Pickpockets and Purse Snatchers Oh My!

Getting pickpocketed is a terrible thing. If you travel often, the chances are that it’s going to happen. Even if you don’t travel it can happen. If you take precautions and stay alert the risk is greatly reduced but the fact is no one is immune.

Some steps you can take to make you less likely to be the victim:

Pickpockets

There are three proven ways to avoid being the victim of a pickpocket

  1. Keep your valuables secure in a money belt. There are a number of styles and sizes available but the common design is a pouch that secures to a belt and is tucked under your clothes. If you find it awkward to access the pouch, a pickpocket will find it near impossible. If you have to carry a passport, cash or credit cards they really should be in a money belt.
  2. If you won’t need something, don’t carry it. If you are staying in a hotel most now provide in-room safes where things are much more secure than carried with you.
  3. Stay aware. The best thing you can do is avoid getting into crowds. That is the favorite environment for pickpockets. If you do end up in tight quarters be aware that pickpockets are masters of disguise. Most choose to look just like other tourists or well-dressed professionals or a young mother carrying a baby so don’t let down your guard because of hoe someone looks.

Purse Snatchers

There are also some things you can do to foil a purse snatcher

  1. Always expect the worse and keep a firm grip on you purse. Don’t expect a strap hung over your shoulder to prevent a snatching. Often the thieves carry a knife to cut the strap. If you get into crowded areas keep an arm wrapped around the purse.
  2. Never walk around or sit in a public space with your purse wide open. It only takes a second to reach in and run.
  3. There are purses available with a wire inserted into the strap and there are also accessory straps from companies like Pacsafe that prevent cutting.
  4. You should also realize that backpacks have also become popular targets for thieves. Use those same precautions with backpacks and don’t walk with a backpack slung loosely over one shoulder. Wear it over both shoulders. Lately you will also see many people wearing their backpacks on their front. That is not a new fashion look but an additional way to protect a backpack especially on the crowded streets of an unfamiliar city.

If you are traveling internationally, normally you don’t need to carry a drivers license unless you are going to rent a car. Likewise you usually don’t need to carry your passport. Our recommendation is to leave those in your hotel along with credit and debit cards you won’t be needing. You should still have some forms of identification and a copy of your divers license will usually suffice. Another strong recommendation is to have and carry an emergency identification card that includes contact information and any medical needs (a great source of a downloadable card is HERE).

Keep any money and cards you’ll need in that money belt and carry a small card case for that license copy and emergency ID in your pocket along with important information like key phrases, hotel address, and local emergency numbers.

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BEFORE YOU TRAVEL – Things To Do

A Checklist For International Travel

Travel Insurance

  1. ___ Check amounts and terms of international coverage on health insurance policy
  2. ___ Look into travel insurance. Health coverage, emergency transport and general travel insurance
  3. ___ Buy travel insurance on big risk areas and large cost items, such as flights and cruises.

Make a Contact List

  1. ___ Update your phones contact file
  2. ___ Include Embassy and consulate numbers where you will travel
  3. ___ Look up and add emergency numbers for countries you will visit
  4. ___ Make hard copies of those contacts to carry on you
  5. ___ Add copies to carry-on and suitcases

Make Copies of Important Documents

  1. ___ Take photos with your phone of all your cards, passport, itinerary and bookings and store them
  2. ___ Make multiple copies of documents like passport, insurance cards, drivers license, visas and keep copies in your carry on and suitcase
  3. ___ Give digital copies to trusted friends or family

Money Belts and Bag Security

  1. ___ Carry cash and cards in a money belt or pouch. If you don’t have one, get one. Without question they are the safest way of protecting money, cards and ID.
  2. ___ Have extra security for wallets, purses and backpacks. Pickpocket proof clothes, wire reinforcement for straps.
  3. ___ Distribute your cash: Separate your cash and have an emergency stock in a place unlikely to be searched. Inside suitcase liner, in old socks or with toiletries.

Make Sure You Have The Right Debit and Credit Cards

  1. ___ Check your credit card terms and have one that doesn’t charge international transaction fees
  2. ___ Check your debit card and carry one that has international ATM service with which you can withdraw cash for free to avoid fees.

