Working at Las Olas Surf Safaris for Women, I’ve done my share of travel planning. Although it’s yet to happen, I know that the trip could be ruined if I let my guard down and lose important stuff. Here are a few travel security tips we use to prepare for a worry-free trip. Please add your own tips in the comments below (especially if you work for the State Department).
Our security strategies are based on walking through the “what ifs” of travel experiences before we leave home. For example, “What if my backpack is lost containing my I.D. and all my money?” From there, we work through solutions before that actually happens.
Important documents, credit cards, and cash
If you lose your wallet, a facsimile of your I.D. is way better to show the local authorities than nothing at all. Also, you’ll need the numbers on your credit card to quickly alert your bank if it goes missing.
Tip: Photocopy or scan your passport, driver’s license, and credit cards- front and back. Pack a copy in your luggage, not with your originals. I also store a duplicate copy in a safe place in my office so someone back home can give me those numbers while I’m on location. If you’re concerned about accidentally sharing your credit/debit card CVV security number, black it out with a pen on your photocopy or cover it with a Post-it when you scan.
Extra credit: Upload your scans to a web storage service like Dropbox or Google Docs. (You can also send the scans via attachment to a webmail account like gmail or yahoo!, but that depends on your level of internet comfort.)
Check that Customer Service phone number on the back of your credit/debit cards- if it’s a toll-free number it may only work in the USA and Canada. No bueno if you’re in Mexico, Europe, etc.
Tip: Check your statement or go to the bank website to get a toll number for emergency contact. And while you’re there, find their direct fraud number. That’ll save time avoiding their phone maze if your card is lost or stolen. Write the phone number on your copies and add it to your address book.
Some banks will shut down your card if they see a random charge from Ecuador (and up until then you were having such a great time in South America).
Tip: Before you leave, call your credit/debit bank and let them know you’ll be out of the country.
Our founder, Bev, recently attended a seminar about travel security and learned about RFID scanners . RFID what? RFID scanners are devices cyber-thieves use to wirelessly harvest information from our modern I.D. and credit/debit cards. The thief needs to be in close proximity of your cards, but that could easily happen in a cafe or on mass transit.
Thoughts on Travel Money
We travel with a few forms of money: Cash, credit cards, and debit cards. The blend differs depending on the destination. For example, on surf safari, we use mostly cash and debit cards (to get cash). In NYC, it’s mostly credit cards and a little cash. Traveler’s checks are no longer useful anywhere because few vendors accept them.
ATM’s are generally good solutions for accessing cash while traveling, but they do have their caveats. (Read our upcoming blog Travel Tips: Security On Location for more info.)
Tip: If you need more than the standard $300 daily ATM withdrawal, ask your debit card bank to open a “travel account” with a higher daily limit. Once the limit is increased, you can request extra debit cards with unique account numbers so each card can get $300 per day at a foreign ATM. And protect your regular accounts from fraud by depositing just what you need for your trip in the special travel account.
If you prefer credit over debit cards for cash, be sure to set up your credit card PIN before you travel.
Extra credit: Pack a couple business or personal checks in your luggage. In a pinch, you’d be surprised who’ll take a check.
The first rule of taking valuables on your trip is- don’t take valuables on your trip. Ok, that’s not always possible, but seriously consider leaving expensive items like cameras, laptops, jewelry, or watches at home. Aside from the darkly attractive nature of conspicuous wealth, it’ll turn a good trip bad if you leave your Macbook on the train. (The last few trips I hauled my laptop, I noticed my smartphone did all the work anyway.)
Tip: For those items that make the cut, we label everything with contact info stickers in case a very nice person finds our lost kit. I use my office phone number and email address.
Tip: It’s a no-brainer these days, but I’ll say it anyway: passlock your smart phone, tablet, and laptop. It’s so easy and stops most thieves from browsing your address book for more targets if they steal your tech. I even made a custom unlock screen that displays my office phone number/email address and promises a reward if I get my phone back. And be sure to put a contact sticker on the bottom. There are nice people out there who will happily return found gear if it’s convenient.
Tip: Check your insurance about covering items when traveling. Some credit cards include property loss insurance on purchases. It’s worth asking. If you’re not sure about your coverage, visit Insuremytrip.com. Their premiums are affordable and we’ve heard good things about their claims processing.
Tip: We’ve used Pacsafe portable safes at Las Olas for almost 20 years. These clever safe bags cinch closed and lock around the plumbing pipes in the hotel bathroom or metal hinges in the rental car trunk. Of course, a professional thief will get what they want, but the average smash-and-grabber will be inspired to move on.
It there’s no I.D. on your lost suitcase, you may never see it again. Use a sturdy name tag attached to a sturdy part of your luggage.
Tip: Tuck a copy of your itinerary inside your checked luggage on top of your clothes. That way if your luggage is lost in-transit, the airline will know when and where you’re going.
Extra credit: Take a photo of your checked luggage and carry a printout with your carry-on and/or load the picture on your phone. (Believe it or not, USAir was very impressed when I handed them a photo of my lost bag. Quickly, they found it.)
For more useful information, read La Playa’s upcoming post Travel Tips: Security On Location
Chris Sanders has traveled internationally for almost 40 years and, knock on linoleum, has yet to lose anything on the road. He works with the crew at Las Olas to insure everyone’s surf adventure is glassy smooth.