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Avoid Crime on Your Vacation

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No one wants to be a victim of crime on vacation. Yet travelers — especially naive ones — are easy prey for criminals. The combination of being in unfamiliar surroundings and dropping your guard can lead to trouble.

Using the same common sense you do at home and adding some smart security measures will go a long way in keeping you safe on your vacation.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Entire Holiday

Here's How:

  1. Get the big picture. The United States Department of State publishes Consular Information Sheets about every nation. They cover crime conditions and steps crime victims should take. Current Travel Warnings lists countries the U.S. government considers particularly dangerous and recommends avoiding.

  2. Don't travel with loads of cash. Instead, access cash via ATMs (machines in some countries only work with four-digit passwords) or carry travelers check. If you don't have a credit or debit card, get a prepaid American Express Travelers Cheque Card.

  3. Leave the good jewelry home. No one can steal your diamond engagement ring if it's safe at home. If you miss wearing it, buy a cheap replica for travel.

  4. Protect your valuables. Many hotels have in-room safes; use yours. If you plan to go to the beach, for instance, leave your wallets, passports, watches, and other valuables locked in the safe. If your room itself doesn't have a safe and you're staying in a reputable hotel, put items in an envelope and ask the front desk to place them in its safe until your return.

  5. Stay away from dangerous neighborhoods. Don't know where the "dangerous" neighborhoods are? Ask a cop, a cabdriver, a concierge. They'll know.

  6. Don't go with strangers at night. If you forgot this lesson from grade school, remember it before you board the plane. Of course, every one you meet on your travels will be a stranger, and this can form the basis of some wonderful relationships and insights into the place you're visiting. But until you know and can trust a stranger, stick to meeting in public places during daylight hours.

  7. Blend in. Americans who talk loudly and wear garish clothing stick out like sore thumbs and embarrass fellow travelers who want to make a good impression on a host country. They also attract the attention of thieves and other criminals.

  8. Don't buy contraband. Whether you're tempted to buy an ounce of marijuana or an antiquity that can not legally leave its home country, don't do it. People who sell illegal products are criminals — or plants. Either way, you take a big chance in dealing with them.

  9. Stay alert. There are criminals who specialize in preying on tourists. In parts of Europe pickpockets are rampant. They'll surround a traveler or create a distraction, and the next thing you know, your wallet is gone. Don't keep cash in an obvious spot, such as a back-pocket wallet or swinging purse, and refer to steps 2 and 4.

  10. Don't get drunk. Careless drunks are easy marks. If your vacation wouldn't be complete without sampling the local viticulture, drink close by your lodgings or make arrangements for transportation back to your hotel before you leave.

  11. Suspect fakes. On many New York City street corners you can pick up a Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton bag for a fraction of the retail price. But they're fakes, no matter what the seller tells you. Only buy branded products from an authorized dealer, unless you don't mind wearing a fake.

  12. Make copies for safekeeping. Before leaving home, make copies of your passport and credit cards (both sides). Leave one copy at home with a trusted friend or family member for safekeeping, and carry the other copy in your luggage in a place away from the originals.

  13. Insist on a room with a telephone. Many resorts boast of no phone, no TV, no Internet so that you will be undisturbed. Should a crime occur, an in-room telephone is essential to call for help — and cell phones do not always get reception in remote locations.

  14. Lock your door. An open door is an invitation to intruders. If you are not comfortable with the security at your hotel, inform the management and ask them to take action.

  15. Trust your instincts. If a person or situation starts to make you uncomfortable, extricate yourself as quickly and as carefully as possible.

What You Need

  • Common sense.
  • Safe place to carry valuables.
  • ATM card or travelers cheques.
  • Copies of passport and credit cards.
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