Leaving on a vacation to a foreign land for a family vacation is really exciting, a ton of fun and requires serious planning. However, some of the finer details that can actually make or break your holiday happens on the road. No amount of planning can predict whether or not you’re going to face rain for three days in the middle of your trip. Or have your wallet pickpocketed on transit. While the weather is not a factor you can control, you can make sure that you take proper precautions to keep yourself and your belongings safe. Keeping your family safe on the road is a key strategy for a successful vacation. I have all the travel safety tips for you from my personal experience.
I consider myself incredibly lucky that I was raised by a retired police officer. My Dad groomed me to not trust everyone, to look people in the eyes during greetings and discussions. I also have a handshake that’s deadly, we can discuss that one another day. I’m always wondering what’s the ulterior motive when approached by a stranger. My Dad did teach me a lot about personal safety, self-defence and protecting my hard-earned money. Training karate for almost 30 years helps with that too!
Having travelled coast to coast and around the globe, I carry those lessons with me. As a solo travelling mom with kids, I’m a target. There’s no “man to protect” me anywhere in sight. Thankfully, I’ve been able to identify potential issues and deal with them before there has been any loss of documents, cash or personal safety.
Easy travel safety tips for parents
To keep your wallet, cash and passports safe while travelling abroad, there are a few foreign travel safety tips and tricks I like to use with myself and have taught them to my children. Here are a few of my vacation safety tips and easy travel safety tips for parents:
- Use a slim money belt under your clothing. When I travel with my kids and we are without a vehicle, I conceal a money belt on my daughter, under her shirt, with a small sum of cash. Folding cash in a Ziploc bag in your running shoe is another alternative – this is what I do with my son. The biggest reason why I like to keep cash on me when travelling is that I am a scatterbrain on the best of days. Cash will always be king and accepted anywhere. The chances of me losing my iPhone with my Apple Pay on it is high. Not only will I keep cash in my jean jacket pocket, but I will likely slip one of my credit cards in there as well.
- Wear clothing that has zippers and buttons. This way cash or credit cards can’t slide out when you sit down and it’s harder for someone to quickly reach in if they have to tug at a button or zipper first. I like to utilize the front breast pockets on my jean jacket for this or the leg zipper pocket or my cargo green Halla Pants from prAna.
- Invest in a purse and/or backpack with slash-proof straps to avoid the cut and run. I have found there are places where it’s best to carry your backpack on your front or find a traveller’s backpack with inside zippered pockets for your passports and cash. I prefer zippered compartments that lock.
- Use a backpack with outside locking zippers. It’s less likely for would-be thieves to tug at your backpack or try to slide their hands in the compartments when there’s more effort involved to get into it. I have a laptop bag that does just this and travel Western Europe with my kids with it.
- Keep your hands free. I absolutely despise carrying on a purse with my kids, to begin with. Personally, I would rather have my hands available to hold my child’s hand to lessen the chance of them wandering away.
- Never open a map or tourist brochures in public. Ther’s is nothing that screams that you are vulnerable louder than stopping on the sidewalk and consulting large, colourful pieces of paper.
- Lock wallets, laptops and cameras in trunks. If you have a car hire or rental, please do not leave valuables on back seats when you’re sightseeing or exploring. That is tempting for a thief to break in. Keep valuables out of sight.
- Utilize safes. If your hotel room or accommodations have a safe in your room, store your passports and important documentation there instead of carrying it around with you.
- Line up shoes behind your hotel room door at night. When the kids and I are in our hotel or accommodation rooms at night, I line our shoes up in front of the door. If anyone has s spare key to open it while we are sleeping, the shoes will act as a barrier to opening the door quietly. One shoe might even get stuck under the door and prevent it from opening further.
- Be seated with your back against the wall. In restaurants or other public seating areas, make sure you can see what is going on around you. If your back is to the wall, you won’t miss anyone coming up behind you and removing your possessions.
