Safety is a concern no matter where you travel in the world. Of course, some countries and cities will be safer than others will, but it is always important to be alert and to keep personal safety in mind when you travel.
Before You Leave Home
Before you go, make a photocopy of your passport and visas. Keep them with you, but separate from your actual passport. Also leave a set at home with someone you can contact easily. If you lose your passport, go in person to the nearest American Embassy or Consulate, and apply for a new one. If your passport has been stolen, file a police report, as you will need it when you reapply for a new passport. Having a copy of your passport will save time. If you are traveling with another person, have them come with you to help verify that you are an American citizen. Bring your U.S. driver’s license or other identification with you. If the consulate cannot verify your identification, you’ll be given a limited validity passport and when you get back to the U.S. you will need to reapply.
It is important to be on guard at airports, train and bus stations. These are areas where petty theft can easily occur. These areas are easily accessed by the public and have a lot of activity, which helps a thief work unobserved. Interestingly, most business people report that it isn’t the locals that you need to worry about, it’s other people who may be traveling. Don’t assume that a country generally perceived as safe, such as Japan, has no crime problems and let down your guard.
If you have luggage, use covered luggage tags, and use an office instead of a home address. Lock your suitcase before putting it into overhead bins and keep your purse with you when you go to the rest room on the airplane or train. Don’t wear loud jewelry that will make you stand out as a wealthy target or tourist to a thief. It is always best to blend in as much as you can without calling attention to yourself. Some women suggest that traveling dressed down is a safer way to go. However, others caution that you may not be viewed or treated as a professional if you are not dressed in smart attire when you travel.
You can reduce your risk of theft and assault by staying in a quality hotel that has safety features such doormen, bellmen, and night staff. Choose popular, business travelers’ hotels in tourist areas, not in residential areas where the streets tend to quiet down in the evening. Some women recommend staying in a hotel that is large so there are people actively coming and going and you won’t be alone. Others prefer a small hotel where the lobby is under the watchful eye of the desk clerk and where a loiterer would be obvious.
When you check in, make sure that your room number is not announced for nearby guests to hear. Lock your valuables in the hotel safety deposit box or the safe in your room. Use the peephole in your door to help identify visitors. If someone knocks on your door at night stating they are night staff, call the hotel lobby to confirm and verify their purpose before opening the door. Most modern hotels have voicemail. If you are not expecting a late night call, let the caller leave a voicemail message. You can call the person back; it is worth a two-minute delay to ensure it is not a crank caller.
I have received reports from women on business in London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome and other cities that they have been followed by men they do not know. Since you do not know the intent of the man following you in such a situation, it is best not to interact with the person but try to lose him as quickly as possible.
Here are some tips to avoid being followed and how to confront someone who is following you:
o Walk in populated areas so that you have other people around you.
o If you are being followed, turn off into a department store, a hotel, or other public area where you might find someone to help you if needed.
o Try ignoring the individual. He may eventually go away. If your follower knows that it bothers you, he may turn it into a game.
o Take a taxi to get away, even if it is just for a few blocks.
o Confront the person with a stare-down if you think that will cause him to run off (although if not done aggressively, many times this will encourage conversation).
Pickpockets and Petty Theft
Many businesswomen who travel internationally have experienced petty theft, such as purse-snatchings and pickpockets on the street, in restaurants, and in dark garages. Some cities have more incidents than others do. Here are some tips on how to avoid a pickpocket:
o Avoid dense crowds, as this is usually where a pickpocket will linger.
o Crowded buses, train stations and airports are prime spots for pickpockets. If you are wearing pants in these places, keep your money in your front pocket.
o On sidewalks, do not walk close to street traffic, as passing motorbike thieves often snatch purses.
o Sling your handbag over your shoulder and body so that it is more secure and harder to snatch.
o Do not hang your handbag on the inside of a restroom door handle or set it on the floor where it can be easily lifted.
o In a restaurant, wrap your handbag around your leg or keep it on your lap. Do not hang it over the back of your chair.
o Study city maps in your room before you venture out so that you have a clear sense of where you are going and don’t look like a tourist.
o Be aware that people may be watching you dial your phone-card number in a phone booth. Such people may memorize the numbers for later use.
o Avoid ATM’s in lonely areas. If it does not appear to be safe, exchange money at the hotel to avoid risk.