Also a credit card gives you a higher chance of claiming money back in case an airline goes bankrupt or fraud against the card.

Foreign Currency

  1. ___ Convert some money to foreign currency before you leave. Important for tipping, taxis and small purchases.
  2. ___ Look into the ATM networks recommended by your bank. That can save a lot of hassle and money.
  3. ___ Make and carry a list of exchange rates. This helps you understand the cost of things and know if the vendors are being fair.

Know Basic Phrases For The Countries You’ll Visit

  1. ___ Prepare a small cheat sheet of basic questions: “How much?”, “Where are the bathrooms?” “Is a service charge included?” Knowing how to call for help, ask for the police etc can make or break your travel safety.
  2. ___ Write down the address of your hotels and other important locations and destinations to show to taxi drivers etc.

Research Local Customs And Laws

 

  1. ___ Read up on local culture and manners to help you travel safely. You don’t want to offend anybody. For instance in Thailand disrespecting the money is disrespecting the King because his picture is featured. Be careful of religious culture in strongly religious countries.
  2. ___ Look into local laws.Ask questions or refer to travel guides. You do not want to break any laws unintentionally and end up with a hefty fine or in jail. An example is in Barbados it is illegal to wear camouflage clothing (fine and/or jail).

Keep Your Electronic Gear Safe

  1. ___ Get and install a VPN (virtual private network) on all devices that will access wifi (laptops, pads and cellphones.
  2. ___ Get and install a reliable anti-virus software.
  3. ___ Buy and carry a large capacity travel hard drive. Do regular backups and keep a backup system on it. Also never plug in unknown USB sticks (thumb drives).

Be Prepared For Eventualities

  1. ___ Know the costs of using your cellphone internationally. Being in Europe is not the time to learn that you calls are $3.00 a minute.
  2. ___ Discuss communications options with family and friends. Let them know if you plan on using primarily text messages.
  3. ___ Have a plan for when your devices cannot access the internet. Too many devices and apps today operate on the premise that they always have access to the web. Understand the ones that won’t work in such a case and find out if there are there substitutes?

Download Maps To Your Device Before Your Trip

  1. ___ Install a map app on your cellphone or use Google Maps and download maps of cities you will visit. Google will allow you to store their maps for thirty days and there are several apps that let you download maps that display using only GPS.
  2. ___ Get in the habit of picking up local guide maps and carry one as a backup for your phone. Having paper maps and even a compass on you can come in handy.

Beating Jet Lag

Dealing With Jet Lag

In the last dozen or two years we have made a number of international trips. There have been times when we hardly experienced jet lag at all, but a few trips took days to recover. Our experience has taught us a few things including what causes the worst jet lag. It seems that traveling east causes more problems with jet lag than traveling west. We also believe that what time the flight starts can have a big impact on how serious jet lag will be. Generally late evening flights are the better than morning flights especially on long trips. Our biggest issue is usually insomnia with the worst being a Singapore to Florida trip that literally took a few days to readjust from.

The most serious issue is flying across time zones where your body times evening becomes the destinations morning (or other way round). In addition to insomnia there is often gastrointestinal issues, and difficulty concentrating.

Instead of just letting it happen you can reduce jet lag by preparing for your flight and making sure during your flight you get as much sleep as possible. After the flight spend as much time as you can out in the sunshine and quickly adjust to the local time.

Here’s what the experts suggest:

Before Your Flight

Adjust Your Schedule

A few days before the trip adjust sleeping and eating schedule. Depending on the trip start a couple of days to up to a week before the flight. Traveling east, go to bed between one and two hours earlier each night. Traveling west, go to bed one or two hours later in the days before the flight. This gives your body a chance to adjust to new time zones ahead of time.

The same applies to your eating a few days before your flight. Change meal times closer to when people eat at the destination so your body gets used to the new meal times. If dinner time is several hours behind in your destination, have your dinner an hour or two earlier than usual.

