One of America’s most popular female sports reporters, Erin Andrews, was recently awarded $55 million from her lawsuit against a stalker and the hotel conglomerate that enabled him to videotape her nude and post the footage on the internet. If there’s a lesson the public can take away from the unsettling Andrews case, it’s that the onus is on individuals to preserve their privacy and protect themselves against theft or injury while traveling alone. One never knows where, when, how or why they could be victimized on a business or recreational trip. The threat of unexpected harm while traveling can be discouraging, but it must never be ignored.
Frequent fliers pack basic first aid kits as instinctualy as they stow toothbrushes in their bags. Truly savvy globetrotters take their preparedness levels up a notch to ensure they’re not victimized. Make this your mantra for every phase of your next journey: “Better safe than sorry.”
The camera rarely lies. So rely as much as possible on the security afforded by the monitors that track your movements; from the airport to the hotel, from the elevator to the parking lot, from the ATM to the taxi stand, and from one tourist trap to your spot of choice for a nightcap. Don’t shy away from public spaces where cameras are hovering. Instead locate them and be thankful they’re there for your protection. Facial recognition data deters and solves crimes. Steer toward public spaces where security monitors are prevalent. Make yourself appreciatively known if there is a constant presence of guards on the premises. And, as an added precaution, inquire whether your hotel is among the growing number that enforce “Women’s Only” floor policies.
Americans traveling abroad stop decrying U.S. government interference on their liberties once they run into snags regarding their health, safety and bank accounts. Flashing your passport grants you little or no immunity if you’re overseas and declared in violation of customs, contraband possession, or eligibility for protection and relief from natural disasters or plague or terrorism. But your tax dollars are being put to good use when it comes to alerts about stressful, unhealthy or dangerous situations overseas. The U.S. State Department encourages leisure and business trekkers to join in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which enables officials to track and inform in case of emergencies. Citizens of the U.S. are also advised to keep embassy contact information readily available.
HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT
There’s no harm in self-indulgently fleeing the tugs of family, friends and co-workers for your attention now and then. But remaining totally aloof and inconspicuous during a getaway could be detrimental in case things go wrong. Do not over-share on social media about your current location away from home because interlopers with bad intentions could take advantage of your absence. Do, however, entrust a close family member or friend with your travel itinerary and contact information. Make duplicate copies of crucial identification documents and access numbers for emergency cash if your belongings get lost or stolen. Send simple, short texts regularly to a confidante while you’re wandering.
Knock knock. Who’s there? A potential predator. Thieves and assailants are the last things travelers want to fret about, but their presence persists. Hotels offer rudimentary safeguards for their guests. Those wary of being victimized should take advantage of them, and add layers of personal protection just in case. For starters, engage every door and window lock to prevent intrusion. Don’t allow access to just anyone claiming to be there in a maintenance capacity unless it was requested. Don’t leave doors ajar or unlocked for a quick jaunt to the ice machine. Check in as a couple – i.e. Mr. and Mrs. Smith – to deflect any interest in you as a solitary target. Strategically place “Do Not Disturb” signs outside your door, and allow TVs or radios to emit sounds that indicate your presence. And invest in the blossoming array of hand-held door stoppers and motion-triggered alarms that can trigger a response while you’re sleeping or showering.
Simply double-checking that your hotel room’s door clicked closed as you venture out to explore or attend a meeting isn’t necessarily good enough to secure the valuables left behind. The host establishment may accept little or no responsibility for the items you claimed as missing or stolen. While it may seem like a hassle to hide the PEDs and cash you brought along for the trip, the time and energy spent recovering from lost property can be even more costly. Laptops left on table tops are prime targets for villains. Any item deemed too large or valuable for the room’s safe to contain securely should be deposited in the house safe and insured with a signed receipt.
From the moment you entrust your luggage to another handler – at the taxi stand, the terminal screening area, or the concierge desk – the contents are vulnerable to tampering or theft. You’re well within your rights to affix key or combination locks to your suitcases. However, law enforcement officers are empowered to crack open those safeguards open at their discretion. The U.S. Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) advises travelers to purchase luggage locks stamped with approved designation which can be opened without damage, for the safety of yourself and other passengers.
The “safety in numbers” philosophy only extends as far as the company you keep. Travelers who welcome the embracing arms of strangers invite potential disaster into their midst. Never hesitate to avail yourself upon the services of uniformed or designated security personnel. When in doubt about the safety of a hotel parking lot at night, for instance, request an escort. Politely asking a police officer or a utility worker for directions is a safer bet than seeking help from random strangers if you feel lost. Beware of new acquaintances enticing you to over-indulge in alcohol and NEVER leave your food, drink or belongings unattended.