Vacationing? Watch your back… and be prepared

Planning a trip to a foreign land, a nearby province or a U.S. state? Take a tip from the Boy Scouts: be prepared for the worst. Whether travelling in Canada or abroad, your vacation can easily be messed up by failing to ensure your personal belongings are safeguarded.

Don’t believe me? CARP members and personal friends have relayed the following horror stories to me: One fellow arrived at the Dallas airport on his way to a vacation on the Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico. He put down his carry-on bag to make a phone call. When he hung up, he reached for his bag. It was gone, along with his passport and airline tickets.

My sister-in-law was standing on a street corner in Rome, admiring the magnificence of St. Peter’s Square when two men riding a scooter whizzed past. One of the men flashed a knife, cut the shoulder strap of her purse, pulled away the bag and the pair sped off. The purse contained all her money, her passport, airline tickets and other essential documents. The assault lasted only seconds, but it took her three days to straighten out the mess.

A husband and wife, both CARP members, were taking an early morning stroll along a Caribbean beach. The beach waseserted, except for a jogger. As the jogger ran past, he grabbed the expensive gold chain around the woman’s neck and fled.

The force of the attack broke the chain and the jogger kept on running. The woman spent painful hours in a nearby hospital to repair neck lacerations. The moral of the story? If you don’t want to lose it, don’t take it on vacation. That goes for jewellery, precious pictures and keepsakes.

Empty your wallet or purse of all those non-essential cards and documents: department store charge cards, library card, provincial health cards and anything else you won’t need while away. Lost cards are never easy to replace, particularly government-issued cards that can take weeks to arrive.

As for documents you need to take with you, make photocopies of everything your passport, airline tickets, credit cards, health and travel insurance cards. Make three copies: one to the hide in the bottom of your carry-on luggage, one to file at home and another to leave with a close relative or friend. If anything is lost or stolen, you have immediate verification for the Canadian consulate and airline ticket office while they attempt to validate your story. Read the small print about what to do if your credit cards are lost, and keep a list of international tele-phone numbers to report your loss. Immediately informing credit card companies is most important in order to stop any illegal charges, and to ensure that you’re issued new cards as soon as possible.

It’s also a good idea to give the folks back home your complete itinerary – you never know when you might be needed in an emergency.

Other tips:

  • Keep all medicines in your carry-on bag when travelling by plane. You never know when you might need that important medication during a flight, when your main luggage isn’t available.
  • Take a good supply of all necessary medications with you, just in case you’re delayed for an extra few days.
  • If you wear glasses, carry a copy of your eyeglass prescription. Your glasses might break or be lost Ñ with a prescription handy you can get a new pair made without too much fuss. Take eyeshades and ear plugs, both useful during long flights if you’re in need of some shut-eye.
  • Earplugs can also be handy if you find yourself staying in a noisy hotel, and the eyeshades can be a Godsend when the sunlight bursts through the curtains at 5 a.m.
  • One last tip: If you’re planning to visit an area which is known for its petty crime, carry a “mugger’s wallet” It’s just an old wallet with $20 or $30 in it and some old, useless cards. A friend was robbed at knifepoint in San Jose, capital of Costa Rica. Another was robbed on a brightly-lit street in Warsaw. The “mugger’s wallet” saved them a lot of grief, and money.