I am actually ashamed to say that up until this point in my life (32 years), I never once considered safety precautions for travel. Absurd, right? Especially in this day and age. Knock on wood, I have been lucky. But I am certainly not naive and realize that any step towards safety is better than none at all.
So what spurned my sudden need for safety? My husband and I are preparing to spend our 5th year wedding anniversary in St. Lucia. St. Lucia is known for being an incredibly romantic island with a lush rain forest and beautiful scenery. What you don’t typically hear about the island, as beautiful as it may be, is that they do have some crime to be concerned about. Most notably, robberies and theft. And as a tourist, we have to be aware, especially since we will be venturing off of resort grounds.
Why even go on vacation if you are not going to go off of resort grounds? That would be like going to New York City and never leaving your hotel, never stepping on the street to take in the sounds and excitement the city has to offer, never experiencing the food, the culture and the people…. At that point you might as well stay at home and save yourself some money!
I love to travel. I love to experience different places and cultures and meet new people. If you are reading this far on this post, I assume you feel the same way I do.
So in order to fully enjoy our vacations and be prepared for anything, here is a list of some things you should do before leaving the country or even going to a big city. Prepare for the worst so you can experience the best of your vacation without worries.
BONUS MATERIAL: I designed a handy “safe travel checklist for smart travelers” that you can download and print out for free right here.
1. Check the travel.state.gov website for alerts or warnings
This is for those traveling outside of the country. Here you will see if there are any warnings that you should be aware of in regard to the particular place you are traveling to. From the travel.state.gov website a “Warning” might include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks. And an “Alert” might include an election season that is bound to have many strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert like an outbreak of H1N1; or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks.
2. Check the cdc.gov (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) to see if you are required or recommended to get any vaccinations.
This site will break down any information regarding the place you are going to be visiting from recommendations and requirements on vaccinations or medicines you should have on hand to if there are any current out-breaks in the area or things to be concerned about.
3. Obtain contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you are going.
Depending on where you are traveling and if there are any warnings or alerts in place, this may or may not be more or less important for you to do. However, even those traveling to a location without warnings or alerts should be aware of this information should a natural disaster happen while you are on vacation and you need government assistance. (ie. hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes, etc). Visit one of these links for more information: http://www.usembassy.gov/ or https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html
4. Make 2 copies of all of your important documents, credit cards, identification and travel documents. Store in multiple places.
Scan and save your documents and send to your email (an account that you can access from anywhere). This one is important should something happen and you need to prove who you are, what you own or what was stolen from you. As long as it is sitting in your email you will be able to access it from anywhere to pull up the files.
Print copies of your documents and place in an area not on your person such as in your suitcase or carry on. If traveling with other people such as a spouse or friend, consider placing your documents in their luggage as well. This way if your suitcase is stolen or lost, you can still have access to your information.
In addition, if you have an emergency contact you can trust with your personal documents, consider leaving copies with them back at home.
So what do you need to photograph or scan? It would be a good idea to photograph the following:
- Credit card numbers and contact information for the credit card company so you can call in a lost or stolen card
- Bank debit card number and contact information for the bank so you can call in a lost or stolen card
- Travelers check serial numbers
- Airline tickets and/or confirmation numbers and contact information for airline
- Travel insurance policy number and contact information
- Travel accommodations, bookings and confirmations
5. Photograph high ticket items and cash you are taking with you.
This goes hand-in-hand with step 3 and you should send the images to your email to access in the event you have to prove what items you had with you that were stolen. Some ideas of what you should photograph:
- Cell phones
- Jewelry (wedding/engagement rings)
- Any high ticket items you purchase on the trip
6. Pack smart and Invest in a GREAT anti-theft bag.
They make them for men and women and of all different sizes and styles. I personally like Travelon and love the mini backpack I got. They come stocked with anti-slash fabric, RFID blockers, and anti-pickpocket zippers that latch so they can’t be opened without some serious attention. I even found it difficult to get into, but that was the point. The bag I purchased has a quick access pocket sleeve that resides on the part that lines my back, which would be great for airline tickets, hotel accommodation confirmation printouts, etc.
7. TSA approved luggage locks.
These are great for traveling safely and because they are TSA approved, they can get into your luggage if necessary without cutting your locks. If you don’t want to use them while plane hopping, use them for your hotel room/ villa or other accommodation that may not provide room safes. It’s not 100% secure and the locks are small enough that they could be cut, however, they should help to prevent petty thievery
8. Money, Cards and Decoy stash – a multi-point plan
This is a huge one. Do not think that you can just take one wallet or purse when traveling. You are not at home. When traveling, you need to separate your money, and even create decoy money that you would be willing to part with.
8a. Decoy Stash.
The Decoy stash is a great place to only keep what you need for that day, or particular event. For example, going on a full day excursion that ends at a local restaurant? Set aside what ever dollar amount you feel you will need to have on you and put that in your decoy wallet or stash that you will publicly use. If you feel you need additional funds on you for emergencies or the unknown, use a hidden wallet, waste pocket, bra stash, etc. Everything else, should ideally be in a room safe. Whatever is in your decoy stash, you should be okay with losing, should you be robbed. It would be what you offer to said thief willingly. For that reason, I suggest keeping your local ID (drivers license not a passport), Cash, and one Credit Card that you can easily suspend. If you don’t have a credit card on you in your decoy stash, the thief may catch on to the decoy and demand more from you.
8b. Everything else.
So once you have your decoy stash figured out, it’s best to invest in a bra stash, waste wallet, or other RFID blocker hidden pocket that you can place somewhere close to your body that would not be detected by being bulky.
I personally love the Eagle Creek Bra Stash, which can be attached to a bra or thin wasted underwear. For men, there are various waste wallets available and even belts with hidden money pockets. I would keep the bulk of your stash in these hidden areas while traveling to and from your destination and also if you do not have a room safe and need to keep your money on you.
8c. Room Safes
They really are not that safe, but certainly better than carrying it around with you. The only person you really have to worry about with a room safe is your housekeeper. Assume that employees and management have access to the room safe. If you are not flashy and you keep your items in your safe, your items will likely be fine. A good rule of thumb is to take a photo of what you put in your safe, including all money and important documents. That will allow you to prove that something was missing, even if only a few bills disappear.
With that said, I am a full advocate for the room safe. If you did your research and you are staying at a place that receives great reviews and has a great reputation, you likely have nothing to worry about and it’s better to put your valuables in a place that is NOT on your body where they can be stolen from you easily while you are out exploring.
9. Personal protection
Having some sort of protection should something happen is a good idea. Even better, being trained in self defense would be ideal.
That being said, I recently learned how to use a simple pen as a self defense item. It’s also amazing on what you can do with a rolled up magazine. If you want something a bit more protective, you may want to look into key chain self defense items or mace.
Just keep in mind. These items CANNOT be brought on the plane with you (a pen and magazine though!). You will need to safely place them in your checked luggage and you may need to alert the airline of what you are traveling with. For more information, visit https://www.tsa.gov/
10. Get travel insurance
Most personal health insurances will not cover your health needs abroad or even in different states within the United States. It is wise to get trip coverage to cover the cost of a missed flight, weather cancellations, lost luggage or even a trip to the emergency room or helicopter evacuation.