Five Ways to Avoid Theft on Vacation – SmarterTravel.com

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“Once I was in the Middle East, and walking in a city with a colleague,” says Craig Bidois, principal consultant, Fear Free, a New Zealand-based security and safety management firm. “A car stopped beside us and a lady got out of the car and asked me if I could change a larger note for a smaller one. Being a helpful person, I went to get my wallet out. My friend—also a security expert—realized what was about to happen and replied that we could not help. Her car was ready to go with a driver; I suspect she would have taken my wallet and [driven] off.”


It’s not unusual for anyone, even security experts, to be caught off guard while traveling. Whether it’s a vacation or a business trip, it’s important to stay alert and know your surroundings to avoid petty theft. Read on for ways to safeguard your valuables while traveling.


What Not to Pack

Before you pack even one item, do a bit of research about the local area to see if any safety red flags come up. “Crime occurs in all countries, cities, and towns,” says Bidois. “Maybe you’re going on a local vacation or to a remote area in another part of the world—the risk remains the same. Do some research about the location you are going to to find out what the safety issues are there.”

Armed with this knowledge, you can pack accordingly. Depending on where you’re going, you may want to choose a body wallet over a purse, a backpack over a suitcase, or other similar tweaks to your usual attire.

The old adage of “when in doubt, leave it out” rings true for all types of trips, from domestic road trips to far-flung international vacations. Leave expensive jewelry, extra clothing, and other non-essentials at home, and forego anything flashy, brand-labeled, or attention-drawing. Not only will you know your valuables are safe at home, you’ll also enjoy the freedom of traveling light and in a manner that will hopefully allow you to blend in with the locals.

“A person should pack light so that they aren’t bogged down with having to carry a bunch of items with them,” says Beth Whitman, founder of Wanderlust and Lipstick, a guidebook series and website for women travelers. “If they can act confidently and aren’t fumbling around or looking lost, it’s less likely that a thief will target them.”


What to Bring

You may also want to invest in a few extra precautions for your bags. Whitman recommends a cable lock to tether your bag to something stationary, small zipper locks to prevent entry into your bag, and a bag with mesh or slash-proof panels to keep thieves from tearing it open and making off with what’s inside. Just remember that TSA security requirements mandate that your bags are unlocked in flight, so be sure to bring the locks along and attach them to your bags once on the ground.

Additionally, make copies of all your important documents (passport, itinerary, reservation confirmations, credit cards) and give them to trusted family and friends before you leave. You’ll also want to share copies of customer service phone numbers and emergency contacts. This way, in case your wallet and/or bags get stolen, you’ll have backup to continue with your trip, honor your reservations, and have a means to get home.

Consider purchasing travel insurance to give you additional peace of mind while on vacation. Be sure to read your policy’s coverage before you buy to verify that loss/theft protection is included.

Out Exploring

“You are responsible for the security of your possessions, no one else,” says Bidois. “Most of us save up our hard-earned money to take ourselves and our families away on a vacation. We deserve to have a stress-free and enjoyable time away, [but] sometimes we let our guard down.”

While you may feel the urge to relax and cut loose on vacation, staying alert and aware of your surroundings is your first and best line of defense. “Would you leave your house unlocked? Car unlocked? Money lying around your bedroom?” says Bidois. “You need to maintain basic everyday security measures.”

Start by deciding what to have on you while you’re out, and map out your route in advance. Your money, credit cards, and forms of ID should be in a secure place, such as a money belt that’s worn close to your body or an interior jacket pocket. Avoid crowds or other touristy areas known for petty theft, pickpockets, and the like. And by having a general sense of the area and your route, you won’t have to fumble with guidebooks and maps, which makes you stand out as a (potentially vulnerable) tourist.

“Be careful about people who approach you,” says Bidois. “Many are con artists or worse … Use your gut feeling. If you think something is not right, trust your instinct.”

It’s always a good idea to carry a dummy wallet on you, filled with loose change and a few small bills. A former colleague had a brilliant strategy of saving the fake cards that come with credit card solicitations and bringing those along in her decoy wallet. If you are held up and asked for your wallet, you can get rid of the dummy one, the thief will be none the wiser, and you’ll still have your valuables.

Finally, stay sober. If you’re intoxicated, you’re much more likely to end up in an unsafe situation. Keeping your wits about you is the key to safety.


In Your Hotel

At check-in, request a room that’s not near a stairway or elevator (to reduce foot traffic or strangers prowling around the easiest-to-access rooms), as well as one that’s not on the ground floor. If the clerk announces your room number for all to hear, ask to be reassigned to a different room. Ideally, the check-in attendant should write the room number on your key envelope and pass it to you across the counter. Discretion can prevent theft.

