Several months ago I went to hear a talk about travel. This one, one which I’ve had a chance to quote several times since, dealt specifically with the issue of travel safety. Plus, we got to play with some fun toys.
Because not every travel destination is the beautiful, safe beaches of Hawaii.
On the other hand, the vast majority of the world does not house terrifying specters of Jack the Ripper, just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting tourists and go all Sweeney Todd on their innards, either. Still, it doesn’t help to be prepared. But how does one do that?
First and foremost, at the top of your list, you should be checking the State Department Alerts and Warnings Travel page. Sure, the idea of Sanaa sounds really pretty darn cool. But the reality is that, at this moment in time, it’s probably not your best vacation opportunity. I mean, there’s kind of stuff going on right now. And just in case you missed that episode of Frontline, the State Department has got your back as you plan your world travels.
And there are quite real consequences for ignoring State Department warnings. Sure, some people manage to travel to these global hotspots unscathed. But the risks are there, and risk management should always be a part of travel plans.
That initial warning being said, the most common crime against tourists is theft. Theft of items from hotel rooms, pickpocketing, and snatching purses – theft is the top of the travel crime list. For those of us wanting a relaxing vacation, the need for vigilance can be irritating and upsetting – but the truth is that things happen to even the most seasoned of travelers. And it happens even in the most popular of tourist spots.
On our family visit to Hamburg, Germany in December, we had a cab driver who pretended not to speak a word of English, French, or Russian (highly unlikely), then proceeded to drive us far out of the way to reach our destination from the train station. When we realized what had happened, we immediately contacted the cab company with the cab driver’s name and number to get the situation dealt with. Who wants to deal with jerks driving cabs when there are Christmas markets to visit? We certainly didn’t, but there wasn’t much choice.
It really put a pall over the rest of our time in Hamburg, although I’m unsure whether that was entirely to do with the jerk cab driver or this really scary piece of artwork decorating the children’s bedroom.
Although it seems counter-intuitive if you’re traveling a lot, that comfortable backpack is probably the worst investment you made if you’re worried about theft. I mean, it’s hanging on your back where you can’t see it. You also probably didn’t tinker with it to make it less appealing to thieves, right?
And put down that open-top bucket-style handbag! It doesn’t matter how cute your purse is if you lose everything in it.
Hotel room safes? Use them. But know that they really aren’t that hard to get into, either.
And now that you’re totally depressed at how the entire world is conspiring to steal EVERYTHING YOU OWN, let’s talk about personal defense items that you can travel with.
Defense Item 1: Learn to knit
I am not kidding. I have no kidding in me for this. Have you ever looked at a knitting needle? It’s a BIG, GIANT, NEEDLE. It has sharp points – TWO of them. No one wants to think this way, but if it comes down to grabbing something close to defend yourself, a knitting needle isn’t too shabby to have in your grip. And best of all – totally TSA compliant.
Defense Item 2: A Loud, Screechy Contact Door Alarm
I’m sure you think you have this one covered – maybe you even travel with one of those pedal looking thingies you shove under the door that supposedly keeps the door from opening, right? And it probably gets really super screechy if the door opens onto it and depresses it – more right?
That is absolutely good thinking, but one small problem with the under-door stopper type alarms is that often they can slide across the material of the floor, no matter how “sticky” they are advertised to be. A contact alarm is a lot more reliable, and you want reliable when you’re trying to sleep in a strange place.
Defense Item 3: The Most Awesome Flashlight in the World
Also, a vicious evil blond child. Everyone is terrified of those. Have you never seen Village of the Damned?
Also TSA compliant, and just fun to play with, my travel flashlight is tiny and fits easily in my purse, but it is super heavy, has a beveled edge that would cause quite a bit of damage if I had to knock someone with it, it is ridiculously bright (I know for a fact, as I used it to blind a raccoon who was trying to tempt my dog one night), and it even comes with this really awesome strobe-light function.
I love my travel flashlight, even if I will probably never use it beyond finding my keys when the power goes out at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Zambia. Which I’ve totally done.
Also, once to blind my husband when we were both reaching for the last of the gelato. But that’s totally a legitimate use. Totally.
And finally – I can’t stress enough how often I tell people to read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. It’s certainly not just for travelers, but if you have some worries and don’t know where to start, that book would be a good idea.
As much as we want our travel to be relaxing and rejuvenating, the truth is that we really do need to take steps to make sure we’re safe – it doesn’t just happen by itself.
Plus, the travel flashlight is really just fun to play with. Oh – and there’s a matching pen, too.