Distracted as you are by the loss of jobs, benefits, pensions, 401Ks, and other money-making endeavors, there’s another aspect of your net worth you may not be watching as closely:
If you’re traveling anytime soon, there’s a lot you can do to make sure it doesn’t disappear.
Weed out your wallet.
Before your trip, while pulling those old receipts and get-your-eighth-cup-of-coffee-free coupons out of your wallet, also remove a few credit cards, some of which probably aren’t accepted in your destination anyway.
“That way if your wallet is lost or stolen, the loss will be minimal,” observes John M. Wills, a former Chicago police officer and retired supervisory special agent for the FBI.
Wills says most of us carry anywhere from three to seven credit cards. Try to get by with two.
As you’re pruning, take any credit cards you’re bringing, as well as travelers checks, your passport, and drivers’ license, and photocopy them, front and back, says private investigator Jeff Stein.
“While traveling, I keep the copies in my pocket [outside my wallet] and at the hotel I put them in the hotel room safe,” Stein says.
Watch your stuff at security.
Wills marvels at the casual acts of flamboyance at airport security, noting that he’s seen “people with money clips take out a wad of cash to put the money clip on the scanner to get through security. People look for that and shadow you.” For less proactive thieves there are still easy pickings at security, says Traveling Mamas blogger and former flight attendant Beth Blair, who urges travelers never to throw “small electronics or valuables in an airport security bucket. I've seen portable music players and watches stolen when the line has gotten backed up.”
A better strategy is to stow valuables inside the sealable pockets of a garment or carry-on before getting to the security line. Stein keeps his “nice watch and other jewelry in a sock, in a small bag with aspirin [and other low-key items] that’s in another pocket in my carry on.”
He also favors a firmer approach to monitoring how his stuff sails through security.
“I anger several people including the TSA, all the time, [making] sure that I’m the last one to see all of my items go onto the belt and wait until they’re out of reach of anyone before I walk through the gate, even if they keep telling me to step forward. I then do my best to make sure I’m the first to my belongings to recover them.”
Keep your eyes, and little else, on the bag.
If you dutifully filled out your home address on your luggage tags, it’s time for a do-over: “Name and cell phone only, Wills says. “Anyone can copy your address and home phone…and then contact someone to case your home and break in while you’re away.”
Another good way to lose your belongings? Walk away from them.
“Every time I fly, especially during delays, I see passengers asking strangers to ‘watch their bags’ while they run for coffee or the restroom, which seems friendly at the time,” says Blair. “But I recently saw the person watching the luggage get called to the gate counter and abandon the other person's bags and never return. Someone could have easily walked off with the luggage. The [luggage owner] was irate, but he asked for it.”
An all-too-common practice for passengers boarding planes is to shove their carry-ons into the first available overhead, not only an inconsiderate act, says longtime flight attendant Toni Vitanza, but also a security issue.
“You're supposed to put your bag in the overhead by your seat,” Vitanza says. “If you don’t have it within your sight or control, anyone can do anything to it.” That means tampering with it, and, of course, stealing it from the bin outright, which Blair encountered as a flight attendant.
“Occasionally, there was an honest mistake — confused bags — but three or four times it was downright theft and always the generic, black rolling bag that looks like 90 percent of roll-a-boards. When I went with a passenger into the airport to look for the bag it was like that scene in ‘The Thomas Crown Affair,’ when they were looking for the black case, but everyone had one just like it.”
And the area around your seat? Not that secure, either.
“I've had passengers wake to find their portable music players missing from their laps and wallets taken from seat-back pockets," Blair says. “If you sleep on the plane or get up to go to the restroom, put your valuables away. Don't leave them in the seat-back pocket, on the seat, or on your tray table. Thieves fly, too.”
Carry your cash wisely.
When she travels, Vitanza favors a jacket designed with multiple, sealable pockets that’s not only reasonably attractive, but also keeps valuables secure on the security line belt and has the added benefit, she says, of holding more than most handbags. If you are using this kind of garment, Stein suggests spreading out your loot, “using the concealed pouches and pockets to keep your money, ID, and credit cards divided.”
For extra security, Stein favors money-belt type carriers that can be “worn on your waist under your clothing or around your ankle.” When it comes to men and their wallets, Stein and Wills concur on storage: front pants pocket, especially in a crowd, Wills says, where “you're more likely to feel a hand in your front pocket rather than back pocket.”
For the ladies, Wills says “purses with shoulder straps and the purse in front of you, not behind. Chic backpack purses are an invitation to pickpockets. Get rid of them.”
If you must use ATMs while you travel, Wills says, find the most public, indoor location possible, shield the keypad while entering your PIN, and “take your receipt with you: it does not have your account number, but it tells the bad guy how much you just withdrew and how much remains in your account.”
When it comes to other trip receipts, Stein advises to keep them all and “match them up to your statement at the end of the month. It’s very common for restaurant staff to inflate your tip. Most people would never know. The more the total of your bill, the more they’ll inflate the tip and unfortunately the less likely you are to realize it.” Further, Stein says, remember to retrieve your credit card from anyone who swipes it and "do your best not to let it get out of your sight.”
If change is coming, know what to expect.
If you’re traveling to a destination with foreign currency, ensure you’re familiar with its conversion rate against the U.S. dollar, recommends tour leader and Trip Chicks co-owner Ann Lombardi, and above all, “don’t stick your hand out [holding foreign currency] and expect a vendor to take exactly what they’re owed. I see it all the time.”
Perhaps the best way to safeguard your valuables while on the road is to leave them at home. Says Vitanza, “I have a rule that I don’t travel with anything I can’t afford to lose or forget.”