Once in your hotel room, take advantage of all the locks you have. “A rubber door stop will prevent someone from entering your room,” says Whitman. “Many hotel room doors in developing countries don’t have additional locks, such as chains, so this little item can come in handy.”

Sometimes, paying a little more per night can give you extra peace of mind for security’s sake. “If you are a backpacker or staying in a low-grade hotel, you get the security level you paid for,” says Bidois. “Generally, higher grade hotels have more protection measures in place … but you still need to remain alert. I never leave the ‘please make up my room’ sign out—this signals you are away. I do leave the TV/radio on as a gentle background so it appears I am still in the room.”

You may also want to use the hotel safe for your valuables, travel documents, and other pieces you’d like to safeguard. Check in with the front desk beforehand, though, to find out just how secure the safe is. How many people have keys to the safe? Who has access to the room? A few general inquiries can determine whether the safe is a viable option for you.


If You Do Get Robbed…
Unfortunately, even the most aware and alert traveler can experience a bit of bad luck. If you do get robbed, there are a few steps to take to make the best of a bad situation.

If you lose your passport or other identification documents, get in touch with the nearest embassy. Ideally, you will already have copies made that you can take along with you—this will expedite the replacement process.

“If it’s valuables, definitely report it to the police so that they have a record of it,” says Whitman. “If the police will issue a report, you might be able to get your insurance policy to reimburse you.” Be sure to get a copy of the police report for your insurance claim.

Finally, while the threat of theft may seem frightening, it shouldn’t be an all-consuming focus on your vacation. “Don’t let fear put you off traveling around the globe to visit some amazing sites and meeting interesting people,” says Bidois. “Just use common sense, appropriate humor, follow the local cultural customs, and be a little more alert than if you were at home.”

Link to Article: http://www.smartertravel.com/travel-advice/five-ways-to-avoid-theft-on-vacation.html?id=5040085

Taxi tips for travelers – Europe – msnbc.com

By

Tribune Media Services
updated 2/1/2010 4:50:00
When people ask me about the scariest situation I’ve ever been in, I think back to a taxi ride I took to the Moscow airport in the early ’90s. A no-neck guy who looked like a classic Russian mafia thug picked me up in a beat-up old car and drove for an hour down puddle-filled alleys and past derelict apartments buildings. All I could think about were those movie scenes where the good guy is taken down to the riverbank to be shot. Instead, the no-neck pulled up to the airport, shook my hand, and said, “Have a good fly.”
Many Americans are wired to assume that taxi drivers in other countries are up to no good. And I’ve always said that if you’re going to get ripped off in Europe, it’ll probably be by a cabbie. But I’ve also found that most drivers are honest. Sure, scams happen. But with the right tips and a watchful eye, you’ll get where you want to go without being taken for a ride.

Dishonest cabbies often lurk at airports, train stations, and tourist sights ready to take advantage of tired travelers.

At Prague’s main train station, cabbies at the “official” stand are a gang of no-good thieves who charge arriving tourists five times the regular rate. If you don’t want to worry about getting conned the minute you arrive at a new destination, hop on public transportation. At Prague, opt for the Metro instead of a taxi. Recently, I took a speedy train from Rome’s airport to the train station downtown and then caught a bus to my hotel. It took me less than an hour to get from the airport to my hotel and cost 27 euros for the train fare and a handy week-long transit pass. A taxi alone would have cost 40 euros.

If you’re at a taxi stand or flagging down a cab, get into the car only if it has a prominent taxi-company logo and telephone number. Be aware that if a taxi is called for you (for example, by a hotelier or restaurant), the meter often starts running when the phone call is received. Note that there really are variable rates and extra fees. Trips on nights and weekends generally cost more, and there are often surcharges for luggage and airport trips.

In a cab, insist the cabbie use the meter, agree on a price up front, or know the going rate. If you have Internet access, the Web site www.worldtaximeter.com can provide estimated taxi fares for larger cities. Or you can ask your hotelier when you book your room roughly how much the ride should cost from the airport.

Image: London taxi

Dominic Bonuccelli

London’s black cabs take you through a scenic urban landscape you’d miss if you relied on the underground Tube.


A common trick is for cabbies to select the pricier “night and weekend” rate on their meter — even if it’s a weekday. An explanation of the different rates should be posted somewhere in the cab, often in English. If you’re confused about the tariff, ask.

If you suspect a ripoff, make it obvious that you’re following the route on your map or conspicuously writing down the cabbie’s license information. Shame them into being honest. In many Western European cities, such as London, Paris, and Barcelona, meters are tamper-proof, so there’s generally nothing to worry about.

