One of the best treats of retirement is having more time to devote to travel. Along with the joys of seeing the world there are some hazards, however, such as theft. Because you don’t want to be robbed while travelling, here are seven practical tips to help you stay ahead of thieves on the road.
1. Start with a game
The next time you’re walking in your city centre or taking public transportation, try this short mental exercise -- it will serve you well when you're travelling abroad. Look around you. Which people stand out? Whose purse has an outside pocket half-unzipped? Who keeps checking the posted subway maps? Who looks relaxed? Is anybody consulting a guidebook? Who looks timid? This is exactly what an experienced thug does as he chooses his prey. Whose pocket would you choose to pick? Why? Hopefully, the insights you gain will help you to protect yourself from wrongdoers as you travel.
2. Be culturally correct in your dress
The best way for a thief to pick you out of a crowd is not by the colour of your skin or the shape of your eyes. It’s by what you’re wearing. If you’re dressed like a local, a pickpocket will not necessarily choose you first. He won’t be sure if you actually live in the area and are therefore up to his tricks, or are an unsuspecting visitor. More often he'll target a female who doesn't seem to fit in. You can do pre-trip research on culturally correct clothing at What should I wear, where?
3. Expensive jewelry belongs at home
Unless you’re attending a fabulous wedding or high-society ball abroad, leave all your jewels at home. They will always be a hindrance to your safety. Wear an inexpensive, utilitarian watch, something that will go unnoticed. If you absolutely must sport some bling for an evening on the town, try dressing up your hair. A dime-store rhinestone barrette or sparkly hairpin works wonders when worn with a black shirt and pants.
4. Your wallet is not really your wallet
Keep your money and important documents in a cotton money belt worn close to your body. Then carry a fake wallet with you. That's the one you want the pickpocket or mugger to get if you’re singled out. Have fun putting this decoy together. Fill it with a few local bills and then augment the wad with currency no longer in circulation, such as French francs or Dutch guilders. Everybody has plastic cards with a name and user number on it that look like credit cards but aren't. This includes membership cards for video rentals or points cards for your local grocery. They don’t have contact information on them so you can put them in your decoy wallet without fear. Never fight with anybody who demands your wallet. Having your fake in your purse to hand over is a very smart move.
5. Making connections, discouraging connections
When on holiday, leave those formal business cards behind. Instead, carry colourful postcards from home and give your new acquaintances a glimpse of the city or town where you live. Relevant contact information can be printed on the reverse. For example, there is no need to give a stranger your home address or phone number. Instead, a Hotmail or Gmail address is perfect for testing out new relationships.
6. This food looks good enough to eat
Picture this: You’re travelling on an overnight train in Europe. The young couple seated beside you is chatty and offers lots of good advice about what to do at your destination. They unpack a picnic of sausage, cheese, fresh bread and wine. The aromas are so enticing; they offer to share. You're thinking, “This is what European travel is all about.” However, evaluate carefully before you partake. Understand that drugging is always a possibility. You don't want to wake up to find your friendly neighbours gone, along with all your belongings.
7. Bonus tip
When strangers ask you what you do for a living and you're not sure if they can be trusted, tell them you're a policewoman on holiday. They'll quickly find some other traveller to prey on.
Another way to protect yourself when seeing the world is with travel insurance, which can cover you for emergency medical expenses and help you find a doctor who speaks your language.