6 Unbelievable Vacation Security Mistakes—And How To Avoid Them

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by Cara Giaimo

1. Never Trust A Muppet

Travel is a disorienting experience. Jet lag, cultural changes, and the intoxication of new experiences all combine to break down your defenses exactly when they should be at their peak—and scammers with a loose definition of "tourist economy" are waiting to take advantage. Lehua Gray is an experienced traveler, but she had hardly landed in Turkey when she made her first rookie mistake: "I handed the taxi driver a 50. He took it, then immediately handed me back a 5 and claimed that I had really given him a 5." Unable to prove her side—or argue in Turkish—she had to swallow the loss.

Vultures like this circle every city, from the professionally clumsy New Yorkers who bump into you and then demand compensation for their broken glasses/bottles/bones, to traditionally garbed "Maasai warriors" in East Africa who will gladly pose for a picture and then charge you for it afterwards. Confusion is a scammer's best friend, and clarity and awareness are great antidotes. "I should have declared "Here's a 50!" while handing it over, and made sure I held onto it for a moment while it was exchanging hands," explains Gray. Victims of the broken-eyeglass trick can ask for proof, or draw public attention by being loud or moving into a crowd. A scammer can't scam you if you don't let him.

2. ATM = Alertness-Testing Machine

Engineer and amateur photographer Mike Raskin was enjoying his last day of what had been an amazing two weeks in Belize—saying goodbye to the local town, toting a full camera and a happy heart. He realized he needed some cash for his trip home, so he did what any good American would do—stopped at an ATM. He was drawing the bills out of the slot when his head exploded with pain; when he came to, he had no cash, no camera, and a lump on his skull the size of a hammerhead. "I let my guard down at just the wrong moment. It had been an amazing trip, and now all my memories of it are tainted," Raskin laments. "I was bummed about the money, but those photos were priceless."

Awareness while traveling is always vital, but be especially careful at hotspots like ATMs—most cash dispensaries come with their very own goons. If you really need paper money, try to get your fill during the day, at an actual bank or, failing that, an indoor kiosk (ask to go in alone). Bring a buddy who can keep a lookout for you; if you're traveling solo, treat the mirror above the machine like another pair of eyes. And make sure to shield your PIN from snoops—if someone nabs that number, they can steal from you over and over.

3. The Real Reason Men Never Ask For Directions

SicilePhoto via StrayOutDoors.com

Writer Eddie Nicalou was "totally lost in Madrid, with a 13:44 train to Toledo I was already running late for." Hoping to disprove that old stereotype about American men never asking for directions, "I whipped out my map in the middle of a public square, stared at it slack-jawed, and started asking random passers-by where I was. A friendly local was happy to have a nice long conversation about where I was going—and his buddies were happy to rummage through my backpack while I was distracted." Nicalou learned a valuable lesson, but it probably wasn't worth all the traveler's checks he lost.

Actually getting lost is dangerous enough, but even looking lost can make you fresh meat for thieves. Avoid the dunce cap by figuring out your route beforehand, in the safety of your hotel lobby or hostel kitchen. If you must, ask for directions in a shop, a restaurant, or another place where a question-studded interaction between you and a local won't mark you as an easy target.

4. Your Own Worst Enemy

Life happens sometimes—at some point everyone forgets to lock up, misplaces his keys, or leaves her license at the bar. But when you're not at home, little mistakes can blow up into life-threatening disasters. American artist Matt Cosby had driven up to Montreal for a three-day music festival and accidentally locked his only set of keys in his car—along with his luggage, cell phone, computer, and wallet with identification and all the money he had. Left completely without resources, Cosby spent the next 12 hours "dressed in multi-colored light-up festival craziness, going from cafe to cafe to ask strangers if I could make just one call or send just one email, pretty please?" Thanks to the kindness of Canadians, he eventually procured a hot meal, a floor to sleep on, and a morning appointment with a locksmith. "But I could have easily ended up getting my car towed to who knows where, being stuck in the country, or even freezing on the street."

Avoid mishaps like this by keeping your necessities on your person at all times. An under-the-clothes money belt can easily fit a photocopies of your passport/license/AAA card, a sheet of necessary phone numbers (your hotel, a reputable cab company, your country's embassy, and any emergency contacts), disaster cash, and some coins in case you need a pay phone. Nestle it right up against your skin and it'll be safe from pickpockets, weather, and your own forgetfulness.

5. Hotel Room Hacks

Last July, America's favorite quiz show host Alex Trebek was sleeping peacefully in a San Francisco hotel room when he was rudely awoken—not by a buzzer, but by the sounds of an invader rifling through his stuff! Before you can say "Daily Double," Trebek, wearing only his skivvies, was chasing the burglar down the hall and into the arms of hotel security. Trebek managed to recover the stolen items, which included cash and jewelry, and solve his own million-dollar question—invader Lucinda Moyers was identified, charged with burglary, and hit with a restraining order—but our hero was left with a ruptured Achilles tendon and lots of bruises.

Hotel burglaries are on the rise. According to the Crime Doctor, robbers will follow victims to their hotel rooms "based on the value of the car they were driving or the jewelry or clothes they're wearing" (or, you know, because they're famous television stars). Hotels attached to casinos are particularly meaty targets for burglars. If you're worried about being robbed, try to get a room on a higher floor, always double check before you open the door for anyone, and take advantage of the hotel's room safe. Also, if you're vacationing in the Southwest, make sure your hotel isn't one of the many that contain easily hackable electronic locks (a bug that, months after Forbes broke the story, still hasn't been fixed).

6. Home Sweet Home

GingerMermaidPhoto via GingerMermaid

While you're off who-knows-where having crazy adventures, your home is waiting patiently for you. Want to make sure your eventual reunion is more like a romantic comedy and less like a horror movie? A few simple tips will help you safeguard your castle while you're roaming the larger world. First: even though it's hard, don't brag about your exploits on social media. I know you want to Instagram that swordfish you just landed in the Keys, but that just lets burglars know that your house is empty—and encourages them to go land your flatscreen in return. Second: use your neighbors! Fred and Martha next door will be glad to take your mail in, move your car, and keep your house looking lived-in, especially if you offer to bring them back some of that local Swiss chocolate. Finally: think about investing in a home security system. Something watching over your house, especially something that comes with 24/7 monitoring and text alerts, can give you peace of mind no matter where you are.

This guest post was written by Cara Giaimo, a blogger for SimpliSafe. When she's not chasing Alex Trebek around in his underwear, you can find her drinking too much coffee, running off that same coffee, or changing the world one blog at a time. SimpliSafe Wireless Home Security is making its way to the top of its industry.

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