Stay Hydrated

To reduce stress on your system avoid coffee and alcohol a day before your flight. Studies have shown that drinking coffee and alcohol before you fly can make your jet lag worse. Try to stay away from coffee and alcohol before you are set to fly. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water leading up to your flight.

Carry a water bottle and fill it in the daparture area. You can also have the bottle filled on the plane so you can stay hydrated while in the air.

Book Flights At The Right Times

Whenever possible book an overnight flight. This allows you to have dinner at a normal time in the evening making it easier to sleep on the flight during the night. Depending on your destination, you then arrive in the morning after an overnight flight having gotten some sleep. This makes adjusting to the new time zone once you land becomes much easier. Try to avoid flights where you land in the evening as these can aggravate jet lag.

Change your watch to the timezone of your destination when you board your flight. If you wear a watch, change the time so it matches the timezone of your destination. You can also adjust the clock on your cellphone. Doing this will help you get accustomed to the new timezone and ready for a new sleeping and eating schedule.

Get Rest During Your Flight

Airlines seem to want to distract passengers during a flight and often provide food, snacks and drinks and often show movies in flight. Even if it’s a movie you wanted to see, is it worth suffering serious jet lag for a day or two afterwords? Travel with a pillow and eye mask. It’s really important that you get some sleep on the plane. You could also pack headphones or earplugs to block out noise or distractions on the flight.

Taking Sleeping Pills

Only take sleeping pills during the flight if you are used to using them. If you are not used to them or taking too many can make you feel groggy when you land, and could end up making your jet lag even worse. Discuss this with your doctor before taking sleeping pill during your flight.

Try and Get Some Exercise

Get out of your seat some and walk in the aisle of the plane, especially during a long flight. Doing light exercise and moving your body can help improve your blood circulation on the flight. It can also help you get to sleep more easily.

Avoiding Jet Lag Once You Land

Get Outside Once You Reach Your Destination*

It’s important to get some exposure to natural sunlight. Light exposure regulates your body’s circadian rhythm and helps you adjust to your new location. If you traveled westward, go outside in the evening so your system realizes it’s late. If you traveled eastward, in the morning get exposed to sunlight early in the day.

*Avoid going outside if you’ve traveled more than eight time zones. If you’ve traveled more than eight time zones to the east, wear sunglasses and stay away from bright light in the morning. Then, try to get as much sunlight as possible in the afternoon.

If you traveled more than eight time zones to the west, avoid outdoor light a few hours before dark for the first few days so you system can adjust to the local time.

Eat At The Local Time

Once at your destination, try to have meals at the local time so your system can adjust. If you land at night, for example, have dinner at the local time. If you land in the morning, have breakfast at the local time.

If you find yourself getting hungry between meals times, have snacks to keep you satisfied. Only have large meals at the local time so you can adjust better to the new time. Keep hydrated. Make sure you have a lot of water with your meals. Dehydration can make your jet lag much worse.

Adjust Your Sleep Schedule.

You should sleep based on the local time and stick to a “normal” sleep schedule. This will make your jet lag less intense and help your body better adjust to the new time zone. If you land in the early evening, stay awake until the late evening so you can go to sleep at the new appropriate time. If you get in early in the day, stay awake until the evening so again your sleep time matches the local time.

Take Melatonin To Help You Sleep

If you struggle with going to sleep in the new time zone, consider taking melatonin. Melatonin is a nonprescription drug that has been shown to help set your internal clock and make going to sleep much easier. Having 3 milligrams of melatonin before bed for several days after arrival can help regulate your sleep schedule. Again talk to your doctor about taking melatonin before you go on your trip.

Using The Mobile Passport App (An Update)

Some time ago we did an article on the new Mobile Passport App. We were so excited about this new approach we immediately got ready to make use of it. At the time we published we had not actually used the app yet. Now it’s over a year latter and we have come through immigration seven times using this app. While it appears that you can make use of the app as “head of household” we both downloaded the app and registered our passports independently and have both used it at entry each time.

Good news and good news! First, in several entries using Mobile Entry it has not worked as intended yet. Talking to the agents they tell us that while they understand what it’s supposed to do mostly it doesn’t seem to provide the information at their station they were told it would but they generally accept that you have a valid entry. That being said every time we enter they examine the code displayed on our phones, take a quick look at our passport and wave us through – welcome to America.