How To Watch Out For Scams
Often, when you’re travelling in a country where English is not the first language, there are linguistic issues that can arise. Avoid being taken advantage of when out shopping or dining by dealing directly with shopkeepers and restauranteurs. Here are just a few of the scams I’ve encountered when travelling with my children:
Sign Your Name For World Peace
When in line at tourist attractions, beware of teams walking beside the line with clipboards in their hands. On the clipboard, they have “a petition to sign your names in support of world peace” or any other cause. When you sign this petition, you are asked to donate any sum of money at your disposal. Only give cash to a registered charity, not people preying on tourists in a lineup for a popular attraction.
The Innocent Old Lady and Her Gang of Kids
Be mindful of being stalked in a tourist attraction lineup. An elderly lady will target you and send a group of children to alleviate you of your wallet and electronics. My children and I were in line with hundreds of other tourists outside security for the Eiffel Tower. Not more than 5-6 feet away from me was an elderly lady with a cane. She was standing in the shade, watching my children and me. My children were taking turns playing a game on an old iPhone. As we moved up in the line, she moved up, staring at us, we were her target. Soon, there were 3 children, roughly the same age as my kids with her, now watching us. I made sure to let the elderly woman know that I was watching her. Feeling that my children were in danger of losing their device, I motioned from my eyes to her and pointing at the children gathered beside her and I mouthed “no”. Then, I shook my head as a warning. I stood in front of my children, blocking them from their sight and removed the iPhone from their hands. I told my children what was happening, pointing to the elderly woman and the children with her. We watched as they moved away and then fixated on another family in line behind us.
My key takeaway from this experience is to try to buy your tickets for popular attractions in advance. Skip these big lineups if you can. It will hopefully save you time as well.
Is This Your Ring?
On the banks of the Seine River, a gentleman walked up on my left side and dropped what looked like a wedding band. He picked it up and showed it to me, asking me if I thought it was real gold. I immediately started laughing as soon as he asked me the question. I politely said no thank you. He tried to insist that he would “give” me the ring for good luck if I could give him 10 Euros. I refused to open my purse in front of him and wished him a good day. About a half-hour later, we saw him trying the same trick with other tourists a little further up the river.
I had heard about this potential scam in a YouTube video about travelling through Paris. The con artist reaches directly into your purse to grab whatever they can when you open it. Or attempts to sell you a brass ring that turns green a couple of days later under the illusion that it is real gold. The latter sounds a lot like what we encountered. Please do not fall for this!
Your Shirt Feels So Nice
Be on the alert when a couple of children walk up to you and touch your clothing. The kids will tell you they like the fabric and keep touching you. They are skilled pickpockets. These kids are getting their hands in your pockets and taking whatever is not sewn onto you. They can lift your mobile phones and possessions faster than you realize.
The Cup Game
“Trile” is the cup game that is played on the streets and beaches all over Spain. This game involves three cups and a small object that is hidden under one of the cups. Often you will see this game played on a table. Bystanders can guess which cup contains the object under it. The thing is, you have to pay a small sum of money to place your bet. They’ll tell you if you win, you win a bigger prize. They might tempt you into betting more money by letting you win a couple of times. Once you place more money on the table, that object under the cup mysteriously disappears. And you’re out your money. It’s a gamble. One you will lose.
Another scam I have heard of is the rental car scam. I have heard of travellers being tailed on a highway, outside of a city or town from the car hire place. The other vehicle’s occupants will try to get your attention by telling you that your gas cap is open or that your tire is almost flat. Once they get you to pull over, one person will start trying to speak to you loudly and distract you. Another person will quickly perform a “spot check” on your vehicle. They’ll have your doors and trunk opened quite quickly and will take your possessions while you are distracted by the other person. Please consider this a safety tip for international travel – inspect your rental vehicle all over and ensure everything is in working order.
Final Travel Safety Tips
A little bit of common sense can be your best friend on the road. Like a college girl in a bar, always protect your drinks. Please do not leave your drinks unattended anywhere, not even at a cafe. You never know who is watching you. If you have seen the Serpent on Netflix, you’ll know what I am talking about.
Hope these travel safety tips are of use to you and your family. Everything I have written about can apply domestically as well as internationally.