on expensive full frame cameras making it less attractive to thieves. This strategy is not as easily applied to smart phones, where the best advice is to keep them securely out of sight – in a hidden pocket perhaps. Keep a copy of your phone’s unique identifying number, called the IMEI, and remotely wipe the phone in the unfortunate event that it does get stolen. Your service provider will need the IMEI number to cancel or blacklist the stolen phone.
Many innovative anti-theft products have recently appeared on the market to improve bag and wallet security. My go-to tri-fold wallet has a slash proof metal chain that I link to my belt. Pickpockets pick up on this and slink away to seek easier prey.
Criminals increasingly use distraction techniques to steal from unsuspecting victims. Remain alert when approached by strangers. They will often pick targets bogged down by shopping bags or baggage. Keep moving to prevent them from using a distraction technique. One of my favourite ploys is to respond in a different language and rapidly excuse myself.
4. Join the joyride. Tourists inevitably find themselves on some form of transport when travelling. Once again, precautions should be aimed at hardening your profile as a potential victim of crime. Many airports now offer baggage protection in the form of secure wrapping to reveal bag tampering. Locking carry-on baggage will stop a sneaky passenger or – heaven forbid – flight attendant from rifling through your valuables while you take a nap.
The same applies for travelling on long distance trains or buses. Shrewd backpackers use lightweight, adjustable, high-tensile steel locking devices that fit their bag like a glove. They then padlock their pilfer-proof bag to a post or rail for additional peace of mind.
Unsecured baggage becomes an easy target for thieves operating on public transportation. They position themselves near a subway doorway and grab whatever takes their fancy from a perplexed passenger before dashing off the train as the closing door shuts out any chance of pursuit.
Hire vehicles are another popular target for thieves. Any items of value visible within the car – whether a GPS, cash in the centre console, smart phone, clothing, wallets, bags – becomes easy pickings for offenders who often gain entry by smashing the quarter glass window.
5. Even the losers. While every effort must be made to avoid falling victim to crime, heartbreak on vacation is most often, dare I say it, self inflicted! That’s right. People become inattentive and lose their valuables far more often than it being stolen.
Taking your ring off at the public facilities to wash your hands… and forgetting it on the washstand! Putting your iPad next to you at the bus shelter… and leaving without a backward glance! Jumping from the cab sans your smart phone… again!
While unreturned property, of course, eventually becomes a theft, this could and should have been avoided by being a more conscientious about the care of your valuables.
Read my personal account of how I almost got banged-up abroad… by criminals!