The recent case of a friend on a visit to a country in west Africa whose bag was stolen (ironically, inside the Ministry of Justice!) prompts me to write about some simple steps we can all take to enhance our security as we travel. This particular case was a perfect storm of coincidences which made my friend unusually vulnerable, but taking some precautions will help minimise the risk of serious problems.
Country-specific advice - look on the UK government website for specific information about security and health risks before you go – https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Embassy – make sure you know where the nearest embassy/consulate of your country is and have its phone number in your phone. If there isn’t one, make sure you know which country handles your country’s affairs and have their details.
Phone numbers – memorise or have a handwritten list of the numbers you can’t afford not to have with you, such as your office, the airline, your hotel , the embassy and your mum/husband.
Documentation – keep a photocopy of your passport (the information page and the visa page) and tickets in a safe place in case you lose the originals. Sometimes people will tell you to leave the originals in a safe but in many countries it’s illegal not to have the original documentation on you at all times. If your passport is stolen, report it to the embassy immediately and get a police report. The embassy can issue a replacement, and if there’s no embassy where you are, you can get a permit to travel to get you to the nearest one.
Insurance – take a copy of your insurance certificate with you so you can contact your insurer easily if you need to.
Power of Attorney – make sure somebody in your home country has a power of attorney registered with your bank so that they are authorised to cancel your credit cards and ask for replacements to be issued.
Marriage certificate – If you are a married woman, make sure all your documentation is in the same name, or carry a certified copy of your marriage certificate with you. A passport has a handy space for an ‘also known as’ name which is worth using.
Expensive jewellery and gadgets – don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose, unless you really need it.
Mobile – don’t take an expensive smartphone unless you need the screen. If you’re just planning to phone and text, take a simple phone which will be less attractive to thieves.
Medicines – if you have important medication, make sure you know where it is. Have a copy of a prescription so you can get some more if you need to.
Money – have small amounts of cash in different pockets and bags so that if you lose some, you don’t lose it all. Carry a dummy wallet with a few notes, an old credit card and some photos so that you can hand it over if necessary without losing everything. Keep the important things in a money belt.
Laptops – these are particularly vulnerable to theft. Have a password and some sort of encryption for secure documents. Keep a full backup on a memory stick in a separate place.
Luggage – it’s a good idea to pack things like money, medicines and data sticks in separate bags, so that if one bag is stolen, you haven’t lost everything. Keep things in pockets too in case all your luggage goes missing.
Credit cards – have a written note of the card numbers and the phone numbers you need to call to cancel them. Don’t even take them with you if you don’t have to. Carry a spare out-of-date credit card to serve as a decoy in a robbery.
Obviously, taking these precautions won’t prevent theft, accident or illness, but they should help you deal with it better!