When do you cross the line between being educated and paranoid, when it comes to travel smarts? Is there such a thing as being too cautious?
In January (2013) we spent 3 weeks in Paris and in preparing for our trip I did my homework, so much so that my adult son said to me, “If you keep reading all of that you’re going to be paranoid and not enjoy your trip.” My response was, “I like to think of it as being educated, not paranoid.” And as it turned out, I think my due diligence paid off because we came home unscathed.
Educated, Not Paranoid
You could spend hours upon hours reading research related articles about travel safety; pickpocketing being the most prevalent topic. But let me digress here for just a moment. Have you ever thought about practicing the same precautions in your home country as you would while traveling? After our stay in Paris we returned to the U.S. and spent a week in Washington, D.C. and both of us, somewhat unconsciously, just began to loosen the reigns so to speak. I noticed I stopped locking the zipper on my little purse and Abi had his wallet in his back pocket. Why did we do this? One can read just as much about pickpocketing in Washington, D.C., a hugely popular tourist destination, as in Paris or any other major city. Was it because we were on home turf? Was it because we suddenly were not the foreigners and we could read and speak the language? When we realized what we were doing, we started paying attention again. I mean really, the Metro in D.C. is just as crowded as the Metro in Paris so why not be as equally cautious?
Anyway, back to being educated but not paranoid. One of the most interesting, yet disturbing, topics I came across while researching safe travel tips was about the so-called electronic pickpocket.
“Wireless identity theft is a relatively new technique of gathering an individual’s personal information from RF-enabled cards carried on a person in their access control, credit, debit, or government issued identification cards. Each of these cards carry a Radio frequency identification chip which responds to certain radio frequencies. When these “tags” come into contact with radio waves, they respond with a slightly altered signal. The response can contain encoded personal identifying information, including the card holder’s name, address, Social Security Number, phone number, and pertinent account or employee information.”
Pretty crazy, uh? Imagine the world if that ingenuity was put to good use instead of trying to figure out how to rob me without me knowing until I got the credit card statement? What to do? More research and voila! the anti-theft over the shoulder purse and wallet. Actually, there are a lot of products now with super special lining material that prevents any electronic devices from reading information off of something such as a credit card. And, the straps are made with material that cannot be cut. This little over the shoulder bag basically served as a wallet for me and it is so compact I actually wore it under my jacket. No one ever knew it was there. Abi kept his wallet in his front pocket and stitched in a Velcro strip to slow down any pickpocketing fingers!
Before leaving for Paris we were warned by several people to be careful of the children and teenagers. Sure enough, we were approached maybe 3 times by teenagers. The scam is they ask you to sign a petition and donate a couple of dollars to further the cause. The only cause is to line their pockets. We would see them most often at the busiest tourist sites, such as the Notre Dame Cathedral. Of course we also saw an equal number of police offers and military men/women with very scary-looking automatic rifles, something we do not see on the streets of the U.S. Somehow though, it didn’t bother me. I figured, the more protection the better; it’s just a little unnerving at first. But, when approached by said teenagers, we simply kept walking or gave them a resounding “No!” and they left us alone. Being nice and worrying about hurting someone’s feelings is not an option. You will never see them again and they certainly won’t think twice about you! To learn more, read Rick Steves.
The other scam I read about was the gold ring drop. Ever heard of it? I thought it sounded ridiculous, someone approaches you and tells you they found a gold ring, is it yours and in the end the victim takes the ring and ends up handing over some cash. I kind of didn’t see how anyone would fall for such a thing, right? So guess what? Yep. We were walking near the Paris Opera House, a very busy area with high tourist traffic and a woman looked at me, held out her hand and there was a gold ring in her hand. She smiled and extended her hand to me. This all happened quite quickly because we were crossing the street and had just stepped onto the curb but I looked at her, laughed and kept walking. I turned to Abi and said, “Hey, they really do try to pull that shit!” I felt quite smug in my knowledge.
- I think the key to safe and successful travel is good common sense, do your homework (for every country you visit) and be aware of your surroundings.
- Always walk as if you know exactly where you’re going, even if you don’t. If you do need to stop to look at a map or consult a guide book, step into a doorway with your back to the wall. Do not stand in the middle of the sidewalk looking completely lost, which we saw so often. You might as well put a big red bulls-eye on your back!
- If you need to use an ATM machine to access cash, which we did several times, one of you use the machine while the other stands with their back to the machine. By turning your back to the machine you’re not only blocking the view of the key pad/cash, you’re also paying attention to who is around you.
- Blend in as much as you possibly can. Don’t wear brightly colored t-shirts, don’t wear clothing with logos and don’t carry a bright red backpack.
- Look up the address and phone number for the U.S. embassy in every country you visit and carry it with you. And make sure someone back home, wherever home may be, knows your travel itinerary. Try to stay one step ahead of yourself and for sure, no one will catch up with you!
Be bold, be brave, take a leap of faith and see the world, but be educated, not paranoid!