Tips for traveling smart
When we moved to Europe, my mom prepared her bucket list of places she wanted to visit, with Rome at the top. We had heard stories of pickpockets and petty crime, but we brushed it off. Surely, it wouldn’t happen to us.
Not even two hours into our trip to Rome, my mom’s bag had been stolen, along with all of her identification, cash, credit cards and passport. It was frightening for her to be so far from home, with a language barrier and no way to validate her identity. Through this debacle, we learned a few new ways to travel smart.
Before you go
• Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Run by the State Department, this program allows you to register your travels abroad. The local embassy can contact you if there is a change in safety conditions or if there’s an emergency, natural disaster or civil unrest. It also provides a link to family and friends in the event of a crisis. The U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) has directed all Department of Defense personnel in Europe to register their assigned location and travel destinations with STEP.
• Make copies. Make at least two copies of your passport and any other important documents you might be carrying with you. Hotels and property managers will often ask for a copy of your passport at check-in. Keep a copy with you when exploring, and keep the originals under lock and key. Use the hotel safe or hide the documents well if the property doesn’t have a safe. Having copies can be useful should you need to replace your original.
It’s also helpful to write down the information on the back of your ATM or credit cards. Banks list their contact information, including international phone numbers, on the back of the cards. If a card gets lost or stolen, you’ll have the numbers on hand.
• Find the nearest U.S. embassy. Visit the State Department’s website to find where the nearest U.S. embassy is located. Embassies or consulate offices are usually found in European capitals as well as larger cities. If your travels take you to a more remote or isolated location, find the nearest one and jot down the phone number. It may come in handy.
When you go
• Only bring what is absolutely necessary for that outing. Rather than bringing all of my money, identification and credit cards with me, I find it’s easier to bring my passport copy, enough cash or euros that I think I’ll need for the day, and one credit card as back up. This helps reduce the risk of having to replace everything, and it also helps monitor my cash flow during the trip.
• Try not to draw too much attention to yourself. Research some of the local customs, and try to keep your voice to a dull roar. Be aware that your dress and speech patterns can cause you to become an unknowing target.
• Keep it close, keep it hidden. If you’re carrying a backpack or a bag, bury your wallet and documents toward the back and bottom, and keep it close to your person. You’re much more likely to feel someone rifling through your bag for your goods, rather than just unzipping and skimming them off the top.
If it happens
• File a police report. This step can feel a little daunting, especially if there is a language or cultural barrier. It’s best to report the theft in the event that your goods are recovered. Your banks and the State Department will also ask you if you’ve filed a report.
• Call the U.S. embassy or consulate office. If your passport was swiped, you’ll need to report this immediately. The staff at the U.S. embassy in Rome was amazing. They calmed my mom and walked her through the steps of what she needed to do. They advised her to come in the next morning when they opened and would issue her an emergency replacement passport. These passports will run approximately $140 and are only good for one year. If you don’t have the funds, the staff will work with you to have family wire the money, grant you a loan, or in some instances, waive the fee.
• Cancel the cards. Having that piece of paper with your bank information on it has proven handy. Call the banks and/or credit companies to report the missing cards. If you are in dire need of cash, many banks will wire money to you from your account. Just be aware that there may be fees associated with this. Many banks will also express deliver a new ATM or credit card to you within two or three days, depending on how long your are traveling.
• Notify the credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian). This step can easily be done online and often your banks will do it when you report your cards. Notifying these agencies helps flag your cards if someone tries to use them. By placing a fraud alert on those accounts, it also helps prevent new credit lines from being opened in your name if the perpetrator tries using your identity.
Living in Europe affords you an amazing opportunity to travel and visit places you’ve dreamed of. Doing a little advanced planning and being aware of your surroundings can help keep you safe and keep your travel plans on track.