The really good news. The way the system is supposed to work once you are heading towards immigration you follow signs to the Mobile Entry line. Sometimes it is also the same line that includes Global Entry. The big difference is that Mobile Passport is free and Global Entry costs $100 for 5 years. In most cases we have had nobody in line ahead of us when we get to the agent. Once or twice there have been no more than four people ahead of us. Once there, the agents look at our cell phone for a second and wave us through.

What we believe is supposed to happen is the agent uses a scanner to read the bar code off our phones, but that hasn’t happened yet. I doesn’t appear that Customs and Immigration have any plan to discontinue the app and system and so for it’s a big win/win.

Here’s How To Get Started

First you download the Mobile Passport App on your iPhone or Android device, it’s free. Use the App to take your picture and scan your passport and save the information.

Here’s what to do when you arrive back in the U.S. from the Mobile Passport website. Once you are at your port of entry (airport or sea port), connect to wireless or wi-fi and submit your data to CBP. Remember: when you submit, you are confirming under penalty of law that your information is correct. Within a few seconds, you will receive a CBP receipt with an encrypted barcode. Your receipt will be valid for 4 hours.

No more customs forms!

Next follow the Mobile Passport Control signs to the designated Mobile Passport Control line. Show your passport to the CBP officer and scan back the barcode on the digital CBP receipt. And that’s it!

The system is currently active at twenty-four U.S. airports and Ft. Lauderale’s, Port Everglades, with more coming.

We have one report that the system is a breeze. That may be because there aren’t that many users yet but hopefully CBP will expand to keep up.

 

A Final Note: Recently we were in Chile and before we boarded the plane I realized that I had changed phones from an iPhone to an Android and hadn’t loaded the app. Even with the slow 3G at the airport it only took five minutes to download the app, take my picture (it was terrible), scan my passport and register with the system. I would recommend avoiding that panic.

 

Traveling, Emergencies and Twitter

Twitter and the Traveler in Emergencies

Lately a few things have happened that have caused us to be more concerned about how to deal with emergencies while traveling in foreign countries. Letting family and friends back home know we are okay is one of those concerns.

Most people know Twitter as a social message sharing platform but it can fill other important roles. For those not familiar with Twitter it is used mostly for social networking, instant messaging and micro-blogging. Registered users can access Twitter through its website interface, through Short Message Service (SMS) or its mobile-device application software (“app”). Unregistered users can still read tweets by searching for a registered user or group.

There is an often overlooked place in an emergency situation for a Twitter account. If you recollect there have been some disasters and political upheavals recently where often what news did get out quickly came over Twitter. The technical reason for this can be found in the system Twitter employs for communication. Its foundation is in that protocol called Short Message Service (SMS). Often in an emergency voice communications both landline and cellular can get overloaded and fail. The same is true of the internet and cellular data systems. But SMS is a unique system designed to handle large amounts of short, simple text messages that by their very nature get through when other systems fail.

For this reason alone you should consider having a twitter account to use for emergency communications. The primary approach to accomplish this goal is to have family and friends use their accounts or have them setup Twitter accounts and make sure everyone follows everyone. In an emergency it is probably the quickest and easiest way to make notifications.

If you don’t like the idea of having your own Twitter account another approach is to setup a shared Twitter group account where everyone creates a user nickname to sign individual tweets. The process is pretty straight forward:

  • Go to Twitter.com. In your web browser, enter https://www.twitter.com.
  • Create an account for yourself or work with your group. On the homepage, enter your full name, email address, and preferred password on the given fields.
  • Choose a Username for yourself or the group. Make sure the username reflects the group; keep it short and simple so everyone will remember it.
  • Click on “Create My Account”

Keeping in touch with everyone, family, friends, work colleagues, becomes a priority during an emergency. If the land-line phones go dead and even your cell phone can’t make calls because everyone else is overloading the system, using text messages through Twitter can be a solution for those who need to inform friends and family online of current conditions and even needs. The great thing about Twitter is brevity. You still need to master important communications using just a few words, but Twitter could be the emergency information sharing option for you.

