You’ve locked up your home tight, turned on the alarms and cameras, and let a neighbor know to keep an eye on your place. It’s time to hit the road, finally! Whether you’re going by car, bus, train, or plane, there are a number of simple things to keep in mind as you travel so that you – and your things – stay safe. I’m listing a few, but I’m sure you can help me come up with more.
Start by knowing where you’re going and how you’re getting there. Acting like you’re certain of your actions is one of the simplest ways to get a bad guy to decide not to target you. Before you leave, double check your route and tickets, including any stations or airports you’ll be in. If you can, find out about any road closures or detours, and figure out what security checkpoints might exist so that you’re not surprised by them. You’ll also want to see if there are any expected dangers or other hiccups along the way or at your destination. They can range from weather that you’ll need to be prepared to travel through or deal with while you’re visiting, to long stretches of road without gas stations, to the sketchy neighborhood of the hotel you’re choosing to stay at instead of crashing in a relative’s guest room. Even if you can’t avoid them, knowing will allow you think in advance about how to manage them rather than have to improvise a response on the spot. And don’t forget to take schedules into account when doing all of your planning. The last thing you want to do is to miss a flight because you didn’t know that you couldn’t get a ride share to the airport at oh-dark-thirty in the morning, or more likely, end up being so rushed that you don’t pay enough attention to avoiding potential car accidents on the way.
Take stock of your things after you’ve packed. Hopefully, you’ve minimized how many bags you’ll be dragging with you so that you can keep track of them more easily, but it’s not just that. If you have to carry them any appreciable distance, make sure that you can actually do that relatively easily and hopefully with your hands free. The last thing you want is to be distracted and unable to even make defensive gestures like motioning someone to keep their distance from you. For going by mass transportation especially, don’t forget to leave some room in your bags to stash anything you might want to take off your person, like glasses, wallets, phones, and jackets. You don’t want to leave something behind because there was nowhere convenient to put it. You might also want to make your luggage distinctive in some way. Yes, you’ll be recognizable and identifiable so someone can follow you around, but it’s more likely that it will help you find and grab your things off carousels and security screening lines, without someone accidentally or “accidentally” walking away with them first. Since the latter is more likely to be a problem, prioritize your plans around that possibility.
You knew to not tell social media and others that you were going to be away, but you should also be careful what you tell strangers on the road. I’m not saying that you can’t have friendly conversations with interesting people you run across – that’s one of the greatest joys of traveling. But be careful about how much of your life story you’re spilling early on, and keep your creep-meter turned on if a chat starts becoming more personal than you’re comfortable with. You might be meeting your next soul mate, or you might be meeting your first stalker. It’s impossible to give you rules about what you can and can’t talk about, but I’d encourage you to start out by staying away from details that can make it easy to find or track your physical location, and to limit the personal information and contact methods that you give out. For instance, you might want to start by exchanging phone numbers or email addresses so you can continue your connection later, since you can block messages and phone calls if it becomes necessary later, and they won’t include the level of detail about your life that might be contained in the depths of your personal social media history.
It’s not just the hot stranger that you strike up conversations with that you should be thinking about, by the way. Besides the folks who might be overhearing everything you share, think about the taxi or rideshare driver that you’re using and the people who might be handling any of your luggage. You might consider setting your pickup or drop-off addresses to something a bit more generic than your actual home or destination address, like your apartment complex entrance instead of your exact building or unit. I’ve been known to simply use a neighbor’s address at times. It’s not always possible or convenient, but it’s worth thinking about if possible. Meanwhile, you might not want to put your actual home address on your luggage tags. It’s just as useful for someone to contact you about a lost bag via your email address, phone number, or office address. After they do that, you can arrange return or delivery to an appropriate place, whether that’s home or somewhere else. Similarly, you might want to limit the number of personal details that can be seen on your belongings, including your electronic devices. For example, having your name embroidered on your bag can be a lovely decorative touch, but it can also be a way for someone to act more familiar with you and pretend that they know you when you’re struggling to remember if you’ve met them before or not.
It’s not that everyone out there is just waiting for the opportunity to invade your home or attack you while you’re in an unfamiliar place, but taking a few steps that don’t upend your life can help protect you against that one bad guy or bad accident. It’s worth being called a little paranoid at times, and even not knowing if what you’re doing is just over-preparation or has actually created a near-miss with a criminal, to stay in control of your life and your safety. This way, you can choose how much risk you want to take instead of letting the circumstances choose for you.