A few weeks ago, my rental car was stolen whilst traveling. This event inspired me to post some tips and advice for my fellow travelers on preparing for, avoiding and dealing with theft on the road.
When traveling, do your best to avoid trouble. You can never be one hundred percent safe, but there is plenty you can do to reduce your risk of being victimized. Firstly, don’t behave like a victim. To quote the Batman, “criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot”. Make it difficult and risky to victimize you and they’ll move on to easier targets. Walk and park in well-lit populated areas, near security cameras, or in areas with strong security or police presence. When in an unfamiliar place do your best to look like you belong and know what you’re doing and where you’re going. Don’t stand in the middle of a busy street reading a map. Plan your route in private, away from crowds, such as in your hotel room, a cafe or other quiet location; then you can move confidently to your destination.
Keep copies of all important documents. This includes identification, financials, and any important information about yourself and your trip. Using a secure cloud service with strong security (and a strong password – nothing easy to guess or discover by Googling you) to hold electronic copies is useful, but also keep spare paper copies of things like your driver’s license, passport (at least the photo page), visas, credit card details (especially the customer service phone numbers that you’ll need to report and cancel lost or stolen cards). If you have allergies or chronic conditions, investing in medical notification bracelets or pendants can be a literal lifesaver. Don’t forget to record details of documents and arrangements you make on the go. Car rental agreements should go in your document cache and it’s probably a good idea to snap photos of them with your smartphone or tablet. Be sure to secure your hardcopies as well. Hotel safes and money belts are good places to keep these documents and remember to leave copies at home and perhaps with a trusted friend or relative. One thing that an American should never carry, whether the original or a copy, is a social security card. If a thief gets this plus your ID, prepare yourself for the long process of combatting identity theft.
When renting a car, always take all of the extra insurance options. If you’re living on a limited budget, that’s all the more reason to take the extra insurance. Twenty to thirty dollars spent a day on a Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) is ultimately less expensive than being held liable for damages to yourself, others, vehicles and property. This is true even if you go for years incident-free. If you assume you rent a car for five days each month, year-round for five years, a daily thirty dollar LDW would cost a total of nine thousand dollars over those five years. According to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information association, in 2012 "the average auto liability claim for property damage was $3,073; the average auto liability claim for bodily injury was $14,653.”
Know your surroundings
This may seem obvious, but take note of and avoid suspicious situations and individuals. Know where the exits are. Know the local emergency phone numbers (911 in North America, 999 in the UK, 000 in Australia, see this link for others). Learn how to say “help me” in the local language, and don’t be afraid to scream it at the top of your voice if necessary.
Know your capabilities
Chances are you’re not an action movie hero, so don’t act like one. Avoid confrontation, especially when in unfamiliar surroundings. You never know who the other person is, what they’re capable of, what they’re carrying or who their friends are. I don’t understand people who get into fights while traveling. Ego really isn’t worth a visit to a Turkish (or any) prison. I have been a martial artist since age 9, and generally consider myself capable in a confrontation but I will never engage whether at home or abroad unless lives are on the line. Another real consideration is that even in an unfamiliar region of your home country, but especially while abroad, you may be unaware of local customs, laws and whether police and officials are corrupt. If you find yourself having to tell someone what your rights are, chances are that they won’t be respected. The best defense is always to avoid being in trouble in the first place.
Bill Finger & Bob Kane. “The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom” Detective Comics #33 (November 1939), DC Comics ↩