To make the best use of Twitter for emergency communications you need to develop some skills and follow a plan:

  1. Understand how you can send tweets to Twitter. You don’t need to be on a computer; you can send messages via your cell phone and its SMS/texting functions. You will need to enable the ability for your cell phone to receive Twitter updates via text message. Once done, this simply becomes one further method for you to add tweets, wherever you are.
  2. Establish an individual or group Twitter account. If you’re already a devotee of Twitter and have a group of followers with whom you regularly exchange tweets, you’ll be in the best position of all to make good use of an account in an emergency. Starting a group account is best for including users that generally haven’t made use of Twitter.
  3. Be comfortable with making tweets. The drill is 280 characters or less, including spaces and symbols. Once you’ve tried it enough times, you’ll master creating a meaningful message in few words. Make use of abbreviations to help compact content in the message. For example, “Road blkd SRS (serious) crash. I’m fine CUL8R (see you later) BFN (by for now)”
  4. Encourage friends and family to follow you on Twitter, so that they know they can find you on Twitter if you’re able to use it during an emergency. Encourage fellow workers to follow too. Twitter is a community and your message will spread often trying to find someone who respond respond and offer help.
  5. Tell friends, colleagues and family of your intentions to use Twitter in an emergency when the option is available. That will alert them to look on your Twitter feed if things happen and you could be involved. It will also help people alert authorities that you’re tweeting from an emergency.
  6. Don’t ever be afraid to use hashtags. Hashtags are keywords that people use to easily search for a specific word. In an emergency descriptive hashtags usually develop quickly.

If you really would prefer your main Twitter account to be left for specific friends, consider having a family Twitter account as well and use that during an emergency. Just be sure to remember which one you’re tweeting to – you may have to log out of one and into another.

It’s a good idea to set up Twitter on your cellphone using SMS.

Here’s how to Tweet via text message

If you add your mobile number to your Twitter account, you can tweet by sending a text message to a short or long code.

Sending a text message to any of these short or long code phone numbers will post your message as a Tweet to your Twitter profile (and it will be sent to all of your followers).

There are key differences however between using Twitter via short or long code:

Using a short code

Using Twitter by texting to a short code means you can perform actions and access content like you would via the web or a smart device.

When you use a short code with your Twitter account, you can post Tweets, receive notifications, and enroll in security features like login verification.

We currently support two-way Tweets (sending and receiving) via text message through short codes provided by our supported mobile carriers.

If you don’t yet have a Twitter account, read about how to sign up for a new Twitter account via text message.

If you already have a Twitter account and you want to start tweeting via text message, here’s how to get started:

SETTING UP short codes

Find your mobile carrier’s short code HERE. These are the short codes for the    U.S. – 40404      Canada – 21212       Mexico – 6464

Text the word START or SIGNUP to your mobile carrier’s short code.

If your country and carrier are not listed as having a short code, it may be possible for you to post a Tweet using any Twitter long codes.

Use these designated Twitter commands to perform actions from your Twitter account

How to use a long code

About Twitter SMS commands

You can perform certain actions, like following a user or liking a friend’s Tweet, by using the designated Twitter commands below.

When using these commands, do not append an @ symbol along with the command text. If you send these commands with an @ symbol, your commands will be read as a username and will not be executed as expected.

Example: If you want to turn on device notifications, send only “ON” and not “@ON.”

Turning mobile Twitter updates OFF and ON

ON: turns ALL your authorized Twitter updates and notifications on.

OFF: turns ALL phone notifications off.

ON [username]: turns on notifications for a specific person on your phone. Example: ON anna

OFF [username]: turns off notifications for a specific person on your phone. Example: OFF sheeda

FOLLOW [username]: allows you to start following a specific user, as well as receive SMS notifications. Example: FOLLOW sheeda, or F sheeda, for short.

UNFOLLOW [username]: allows you to stop following someone specific.

STOP: stops notifications, deletes your follower list, and removes your phone number from Twitter.