For small groups or families, taking taxis can be cheaper and faster than using public transit. A group of three or four people can often travel less expensively by taxi than by buying individual bus tickets. Taxis are especially reasonable in Mediterranean countries and Eastern Europe. You can go anywhere in downtown Lisbon, Prague, or Athens for about $10.

To show appreciation for good drivers, include a tip of 5 percent to 10 percent. If they haul your bags and hustle you to the airport to help you catch your flight, you could toss in a little more. But if you feel like you’re being driven in circles, skip the tip. If a driver owes you money, watch carefully as cash passes between hands, and count your change. (Cabbies can be expert at dropping a 50-euro note and picking up a 20.) Better yet, pay with small bills.

Despite their hassles, I love taxis. People often ask how I’m able to find the best beer or tastiest tapas in town. Many of my favorite backdoor tips and most interesting conversations have come from chatting up taxi drivers. In London — my favorite taxi town — drivers tend to know every nook and cranny, since they must pass a rigorous test on London geography to earn their license. Sure it may cost a little more than public transportation. But the nuggets, insights, and people make it worth the ride.

(Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at rick@ricksteves.com, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, Wash. 98020.)

© 2009 Rick Steves … Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Link to Article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35186887/ns/travel-destinations/

Walking down: 5 tips for avoiding the latest hotel scam

Tripso
by Christopher Elliott
Jack Taras and his friends thought they would be checking in to the Occidental Grand hotel on the Dominican Republic’s postcard-perfect Eastern shore for Spring Break. But when Taras, a 19-year-old sophomore from Providence College, arrived at the resort, he was greeted with the hotel industry’s latest trick: he was walked down.

“They were sent to hotel that wasn’t as nice,” says his father, John Taras. He phoned his son’s online travel agency, Cheaptickets.com, and asked about the downgrade, which lasted the full five nights of Jack’s stay. It deferred to the hotel, which offered an apology and a vague explanation of a “computer mishap” that resulted in an overbooking.

“Walking” is a practice that’s as old as the hotel industry. When a resort is overbooked, it typically sends a guest to a comparable property, covering the cost of transportation, a phone call and accommodations. But somewhere along the way — probably at the start of the current recession — the word “comparable” was conveniently dropped, and hotels quietly began sending guests to lesser properties.

That’s not supposed to happen, according to Joseph McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group. “It’s most often the hotel’s policy that guests are provided accommodations in a facility of equal quality,” he told me. “The last thing that a property wants to happen is to compound the problem by sending the guest to an unacceptable facility.”

But problems are being compounded. That’s the bad news. There’s also some good news: Walking doesn’t happen as often as it did before the economy started going soft. The latest lodging industry forecasts predict more empty rooms in the months ahead, in an historic downturn that a recent PKF Hospitality Research study predicted would be “deeper and last longer” than previously thought. “With lower occupancy rates, I’m sure hotels are not having to walk as many guests,” says Robert Mandelbaum, PKF’s director of research information services.

The Occidental Grand offered Taras a voucher for a two-night stay, which he doesn’t want, and Cheaptickets.com has told him his case is being escalated to a supervisor. I contacted both the resort and the site on Taras’ behalf, but neither has responded.

It’s easy to understand why a hotel would want to walk a guest “down” when it’s overbooked. The property must cover the cost of your room when you’re “walked” and even though it often pays a discounted industry rate, it can save a few bucks by sending you to a lesser property and pocketing the difference.

Question is: what to do when it happens to you? Here are a few tips for guests who have been walked:

Read The Answers

You aren’t a travel agent

by Lisa Kadane, Calgary Herald

So, you think you’re a travel agent? You’ve got a computer, high-speed Internet and a burgeoning library of websites that promise the best deals on airfares and accommodations, from Farecompare.com to Hotels.ca. Plus, you googled “African safari” and found a slick site selling off Big 5 tours for next to nothing. Now, all you need is seven hours on a Saturday to research and book your trip.

If that sounds about as much fun as a day spent pulling weeds, you’re not alone. Some trips are easy to book on the web — a round-trip flight from Calgary to Vancouver to visit a friend, for example. Others are more complicated affairs — Galapagos Islands, anyone? — that illustrate the need for travel counsellors in an electronic age.

“The myth is that everything is cheaper on the Internet,” says Steve Gillick, president and COO of the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors.

In reality, Gillick says travellers often don’t understand the time it takes to DIY their trip, nor do they realize the invaluable insider information to be garnered from travel agents. Forget to factor in crucial details, from visas to travel insurance, and being your own agent could become one big mistake.

The Herald talked to travel counsellors across the country and rounded up four scenarios where it pays to use an expert.


Link to Article: http://www.canada.com/topics/travel/story.html?id=2b82f0eb-b352-469a-b0c2-a61be60896bc