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Finding Safety in Unfamiliar Surroundings

Protecting yourself and your property when traveling requires sound practices.

(Photo: Gary Hovland)

Even in the safest spots, bad things – like hotel burglaries, purse snatchings, stolen luggage, robberies and identity theft – can happen to good people.

Robert Siciliano, a personal security expert and analyst with Hotspot Shield virtual private network, has good advice for staying safe next time you leave home.

Start by checking the crime climate of the area you’ll be visiting. Research destinations outside the U.S. via the State Department’s website (travel.state.gov) and drill down on specific neighborhoods with a Google news crime search or through local police. When booking a hotel, “calling the front desk and simply asking if there have been recent issues often gets honest results,” Siciliano said.

Keep your most valuable items close at hand. Use a neck pouch to hold travel documents, cash and credit cards, keep other valuables in your carry-on bag and keep that bag with you. “Thinking for one second that leaving them on the chair while you go to the bathroom or even in the overhead cabinet while you’re gone is a mistake,” said Siciliano.

Your hotel room and in-room safe might also not be safe. “Both the hotel room door and the safe can be hacked simply by watching YouTube videos,” Siciliano said.

Keep your hotel room door locked and call the front desk to be sure a knock from hotel staff is legit. And never provide personal information like your address, phone number or credit card numbers over the phone, even to someone who says they’re from the hotel.

Whether you’re checking email for work or making online reservations for a table at that restaurant you’ve been dying to try, don’t trust the hotel Wi-Fi (or any public connection). Siciliano recommends using a virtual private network (VPN) software to protect your personal information. And take your digital devices with you wherever you go.

When you’re out and about, ask your hotel’s concierge about places to avoid, or to avoid after dark. Stay aware of what is going on 50 to 100 feet around you at all times, and if you notice someone you don’t know paying attention to you, “determine why and what their motivation is,” Siciliano said.

You need this same awareness if you’re traveling by public transportation, cab or a ride-hailing service such as Uber or Lyft. Keeping your alcohol intake to a minimum and paying attention to your surroundings will help keep you safe.

Read more articles about travel-related health topics. AAA.com/LiveWell

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