QUIT, END, CANCEL, UNSUBSCRIBE, or ARRET: stops notifications. If you completed the sign-up flow on the web, sending any of these commands to your Twitter short code will remove your phone number from the Twitter account most recently linked to your number.

Long codes listed below are one-way only. You can send Tweets that will post to your profile (and be sent to your followers), but you will not be able to receive Tweets or other Twitter notifications to your phone through this channel.

Note: For these reasons, we do not recommend features such as login verification for long code users, as the experience may be less than optimal.

Subscribers do not have to be in their home country in order to use one of the long codes, however it should be noted that you may be charged international message rates when using these codes. It is advised that you consult your carrier.

Safe Travel Isn’t An Accident

Safe Travel Tips

Horror stories. we’ve heard a few. The ones you really don’t want to hear are told by family and friends about travel adventures gone wrong. If you’ve spent a couple of decades traveling the world like us, you’re bound to learn a few things along the way about protecting yourself.

First – never think it isn’t going to happen to you. Believing the worst can’t happen to you is the biggest rationalization anyone can make. It actually prevents far too many people from thinking about the unthinkable and stops them from taking steps to be prepared.

  • Accidents
  • Medical Emergencies
  • Disasters
  • Civil Unrest

These can happen anywhere at anytime and while it doesn’t mean you should give up traveling, it does mean you can, and should, make plans just in case.

Second – don’t guess at what protection you have or how things could work in a crises situation while traveling. On far too many occasions we heard about friends that thought that their health insurance would work overseas just like it does back in the United States. The sad truth is that often insurance that provides good protection in America provides very little and even no protection while traveling. Getting stuck for hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills isn’t the best moment to realize this.

Third – the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is really good advice. Buying insurance has always seemed to me to be expensive but if you start looking into areas like travel insurance you will find a number of policies that seem very reasonable. My wife and I have maintained emergency evacuation insurance for a number of years at a cost for both of us around $200 a year.

Another thing that we do to be prepared is pack a first aid and medication kit when we travel. Sometimes there just isn’t a pharmacy available and a small kit of over-the-counter meds for stomach problems, flu and cold remedies and bandages are worth their weight in gold.

After hearing about a couple of real tragedies experienced by traveling friends we started always carrying emergency ID’s. What’s in your wallet or purse? Oddly a driver’s license or even a passport doesn’t provide any good contact information. Also if you have specific medical issues, how are first responders and medical professionals supposed to understand your situation?

Consider the ENIN ID card and information system. It starts with a card you carry on you but the system also provides for access to almost all the recommended information one needs in a medical emergency. Look into it HERE.

What’s In Your Wallet?

TSA and the Little Sequined Top

My wife has a sequined top that she has worn while traveling a few times. I don’t believe there is anything seriously metallic in the sequins and it has made its way thru a number of metal detectors. On a recent trip all hell seemed to break out over this top.

While we have never paid for pre-clearance we usually get pre-cleared on our boarding passes (not really sure why). Last October while passing thru the TSA Pre check my wife was directed to go thru the scanner. Feet on the marks, hands above your head and wait, something has gone wrong. It seemed the agent scanned her several times and now she is pulled aside for a thorough search. What went wrong? She was wearing that top!

After a little research we have discovered that TSA screening devices have a lot of issues with some types of women’s clothes. That splash of gold print on a T-Shirt can contain enough metal to set off the metal detector. The same with attached beads. Sequins can literally blind a scanner. Since often these things are part of the fabric, passing a wand over you cannot determine if it is the top you’re wearing or something concealed under it. Time for the pat-down.

A comment Submitted by Cindy M found on the TSA blog from Jan 2018 – When the scanners were introduced I believed they were an improvement. Now however, I see that the machines don’t spot real problems. Instead they seem to be confused by a variety of normal things such as sequins, metal, or other sorts of embellishments on clothing.

Why is it I\we have to dress for the TSA?! Actually you don’t but you can expect to be delayed and/or inconvenienced.  Especially if you ignore some simple tips that help TSA do their job efficiently. They do post a lot of information online that can help avoid these sort of issues. Unfortunately as of now sequins aren’t one of those tips.